“If the label says ‘natural,’ then it must be good for me.” How many times have you overheard someone at the grocery store come to that conclusion? Tied with that belief system is the idea that ‘mother nature’ is looking out for us, protecting us, and providing for us. Dan Riskin, Ph. D., explains that’s all part of the marketing hype prevalent today, from foods to child birthing. His new book has a wakeup call for that ideology. Guess what? Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You.
A recap of an up-close and personal encounter with a parasite helps the author explain both his credentials exploring the world, and his deeper astonishment with it. We learn about his young son, and what surprising influence a career in science can have affecting a father’s perception of his love for that son. Riskin hopes both to share his astonishment with the reader, and to answer a personal question.
Within chapters named after the Seven Deadly Sins, Riskin details how brutal and selfish the natural world can be. While an evolutionary biologist, he doesn’t turn the tome into a ‘rah-rah’ paean in praise of Darwinism. His search to resolve his personal ‘nature/nurture’ dilemma could have mired the book in self doubt – instead it anchors the work in a very human place. Animals and plants, however, still take center stage.
If you are a fan of the bizarre, this book has you covered at every turn. From acacia slaves to zebras trampling babies, Riskin illustrates and enumerates a repugnant smörgåsbord from A to Z. There are thieving spiders, ant assassins, lazy parasites, rapist ducks, and necrophiliac frogs, just to name a few perpetrators. Riskin’s down-to-earth humor prevents the naturally tragic from appearing disgusting. Why such grotesque plant and animal stories?
The author’s realization that a detailed understanding of the mechanism of DNA should enhance our enjoyment of it, rather than detract from it, gives the reader a framework to share that appreciation. Though samples of the strange rule in the first six chapters, the final chapter uses a far more ‘pedestrian’ animal example as a call to action in how we perceive the world, and each other.
Riskin has written in an earthy style with tremendous wonder and remarkable lack of pretense. He hosts Animal Planet’s “Monster’s Inside Me” program, but his book will appeal to anyone interested in learning more about our world, its allure, and its danger.
Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You, by Dan Riskin, Ph. D.
272 pages. Touchstone, 2014.