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The Month Ahead

What to see, read and listen to in November

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS

Two different takes on the principle of progress hit the shelves this month. Mad Science (Nov. 13) is a daily affirmation for humankind, recounting 365 cool inventions, while Encyclopedia Paranoiaca (Nov. 20) is an A-to-Z of modern perils —many of them deriving from the inventions in Mad Science. Here’s how the two stack up against each other.

TELEPHONES
MS: Marvels at Thomas Edison’s role in standardizing the salutation for phone calls. Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell’s “Ahoy!” prevailed in the device’s early days, until Edison stepped in with “Hello?”
EP: Reminds us that telephones “are among the very germiest items we ever come into contact with,” a problem compounded by the fact that they don’t respond well to meaningful amounts of soap and water.

PHARMACEUTICALS
MS: Applauds German pharmacist Felix Hoffmann, whose patent for a new kind of pain medicine brought comfort to countless headache sufferers. Marketed under the brand name Aspirin, this little white pill “remains one of the world’s most widely used pain relievers.”
EP: Suggests that pain relievers very often mask the root causes of headaches, which can foreshadow such potentially life-threatening ailments as bubonic plague, cerebral hemorrhages, dengue fever, Ebola, lupus, malaria and typhus.

DENTAL CARE
MS: Lauds the Chinese emperor who devised a toothbrush of hogback bristles set in a bone or bamboo handle, thereby ushering in an age of brighter smiles and banishing the scourge of bad breath.
EP: Warns that the nasties removed when you clean your teeth tend to cling to the bristles and lie in wait until the next brushing. Brushes, the book adds, can also attract all sorts of other yucky stuff.

PLASTICS
MS: Celebrates the birth of Nathaniel Convers Wyeth, the DuPont engineer who invented the plastic beverage bottle (patented in 1973). His revolutionary container was not only light, flexible and strong, but also “met Food and Drug Administration standards for purity.”
EP: Frets about the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic bottles. BPA, we learn, is a “powerful synthetic estrogen that can disrupt normal endocrine function.” Diabetes, obesity and accelerated puberty are among the more benign risks associated with the chemical.

PHOTOCOPIERS
MS: Rejoices in the advent of Chester Carlson’s xerographic copying process, which saved businesses incalculable amounts of time and money, and had “a profound cultural influence” to boot.
EP: Notes that emissions from copiers are capable of causing dizziness, fatigue, eye irritation, sore throats, headaches, shortness of breath and a host of even more disagreeable ailments.

 

QUOTED

“[As a boy,] though I couldn’t have put it into words, I had the distinct impression that the wall separating respectability from fun was very thin indeed.”—From Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls. NOV. 1

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