November 09, 2006


Great Mythconceptions. By Karl Kruszelnicki. Illustrated by Adam Yazxhi. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.

The Odd Brain. By Stephan Juan. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

See Spot Smell. By Sue Warwick. Andrews McMeel. $7.95.

     Sometimes an author gets the balance in what are colloquially called “fun facts” just right.  Great Mythconceptions is one of those books in which the fun and the facts are just about equally matched – with each element making the other more enjoyable.  Karl Kruszelnicki (who is called “Dr.” but whose form of doctorate is never identified) provides “the science behind the myths” on 52 topics, from dirty desks (which have more bacteria per square inch than a toilet seat does) to the tallest mountain on Earth (which, if “tallest” refers to the mountain whose top is farthest away from the center of the Earth, is Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador – because the Earth bulges outward toward the equator).  Kruszelnicki tosses some really fascinating factual tidbits into his explanations, such as one about how the word “pencil” ultimately derives from the Latin word “penis,” which originally meant “tail.”  Along the way, he debunks some persistent myths.  For instance, the famed dirigible Hindenburg did not burn because of its hydrogen fuel – the culprit was its flammable skin, which was coated with chemicals that burned when static electricity from the mooring ropes reached it.  Kruszelnicki includes references at the end of each item, so interested readers – and there should be a lot of them – can check on the facts themselves.

     Stephan Juan is also called “Dr.” on the cover of his book, The Odd Brain, and his form of degree is also never explained.  His book, a successor to The Odd Body, is more for fun than for factual enlightenment and gets a (+++) rating.  There are plenty of facts here, but Juan’s format undercuts the seriousness of his explanations, as in a chapter called, “Cacodemonomania: When You Believe You Are Possessed by a Demon or Devil or Don’t Know ‘Witch.’”  The main narrative of this book is punctuated by small fact boxes at various places on the pages – some of which add interesting elements to the discussion and some of which don’t.  There are 35 chapters here, starting with “The Antiseptic Brain” and ending with “The TV Brain,” so there’s plenty to read and plenty of interesting material.  But Juan does have a tendency to throw in information that begs for elucidation – without providing any.  For instance, a Chicago woman has “three small but fully formed and functioning brains in her skull.  She lives a normal life as a grocery clerk.”  If you want to know more, you’ll have to find it on your own (Juan does provide footnotes) – the approach here is mostly once-over-lightly.

     The canine brain is quite different from the human one, and that can make interactions of the two species both fascinating and frustrating.  Sue Warwick tries to bridge the gap with the entertaining board book, See Spot Smell, which she designates “A Scratch & Sniff Book for Dogs.”  Give this a (+++) rating for being both very clever and very paltry in its contents: a mere six illustrations of items, each with a scratch-and-sniff spot that humans and canines can presumably enjoy together.  If you really want to read to your dog, this is a good way to do so – but don’t be surprised if that smell of cheese leads your canine companion to try to eat the book (which is emphatically not edible).

No comments:

Post a Comment