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Opinion

April 26, 2014

BOOKWORM

Your fifth-grade English teacher would be proud.

“Good for you!” she’d say as you tried to untwist the tongue-twister of ingredients on the back of your shampoo bottle or toothpaste tube. “Good for you!” but you sometimes wonder: can anything that unpronounceable really be good for you?

You’ve tried to go natural, and it’s hard — but is it better? Read “Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You” by Dan Riskin, PhD, and you might find out.

When Dan Riskin went to Belize to study bats and came home with a botfly maggot lodged in his scalp, he never faulted the itchy creature’s mother. She was just giving her DNA a chance to survive into the next generation. That’s what every living creature does, says Riskin. We’re just “meat robots” at the mercy of our DNA.

And Riskin believed that … until his son, Sam, was born.

Surely, protecting one’s DNA is inherent in much of what we do, including parenting. Our DNA wants our offspring to live to see their own offspring, thereby preserving our genetic make-up for the future. But does DNA explain love, or is love just a mask for the propagation of a species? Is Nature as benevolent as we’ve made it out to be, or is there a “creepier side” that we should know about?

As it turns out, the latter is exactly the case. Mother Nature is a big fan of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Take greed, for instance. Male emperor penguins protect their own hides by stealing extra warmth, to the detriment of every other penguin in his huddle. Animals are so consumed with lust (and there we go with that DNA thing) that they’ll court death while courting. And we couldn’t live without slothful parasites which, says Riskin, “are the sign of a healthy ecosystem.”

There’s a “natural” reason, he says, that people with pet cats have a higher incidence of car accidents. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t play with “dead” scorpions. There’s also a reason we eat relatively few of the plant species found on Earth.

And as for love, says Riskin, don’t worry. “Just rub it in your DNA’s face.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever stick my nose in a bouquet of flowers again, after reading “Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You.” I’ll continue to be thankful I’m not a female hyena, too. And I won’t stop recommending this hilarious book.

From apples to zebras, author Dan Riskin, Ph.D. takes a look at all kinds of vile, nasty things that you’re dying to know about (sometimes, literally). But this book isn’t filled with gratuitous ick; no, Riskin uses science and humor to teach his readers about nature and “natural,” pointing out that they are not always one in the same. The science geek in me loved that, and my funny-bone was tickled.

This book is pure delight for the curious mind. There are shivers here for the faint of heart, and lots to learn. “Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You” is hard to resist, and reading it might actually be good for you.

Book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 13,000 books.

 

 

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