Beach reading need not be a mindless venture. Here is a selection of health and science books that will work your intellect while you, against medical advice, work on your tan.
One-time Nazi Wernher von Braun is remembered as the father of rocket science, but the contributions of a poor woman from a North Dakota farm are less heralded.
In the 1950s at the aerospace company North American Aviation, Mary Sherman Morgan helped develop and test rocket fuel. Without her work on a propellant called hydyne, America’s first satellite, Explorer I, designed by von Braun, may never have gotten off the ground.
“My mother had chosen to share very little information about her life as an aerospace engineer,” Mary’s son George D. Morgan writes in “Rocket Girl.” “She claimed that her security clearance forbade her from doing so, but we always suspected there was a lot more to it.”
Indeed there was. Through research and interviews with his mother’s associates, Morgan reveals some of the personal drama and gender politics behind the early days of the space race.
It’s a question that haunts anyone who watched “The Jetsons” as a child: It’s the 21st century — why can’t we fly to work yet?
“The story of the jet pack is really the story of man’s dream of flying,” Steve Lehto writes in “The Great American Jet Pack,” a chronicle of our attempts to soar heavenward without passing through a TSA checkpoint. “The jet pack — or the individual lift devices, as they were blandly labeled by the government men who financed much of their development — answered man’s desire to simply step outside and take flight. No runways, no wings, no pilot’s license required.”
The problem: Rocket motors are light, but it’s hard to build a device that can carry enough fuel for a trip across town. While Lehto doesn’t see curbside docking stations in our near future, he offers an entertaining review of the not-quite-perfected technology we’ll need to replace Metro — and the crazy entrepreneurs trying to build it.
There are a lot of compelling reasons to eat bugs. They’re easier to farm than cows or chickens, and consuming them has a less severe impact on the environment. Prepared well and paired with the right wine, they’re scrumptious. The United Nations recently hosted a conference on combating world hunger with insects as human food, and the European Union is poised to spend about $4 million to research bugs as an alternative protein source. And for those who missed the wave on cupcakes and Greek yogurt, it’s a new trend.
“A grasshopper’s body is more than 20 percent protein,” David George Gordon writes in “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.”
“Compare this with the protein in lean ground beef (about 27 percent) and you’ll see why even professional athletes could sustain themselves on a diet of arthropods.”
For those who wish to dip a toe into entomophagy (also known as bug-eating), the book offers recipes with names that range from clever (“Three Bee Salad,”) and haute (“Chapulines con chocolate fondue”) to merely descriptive (“Curried Termite Stew”). For the faint of heart, a dish such as “Chirpy Chex Party Mix” might be best sampled in dim light. In the dark, crickets can look a lot like pretzel sticks.
Doctors in Washington rarely make house calls, let alone stray from the 19th Street corridor. But on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, one intrepid physician visits hermits, offers psychological counseling and helps identify human legs that wash up onshore.
“Against the background of a changing, churning American medical landscape, a physician like Lepore has become an outlier and a maverick,” Pam Belluck writes in “Island Practice,” a profile of Timothy Lepore, a gun-toting general practitioner who provides medical marijuana without a license. (On the side, he knits dog-hair sweaters.)
Lepore is a contrarian who isn’t afraid to challenge authority figures who should know better. Treating a medical malpractice executive who is convinced he has contracted Lyme disease, Lepore urges his patient to have more tests until the correct diagnosis is found: a kidney tumor.
“His patient-focused approach, once much more the norm, now strains to survive in towns and cities across the country as health care costs skyrocket, medicine becomes more corporatized and monetized, and extended face time with doctors is an increasingly vanishing commodity,” Belluck writes.
It’s not often that a coffee-table book doubles as an homage to Charles Darwin. But particle physicist Brian Cox has managed to put together a slick tome that’s not just a collection of pretty pictures. “Wonders of Life,” based on his popular BBC nature series of the same name, is also an eloquent argument for evolution.
Beginning with a discussion of water and the definition of life, Cox offers numerous paeans to nature’s beauty and variety supplemented with stunning graphics and explanations of scientific phenomena understandable to people without PhDs. Whether tackling the miracle of the water cycle and the hydrogen fuel cell or conducting an in-depth discussion of the human ear, Cox provides proof that the periodic table can be exciting on every page.
ROCKET GIRL: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE ROCKET SCIENTIST
BY GEORGE D. MORGAN. PROMETHEUS BOOKS. $18.
THE GREAT AMERICAN JET PACK: THE QUEST FOR THE ULTIMATE INDIVIDUAL LIFT DEVICE
BY STEVE LEHTO. CHICAGO REVIEW PRESS. $24.95.
THE EAT-A-BUG COOKBOOK
BY DAVID GEORGE GORDON. TEN SPEED PRESS. $16.99.
ISLAND PRACTICE: COBBLESTONE RASH, UNDERGROUND TOM, AND OTHER ADVENTURES OF A NANTUCKET DOCTOR
BY PAM BELLUCK. PUBLIC AFFAIRS. $14.99.
WONDERS OF LIFE
BY BRIAN COX AND ANDREW COHEN. HARPER DESIGN. $29.99.