Melvin Berger Essay - Critical Essays

Berger, Melvin


Melvin Berger 1927–

American young adult nonfiction writer, biographer, and lecturer. Berger is a popular and prolific author of nonfiction works which explain aspects of science and music to a young adult audience. He is perhaps best known for his Scientists at Work series, which deals with pollution, cancer, crime detection, oceanography, weather, and medical research. A related concern is with the environment, and in The New Air Book, Jobs That Save Our Environment, and The New Water Book Berger demonstrates the impact that technological advances have had on nature. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music and a professional violist, he has written several introductions to instruments, noted musicians, and types of music. Believing that "all music is related to the world in which it was created or is being performed," he writes books that "relate the art of music to the social, political, and scientific ideas of the time." Although most critics praise his ability to simplify complicated theories, there are dissenters who maintain that his explanations lack precision. The majority of his books describe related jobs and their qualifications, a useful feature for the young adult planning a career. Recently Berger has begun collaborating with his wife, Gilda, herself an author of nonfiction for young people. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 5.)

Evelyn Shaw

In Triumphs of Modern Science, by Melvin Berger …, there is emphasis on the individual's participation in scientific discoveries. (Actually, I would like to know what prompted some of the inclusions as part of modern science, unless by "modern" the author means anything between 1900 and 1960.)

Each chapter is a biography of the scientist identified with a particular discovery, and includes the histories of penicillin, viruses, antibiotics, X-rays, DNA, radioactivity, and relativity. I like the human element in this type of reporting, because I think that young readers can relate to it and see the possibilities that exist for their own achievements in science studies. However, I wish the author had emphasized somewhere that many discoveries are not made suddenly, but usually have, as a foundation, years of work carried out by many people and leading to one individual's spectacular "breakthrough." (p. 17)

Evelyn Shaw, in Natural History (copyright © the American Museum of Natural History, 1965; reprinted with permission from Natural History), November, 1965.

A science book with the humanities reader in mind, [Famous Men of Modern Biology] investigates the work of fourteen biologists from Pasteur to the Double Helix duo…. [Each chapter develops] some personality through anecdotes, such as the preoccupied Salk assuring his neglected wife, "My dear, I'm giving you my undevoted attention." Mr. Berger does for biology what Bernard Jaffe did for chemistry...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Harold F. Desmond, Jr.

A strong point of [For Good Measure: The Story of Modern Measurement] is its inclusion of many experiments, but there is no glossary for the numerous technical terms…. On the whole, however, this is a very solid treatment, both for students and teacher reference and review. (p. 3826)

Harold F. Desmond, Jr., in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, October 15, 1969; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1969 by Xerox Corporation), October 15, 1969.

Harry C. Stubbs

[Tools of Modern Biology] is good and describes a lot of apparatus well, but I fear we are not yet at the point where the electron microscope and pH meter can show very clearly why Beethoven could write a symphony and I cannot. I do hope, though, that scientific measuring, which forms the entire foundation for Mr. Berger's book, may someday make a big difference to the science of psychology. (p. 408)

Harry C. Stubbs, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1970 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), August, 1970.

William J. Murray

[Tools of Modern Biology] is principally a history of the development of the methods (Intellectual Tools) and instruments that have contributed to the growth and development of the Modern Biological Body of Knowledge. It is made more interesting by the fact that the works of some of the major researchers in the field are cited throughout.

Perhaps the most important contribution that this book offers to the reader is that it gives him meaningful insights into scientific process and method and a better understanding of the men who are engaged in scientific endeavors….

The scientific "Truth" is only as good as the methods and instruments employed and the data which support them. This point is so well made by the author's development of his subject that this alone is enough to recommend the book….

His treatment of the scientific method is one of the best yet for real insight and understanding. His treatment of Biometrics demonstrates his skill at taking a fairly complicated topic and making it simple and quite understandable for the average reader.

The author's chapters on the use of various scientific instruments such as light and electron microscopes, radioactive tracers and others are excellent. (p. 296)

William J. Murray, in Best Sellers (copyright 1970, by the University of Scranton), October 15, 1970.


(The entire section is 491 words.)

Henry Leland Clarke

Melvin Berger has presented his readers with the story of fourteen leading composers of the century [in Masters of Modern Music]. He has selected Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartók to represent "Musical Explorers"; Richard Strauss, Sibelius, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Copland, and Britten, "Music in the Main Stream"; Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and Menotti, "Music for the Many"; and John Cage and Vladimir Ussachevsky, "The New Music." All fourteen were born before the outbreak of World War I, and there is not a French, Yankee, or black composer among them. Within these limitations his list has been well chosen, despite a few possible objections. Surely, for instance, Webern should be added to the first three men, as one of the "composers who have pointed out the new directions of modern music."… [The author] has followed the present trend of placing Hindemith only among those "composers who have carried forward the musical traditions of the past." In addition, certain statements in the text raise the question of whether Richard Strauss and Sibelius are modern enough to be included at all. (p. 70)

In any case, the composers chosen are attractively presented. Each is introduced by a striking incident or characterization, which brings him close to the reader at the outset. The style is readable and especially appealing to the young person looking for a guide. One result of this format is that it makes the work suitable as a novel but...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Zena Sutherland

In a fascinating survey of research and findings, [Melvin Berger] makes a complicated subject clear [in Enzymes in Action], explaining the nature of enzymes, the ways in which they act, and the isolation … of a pure enzyme that led, in addition to other experimental work, to the production … of a synthetic enzyme…. Lively, informal, and informative, this is not only good science for the layman, but also a good picture of scientific method. (pp. 117-18)

Zena Sutherland, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1972 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), April, 1972.

[The Violin Book is...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Leone R. Hemenway

Such books as [Erik] Bergaust's Oceanographers in Action … and [Charles] Coombs's Deep-Sea World: the Story of Oceanography … cover the techniques, tools, and projects of ocean scientists, but [Oceanography Lab] is unique in describing the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)…. [This is a] generally well-conceived and well-executed presentation. (p. 2190)

Leone R. Hemenway, in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, July, 1973; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1973 by Xerox Corporation), July, 1973.

[Pollution Lab] … or how "today's pollution...

(The entire section is 257 words.)

Phyllis G. Mordas

[Jobs in Fine Arts and Humanities is a] satisfactory introduction to career opportunities in art, dance, drama, music, and the humanities. Berger emphasizes the skills and training needed and the opportunities for advancement. Of the many jobs described only five are in the field of the humanities. Job coverage in the fine arts, however, is well done with helpful examples and photographs. (p. 116)

Phyllis G. Mordas, in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, October 15, 1974; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1974 by Xerox Corporation), October 15, 1974.

(The entire section is 88 words.)

Zena Sutherland

Although [Jobs in Fine Arts and Humanities] gives some information about careers, it covers far too broad an area to be anything but superficial in treatment…. Adequately written, but not very useful. (p. 38)

Zena Sutherland, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1974 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), November, 1974.

[The New Air Book is a companion to The New Water Book. With] simple experiments worked into the text wherever possible, Berger introduces just about everything he can think of that has to do with air—breathing, atmosphere, wind, weather, flying, and pollution...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

David G. Hoag

Much of this book about air, the atmosphere, and weather, is excellent. The text [of The New Air Book] for the most part is clear and well organized…. The many experiments described should be instructive and fun. But here and there are factual flaws and incomplete or misleading statements. Ignoring buoyancy in the balloon air-weighing experiment or saying nothing about the chemical and pressure changes in the candle, glass and water experiment are unfortunate. This potentially excellent book could have made the mark if it had been more carefully checked before being published! I recommend it in spite of the problems for its generally good quality science and the many experiments included. The last few...

(The entire section is 139 words.)

H. C. Wohlers

The New Air Book provides an excellent description of one of man's natural resources. The author takes a detailed look at the technical aspects of air, describing what it is physically and chemically in an easy-to-understand text. In addition, Berger discusses the importance of air, weather, flying and air pollution, and what the public can do to learn more about the problems of air quality…. A number of pedantic scientific questions could be raised concerning the complete correctness of some explanations used in the book. In an attempt to simplify complex problems, Berger has sometimes oversimplified. One hopes that the book will provide the reader with an incentive to delve further into the science of air...

(The entire section is 247 words.)

Esther H. Read

Preceded by a foreword of deep feeling, this rather comprehensive book on cancer for young people [Cancer Lab] proceeds to discuss, in turn, all types of cancer therapists and researchers involved in treatment and study…. In a book such as this for older children, it seems unnecessary to confine the writing to very short sentences—they become tedious. Nevertheless, the boy or girl already interested in science or in the medical field will find this up-to-date work rewarding. (pp. 9-10)

Esther H. Read, in Appraisal (copyright © 1976 by the Children's Science Book Review Committee), Winter, 1976.

(The entire section is 94 words.)

John Dawson Boniol, Jr.

The increasingly important role of the police laboratory in law enforcement work is skillfully presented in this well-written and profusely illustrated book [Police Lab]. Berger covers the entire range of the criminologists' work and explains very lucidly the scientific processes in such areas as serology, toxicology, spectrography, chromatography, and pathology. Although the text points out that laboratory tests can be used to corroborate innocence, the examples presented show mainly how these tests can be used to prove guilt. With an increasing general interest in police work, this is a very good and up-to-date addition…. (p. 43)

John Dawson Boniol, Jr., in School...

(The entire section is 280 words.)

Beverly B. Youree

This well-written survey of the evolution of American folk music includes brief explanations of how folk music is created as well as descriptions of folk instruments and biographies of folk singers and instrumentalists. An unusual feature [of The Story of Folk Music] is the inclusion of instructions on how to make some simple musical instruments at home and compose one's own songs…. [It is an] extremely interesting book on a very popular subject. (p. 54)

Beverly B. Youree, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1976 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation: copyright © 1976), November, 1976....

(The entire section is 195 words.)

John D. Boniol

Covering the training and work of Special Agents, the operations of the Laboratory and the Identification Division but not the activities of the director and other high-level administrators, [FBI] is a glorification of the bureau. There is no mention of past illegal FBI maneuvers nor of the controversies that have surrounded the agency, and the inclusion of current "Ten Most-Wanted Criminals" posters is useless since these will quickly become out of date. (p. 46)

John D. Boniol, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1977 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation: copyright © 1977), December,...

(The entire section is 100 words.)

Dorothy Bickerton

Medical Center Lab belongs on the vocational guidance shelf in school libraries. The book covers both clinical labs …, which assist the medical staff in diagnosis, and research labs …, which seek new knowledge and new techniques of treatment…. Because of the diversity of jobs in medical center labs and the brevity of the text, no particular aspect is discussed in depth; what is presented is an overall view of the many and varied careers which come together in medical center laboratories. This is done in the context of the treatment of actual patients, which is really what work in these labs is all about. (p. 151)

Dorothy Bickerton, in Science Books & Films...

(The entire section is 125 words.)

Daphne Ann Hamilton

The title [Medical Center Lab] is a slight misnomer, as the author describes the work of nine different labs which might be found in a large modern medical center…. While continually stressing the value of … research, Berger's one method of citing typical work done in the labs is much less applicable to research than to clinical labs, with the consequence that this section of the book is much less interesting and the work appears less vital—a distinct disservice to the subject. A few other problems occur: ECG is used for electrocardiograph, with no mention made of the less correct but more familiar term EKG; and in one account of a heart function experiment, the results are so exactly reflective of the...

(The entire section is 319 words.)

Zena Sutherland

In a fairly objective assessment of the occult sciences, Berger covers a wide range of topics adequately if not comprehensively [in The Supernatural: From ESP to UFOs]. Separate chapters are devoted to such subjects as astrology, faith healing, parapsychology, witchcraft, and UFOs. Case histories and anecdotes add variety to the text, which includes some exposes and some unexplained, but documented phenomena. Not unlike other books on the supernatural, this does a workmanlike job of introduction. (p. 154)

Zena Sutherland, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1978 by the University of Chicago: all rights reserved), June, 1978.


(The entire section is 95 words.)

Sarah Gagné


[The Supernatural: From ESP to UFOs is a] searching, unbiased study of supernatural reports. The first chapter sets the tone: The author describes a disquieting encounter he once had with a stranger in an art gallery, who spoke of actual events in Berger's life. Was the stranger receiving mental messages? The author purposely does not give an answer. The remaining eight chapters of the book examine several categories of supernatural phenomena…. (p. 308)

Sarah Gagné, "Supernatural Phenomena," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1978 by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), June, 1978, pp. 308-09.

(The entire section is 93 words.)

Montague Ullman

[The Supernatural; From ESP to UFOs] is a book that will be of little use to the serious reader of any age. Loose and inaccurate, it lumps together a smattering of scientific research in parapsychology (most of which is behind the times) with astrology, witchcraft, spiritualism and UFOs. Even the effort at being impartial comes off poorly. In hit-and-run fashion, the author selects dramatic, rather than evidential, material and then cites critics and skeptics in a way that whitewashes the initial impact. Nowhere is there a valid sifting out of the real from the spurious. (p. 142)

Montague Ullman, in Science Books & Films (copyright 1978 by the American...

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Sharon Hendricks

On the blurb Mr. Berger is described as a "meticulous researcher," and [The Supernatural from ESP to UFO's] does have a bibliography and a list of organizations that deal in supernatural phenomena. It is not a book that presents both sides of an issue. The author clearly believes in all the mysterious things about which he writes. Any librarian who … has been trying to keep the shelves stocked with this type of drivel will at once recognize that this book offers nothing new. It is a rehash with a new cover. (p. 17)

Sharon Hendricks, in Young Adult Cooperative Book Review Group of Massachusetts, December, 1978.

(The entire section is 104 words.)

Jean F. Mercier

A true craftsman, Berger is a favorite with readers whose interests he covers in nonfiction. [In "The World of Dance"] he discusses the numerous ramifications of the dance, its history from ancient times to the present…. Berger doesn't fail to include information about great names in the dance in an absorbing book. One finds but one quotation to question. Scholar Curt Sachs says, "… dancing … is simply life on a higher level." (Make that "a different level" or add "sometimes.") (p. 69)

Jean F. Mercier, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the December 11, 1978, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox...

(The entire section is 113 words.)

Daphne Ann Hamilton

[Melvin and Gilda Berger] have produced a low-key but highly informational book which should fill in a blank spot in most children's collections…. [The New Food Book: Nutrition Diet, Consumer Tips, and Foods of the Future] strikes a good balance between the traditional and health food viewpoints, avoiding both textbook dullness and over-enthusiastic proselytising. The authors don't hesitate to give the claims on both sides of an argument and leave the conclusion to further investigation by scientists, and … the reader. Very simple experiments illustrating a number of "food facts" are scattered throughout the book, smoothly merging into the text; they might provide some different science fair projects....

(The entire section is 145 words.)

Barbara Elleman

[The Legionnaires' disease] provides the basis for Berger's discussion of the Center for Disease Control [Disease Detectives]. He follows the painstaking research of each department—bacteriology, virology, and toxicology—in the race to locate the epidemic's cause, describing the broader scope of their work along the way. Explanations of technical terms are integrated into the text; and though [Jules] Archer's Epidemic!… is wider in scope, the concise writing style and detective story approach make this more accessible for slightly younger readers. (p. 748)

Barbara Elleman, in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association;...

(The entire section is 101 words.)

Barbara Elleman

In a broad overview beginning with evidence of its primitive use in Paleolithic times, Berger traces the history of dance in a straightforward, perfunctory manner [in The World of Dance]. The discussion touches on the styles that developed in ancient Egypt, Greece, the Orient, and Medieval Europe and comments on reasons for these developments. Ballet receives far more attention as Berger describes its evolution, explaining terms, summarizing story plots, and mentioning dancers and choreographers responsible for its present form. Also included is the influence of Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and Twyla Tharp on the formation of modern dance techniques…. A useful history for music and social studies reports....

(The entire section is 196 words.)