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The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens our Health and Well-being By Nena Baker North Point Press, $24

It’s no fun to be told that toxins in the shampoo you’ve used for decades, the fire-retardants covering your electronic equipment, or the nonstick Teflon pan you love so dearly could be hijacking your body’s systems—just as they do the planet’s ecosystems— and contributing to cancer rates, diabetes, and birth defects. But unfortunately, in the span of only about 100 years, we’ve rushed headlong into “better living through chemistry,” and we’ve done it all blindly, thanks to an antiquated 1976 Toxic Control Act that does not mandate toxicity testing for chemicals used in everything from carpeting to liquid cleaners to cosmetics. We’re our own lab rats, effectively, and the test results coming back today don’t look good. But Baker is neither obsessive nor alarmist. She calmly presents two decades’ worth of critical research into the science and industries behind leading chemical culprits such as phthalates, pesticides, and PFOAs. In an appendix, she outlines the reasonable, manageable steps she’s taken to detox her own home, body, and lifestyle—a good place for anyone to start. —TH

The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America By Roger Tory Peterson Houghton Mifflin, $26

By John Michael Greer New Society Publishers, $18.95

A look at the coming “deindustrialization” period, Long Descent brings little to the conversation about peak-oil survival technologies, but it offers an intriguing discussion of spirituality. Society must ask what values and goals will lead us through peak oil and beyond; these questions, Greer posits, will lead us away from our almost religious faith in technological progress and toward a more nature-based set of spiritual beliefs. Long Descent is a provoking read for those interested in religion and spirituality, so long as they can stomach the occasional rant (Palm Pilots and iPods are usurping our health and happiness) and a few melodramatic comments about the US sliding “down the long slope into history’s dumpster.” —TH

The Book of Animal Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know is Wrong By John Lloyd and John Mitchinson Harmony Books, $19.95

From the authors of the bestselling Book of General Ignorance comes this gleeful, quirky compilation of littleknown animal facts. Coauthors Lloyd and Mitchinson offer up an A-to-Z guide full of entries on more than 100 animals, from common beasts like the monkey and dog to the more exotic capercaillie (a grouse) and pangolin (a type of anteater). A sampling of the book’s titillating tidbits: Spiders don’t eat but dissolve and drink their prey. Dogs can detect lung and breast cancer just by smelling a patient’s breath; and although a silverback gorilla weighs in at about 350 pounds, his penis is only an inch-and-a-half long. Think of the countless (shocking) conversation starters you’ll take away. —Sarah Parsons

Arguably the father of birding, Roger Tory Peterson is celebrated this August, on what would have been his 100th birthday, with an updated version of the renowned Peterson Field Guide. The new guide combines North American birds from the East and West with updated painted plates and range maps, and includes species not previously found in North America. The guide’s companion website offers descriptions, photos, video podcasting, and bird calls for select species. —Victoria Schlesinger

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Plenty Magazine Issue 23 Aug/Sept 2008  

beyond the bulb> the best Ideas In green desIgn krIstIn gore kIlls her laWn | saIlIng greece | gossIp gIrl’s eco star

Plenty Magazine Issue 23 Aug/Sept 2008  

beyond the bulb> the best Ideas In green desIgn krIstIn gore kIlls her laWn | saIlIng greece | gossIp gIrl’s eco star

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