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Newsletter Issue 8 No 1, February 1999

Book Reviews

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'DNA is Here to Stay'
Written by Dr Fran Balkwill
Illustrated by Mic Rolph
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 0 00 196457 7 (1992)
Reviewed by Alan Daniell
'Global Spin'
by Sharon Beder
Scribe 1997
Reviewed by Viola Palmer
Every now and then one comes across a book that blows out a few confused cobwebs and suddenly a new world of understanding opens up.

This 30 page book is a cracker !

Why? Because it takes a whole body of tediously complex information - the double helix of deoxyribonucleic acid - the stuff that's inside every cell in our bodies - and reduces it all to a level that nearly everyone can understand.

"DNA Is Here To Stay" is written for 9-year-old school-kids.

Furthermore, it provides a brilliant function statement :
"DNA makes proteins; proteins make cells; and cells make us."

Think about it.

That statement is the equivalent of "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." - but infinitely more important.

Why? Because while one uses every letter in the English alphabet, the other offers a unique overview of the genetic alphabet of every living thing around us - so much so that it's worth repeating again twice.
'DNA makes proteins, proteins make cells and cells make us.'
'DNA makes proteins, proteins make cells and cells make us.'
That statement really is worth committing to memory.

The illustrations in this little book are so superbly drawn, and the text that goes with it so compellingly clear, that a 9 year old can quickly understand how the twirling ladder of the DNA code is glued together to make the 50,000 or so protein recipes contained in our "genes." Genes are the cookbooks upon which our biological existence is based.

There are proteins for carrying oxygen around the body - haemoglobin; proteins for tooth enamel - collagen; proteins for skin colour - melanin; proteins for hair - keratin; proteins for stomach cells - enzymes. Its all in the gene recipes contained in the rungs on the DNA ladder.

They fit together like a crossword puzzle - and just to ensure that 9 year olds can understand it, a genetic crossword puzzle is provided to get the message across.....and kids just itch to fill it in.

My apologies to Isaac Asimov, John Gribbon, Linus Pauling, and several other heavyweight science writers; but, simply put, "DNA Is Here To Stay" is the very, very best science book I have ever read.

If you want to begin to understand the way in which genetically modified food might alter the human body's capability of digesting fibre that is completely new to us,

or ; the way the insidious nature of ionising electromagnetic radiation breaks DNA strands that do not repair properly and later become the seat of cancer,

or ; determine whether a chunk of rock found in Antarctica can indicate the existence, or otherwise, of life on Mars.

then ; this book, "DNA Is Here To Stay" is the very, very best place to start.

In the late part of the 1980's, U.S Vice President, Al Gore, wrote a wonderful intellectually challenging book " Earth In Balance". I have no hesitation in personally recommending to Al Gore that he pick up a copy of "DNA Is Here To Stay", take the required 20 minutes to thoroughly read it, and considerably enhance his already remarkable education.

I recommend this book to every appropriate classroom throughout the New Zealand schooling system.

"Fran Balkwill and Mic Rolph - I salute you."

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The rise of the corporations in the last two decades has heightened the tension between them and those who see the need for environmental preservation. The consumer / exploiter ethic of the market place is on a collision course with the ability of the planet to sustain it.

'Global Spin' reveals the sophisticated techniques being used by powerful conservative forces to change the way the public and politicians think about the environment.

Sharon Beder describes how the corporations undermine and discredit the environmental movement. Strategies include:
· setting up conservative think-tanks
· publishing PR material
· using the media, which they own, to present their views, to set their agenda, to minimise information that will encourage debate
· setting up "front" groups which appear to be environmental but are sympathetic to the industry concerned
· lobbying politicians
· disseminating sympathetic resource material for use in schools
· advertising at children
· suing environmentalists

'Global Spin contains recent examples of these, chiefly from the USA, Canada and Australia. New Zealand gets a mention through Fletcher Challenge. Did you know that they had sued many individuals and community environmental groups who opposed logging of ancient rainforest on Canada's Vancouver Island?

'Global Spin' is scrupulously researched and annotated. Edward Goldsmith says it is 'The most complete study so far of the elaborate multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that the transnational corporations have built up to discredit the environmental movement.'

Dr Sharon Beder is a professional engineer and senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

This book is a must-read for all who have their eyes open about the environment.