Alvin Silverstein

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Harry C. Stubbs

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

When I meet a student who has passed a high-school chemistry course but cannot tell me what happens when sodium is dropped into water,… I look around for a nice, old-fashioned, descriptive science book nicely loaded with facts…. I settle down and try to read the book with my brain shut off except for the recording portion—no effort to calculate the cooling power of the skin or the horsepower of the heart. The trouble is, most books make one think even if they are purely factual; brains are hard to shut off.

Three small volumes by Dr. Alvin Silverstein and his wife Virginia seemed worth trying at one of these moments. They are The Respiratory System: How Living Creatures Breathe; Circulatory Systems: The Rivers Within (no, the final s's are not misprints); and The Digestive System: How Living Creatures Use Food. As the titles suggest, all three follow a similar plan. Each system is described as it appears in the human body; then scientific and engineering reasons for its structure are clarified by describing the corresponding equipment in similar organisms.

The job is well done, though not wholly without slips. I raised my eyebrows at page 4 of the respiration book, where it is stated that the human body has more than a hundred trillion different kinds of cells (a hundred trillion cells is more like it). In the book on digestion, page 25 perpetuates a widespread canard about acids. It is true that gastric juice contains hydrochloric acid, to the tune of about half of one percent; but I commonly use HCI about forty times as concentrated in the high-school lab with no trouble…. Even without the errors, though, I still had to think, for the Silverstein books were stimulating. (pp. 629-30)

Harry C. Stubbs, "Views on Science Books: 'The Respiratory System: How Living Creatures Breathe', 'Circulatory Systems: The Rivers Within', and 'The Digestive System: How Living Creatures Use Food'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1970 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLVI, No. 6, December, 1970, pp. 629-30.

Complete with glossary and table of salient biographical events. [Harold Urey: The Man Who Explored from Earth to Moon] is an instructive introduction to scientific method in practice, a book that troubles to explicate (not just enumerate) the concepts behind the discoveries. Dr. Urey, a Nobel laureate for his isolation of deuterium, a hydrogen isotope, has restively applied his special knowledge to physical chemistry, the wartime nuclear energy project (less than complacently), oceanographic studies, the problem of life origins, the geology of the moon. The questions he asked, the experiments he initiated, the conclusions he reached and followed through into new hypotheses for new research evolve here into a coherent pattern uncommon at this level. Nevertheless the text is uneven, inasmuch as the chemistry is more rigorous than the boyhood chronology…. Much is unsaid, but the rudiments are firmly gripped and fastidiously conveyed.

"Younger Non-Fiction: 'Harold Urey: The Man Who Explored from Earth to Moon'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1971 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, January 1, 1971, p. 6.

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