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June 01, 2003|Susan Salter Reynolds

Food, Inc.

Mendel to Monsanto -- The

Promises and Perils of the

Biotech Harvest

Peter Pringle

Simon & Schuster: 356 pp., $25

The possibility of finding a middle ground in the debate over genetically modified foods seems as unlikely as Whole Foods selling Big Macs, but in "Food, Inc.," Peter Pringle gives it a try.

There are now more than 120 million acres planted with genetically modified crops, 68% of them in the United States. Pringle weighs the potential ability to feed millions of people around the world -- and to correct nutritional imbalances -- against the potential risks of creating an agricultural monoculture, of allowing artificially constructed genes to leak into cultivated acreage, of accelerating health risks such as food allergies and of playing God.

In this elegantly succinct and well-researched book, Pringle takes us from the mid-19th century laboratory of the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel to the courtrooms, town halls and universities where activists like Jeremy Rifkin fight conglomerates like Calgene and Monsanto. Pringle describes experiments that failed or were too hastily abandoned: golden rice, for instance, which is replete with vitamin A in the form of beta carotene and that was going to solve the problem of blindness in Third World countries.

"Food, Inc." proves beyond doubt that you really know more when you are able to admit how little it is that you actually know.


The Man With

the Beautiful Voice

And More Stories From the

Other Side of the Couch

Lillian B. Rubin

Beacon Press: 192 pp., $24

In "The Man With the Beautiful Voice," Lillian Rubin's 11th book on her experiences as a psychotherapist, she admits that she was drawn to psychotherapy because it promised an opportunity to analyze her own "internal issues."

Entertaining and revealing, "The Man With the Beautiful Voice" includes eight accounts of patients who taught Rubin something important about herself -- among them her very first patient, who pulled out a knife and began stabbing his chair a few minutes into their session. "This guy is really crazy," she thought. "So what did you think, that you'd be seeing only sane people?"

Most of the patients whose stories she tells come to her with milder problems, such as not being good at friendship or having a secret life that interferes with a relationship, though all turn out to be far deeper and more paralyzing than they realized. Watching as their burdens are lifted gives faith in the process, if not the science, of psychotherapy.


Scout's Honor

A Father's Unlikely Foray

Into the Woods

Peter Applebome

Harcourt: 352 pp., $24

"Grizzly Adams I am not," admits journalist Peter Applebome on Page 1 of "Scout's Honor." What begins as an effort to get closer to his non-jock son and avoid the perils of "bad daddom" ends as a series of marvelous adventures. Not that Applebome isn't skeptical of what he calls "the faux-fascism of scouting" or of its notoriously badly behaved exclusivists.

No, what bothers him most is "the dorky superfluity of it" -- which he gets over as he realizes that, one, Scouting is an antidote to a not-so-appealing media-generated pop culture and, two, that very same dorky superfluity just may save your life.

It's fun to read about Applebome and his 11-year-old son on their first canoe trip in upstate New York, getting stranded on a rock within five minutes of their departure, and about all the beautiful places Scouting takes them. It's also fascinating to learn about the history of Scouting in America and England.

In the end, Applebome and his son find a noncompetitive ground on which they can learn about the wilderness together. With great happiness and pride, Applebome watches Ben, a bit of a "nerd," find something he loves that prepares him, physically and emotionally, for the big bad world ahead.

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