THE SECRET LIFE OF DUST: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter—the Big Consequences of Little Things

Hannah Holmes, Author
Hannah Holmes, Author . Wiley $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-471-37743-6
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Despite its ubiquity, dust is not a popular subject among scientists, and lay people tend to brush it off. But Holmes, a science and natural history writer for the Discovery Channel Online, teases many tantalizing facts from this particulate microscopic substance. "[P]olar researchers are drinking water that fell as snow during the crusades," for instance. "Hundreds of years' worth of dust has piled up on the well floor," most of it "space dust," as "only a small amount of windblown Earth dusts" reach Antarctica. Some readers may be turned off or sent on a wild cleaning frenzy by much of the information: "you breathe about 700,000 of your own skin flakes each day," for instance, or "a cup of flour... isn't legally filthy until it contains about 150 insect fragments and a couple of rodent hairs." And some of her more harrowing facts might inspire minor lifestyle changes: household dust is comprised of all manner of toxic materials, like "widely produced" chromium and mercury metals, pesticides, and herbicides, and "the average child eats 15 or 20 milligrams of dust a day, and superslurpers eat 30 to 50 milligrams." While factoid set-pieces run the show here, Holmes's tours through the science behind them are lucid. Allergy sufferers and other interested parties will relish this book; others may prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of their particulate surroundings. (Aug.)

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