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Mixed Media: Books

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Ocean Frontiers

The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea
by William J. Broad; Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $15

More than 700 people have traveled into space since Vostok I launched cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961. Yet no one has ventured the mere seven miles down to the ocean's deepest point, Challenger Deep, near the Mariana Islands in the Pacific. The great ocean trenches remain unexplored—and, like the rest of the deep-sea ecosystem, largely unknown, says New York Times science writer William J. Broad as he guides us through Earth's "last great wilderness," immersing us in an alien world of biological riches: "The daylight outside my viewing port slowly began to fade. Before long I was transfixed by an endless procession of gelatinous creatures. Ripples of light would pass along the bodies of the larger ones as we swept past. Smaller ones would explode in a luminescent flash," writes Broad, who ventured into the deep aboard Alvin, a seven-foot titanium submersible.

Sixteenth-century Spanish treasure ships lie untouched in the Azores. In Atlantic waters southeast of Newfoundland, the ghostly carcass of the Titanic rests two and a half miles down, artifacts of another time spilling from its torn hull. Animals with dozens of stomachs, glowing fish, and prehistoric species swim, glide, and undulate by. An undersea chimney dubbed "Godzilla" towers 15 stories high, gushing mineral-rich hot water into the icy darkness of the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Seattle.

Broad vividly describes, then looks past these oddities to examine what the deep sea can tell us about the rest of our world—and the nature of life itself. If microbes can thrive in the acidic, sulfuric, 235-degree-Fahrenheit heat of undersea volcanic vents, why not in the hostile climates and atmospheres of other planets?

But the very mysteries that lure explorers ever deeper make the ocean vulnerable to human intervention—undersea mining, saturation fishing, and 45 years of radioactive-waste disposal. We have only the sketchiest understandings of the deep sea's structure, Broad says, "much less of the alterations being made by deep fishing and planetary heating and the seventy thousand or so synthetic chemicals that we have managed to inject into the global environment. By any measure, our ignorance is almost as boundless as the deep." Broad urges us to stop exploiting the sea long enough to understand it, lest its mysteries become lost to us forever.
—Jennifer Hattam

Toxic Taters

Poisonous pesticides, fertilizer pollution, manure lagoons, and confined animals pumped up with hormones and antibiotics are some of the toxic fruits of the relentless industrialization of agriculture. Environmentalists have long rebelled against these developments, while criticizing corporations and their accomplices in government and universities who force them on consumers and society.

Now, with the new and possibly greater hazard of genetic engineering added to agrotechnology, the concern is magnified. The following books scrutinize some of the appalling possibilities of a biotech-based food supply—and the equally outrageous arrogance of the companies behind it.

Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food by Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey (Common Courage Press, $14.95) questions the safety of a number of biotech food products, such as Monsanto's soybeans, which are bioengineered to tolerate the company's own herbicide. We should heed the warnings of scientists about transgenic foods, say the authors, and simply stop producing them while we also demand a commission to examine the long-term health and enviornmental effects of transgenic crops.

Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology by Brewster Kneen (New Society Publishers, $16.95) uncovers conflicts of interest in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where personnel with tight connections to biotech companies are in charge of investigating the safety of bioengineered foods, such as dairy products from cows fed bovine growth hormone.

Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature by Martin Teitel and Kimberly A. Wilson (Park Street Press, $12.95) tells of other biotech threats such as potatoes with E. coli genes and lists publications, Web sites, and addresses of groups advocating strict controls and clear labeling of biotech foods already on the market.
—Bob Schildgen

New from Sierra Club Books

Seven Wonders: Timeless Tools for a Healthier Planet by John C. Ryan. The essential guide to simple actions you can take to reduce environmental damage by using alternative "wonders," among which are bicycles, ceiling fans, and pad thai.

The Stations of Still Creek by Barbara J. Scot. A powerful reflection on personal crisis and nature's healing power, set in the forests around Mt. Hood.

The World of John Burroughs by Edward Kanze. A new biography of the great conservation pioneer, John Burroughs. The book is also rich in archival photos, such as shots of Burroughs and Sierra Club founder John Muir.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site,, or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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