Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

We're all stuck in Plasticville, intimately yoked to "a variety of synthetica" that makes our lives more livable. Yet, as the subtitle suggests, our passionate, decades-long affair has an evil flipside: this marvelously malleable material imperils the environment, wrecks our genes, and diminishes our very humanity.


It's powerful stuff. Science writer Susan Freinkel begins her evenhanded investigation of this twisted relationship by trying to count the number of plastic things she touches throughout the course of a day; in just forty-five minutes, she has listed almost as many. Zeroing in on eight common objects lets Freinkel create her own comprehensive narrative polymer. Combs and chairs, for example, show how early experiments created new substances, which allowed for aesthetic innovations. Beauty, formerly the provenance of the wealthy, suddenly became available to everyone.


Disposable lighters and plastic bags, on the other hand, illustrate our descent into a "shop-and-toss" mentality, one that the West has begun rapidly exporting. She visits factory workers making Frisbees in China and anti-plastic activists in California. Ultimately, she favors a sensible approach: acceptance of plastics' ubiquity, followed by behavior modification (carrying reusable bags to the grocery store, reducing consumption, buying products that are built to last, and so on). "In today's world, there are no perfect choices," she writes. "[A]ll we can do is be aware of the tradeoffs." Seriously eco-minded readers might not find much new here, but the recently green and the not-yet-converted will find Plastic: A Toxic Love Story full of facts worth mulling.

April 16: ""Blue pottery vases and bowls for flowers are most attractive, and certain blue books...will repeat and emphasize color."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet

Amara Lakhous delivers a mystery novel with its finger on the hot-button issues of today's Europe.  Immigration and multicultural conflicts erupt in the Italian city of Turin, as journalist Enzo Laganà looks to restore peace to his native burg.

Papers in the Wind

In this insightful novel by Eduardo Sacheri, a young girl left destitute by the death of her soccer-playing father is uplifted by the bold schemes of her uncle, his pals, and one newbie player to the professional leagues.