Gardening and botany writer Kassinger (A Garden of Marvels) mingles ecology and 3.7 billion years of Earth’s history to explain the importance and ubiquity of algae, from the cyanobacteria, which first released oxygen into the atmosphere, to the invasive azolla, cherished by organic rice farmers. In chirpy prose chock-full of homespun metaphors—“With pyrenoids, microalgae were cooking on a professional range instead of a hot plate”—Kassinger turns an obscure subject into delightful reading. Some readers’ tongues may twist on the likes of coccolithophores, but concise explanations make the going easy. As the book explains, algae were possibly what helped fuel early hominin brains and prompted humans to first migrate from Asia into North America along an algae-rich “kelp highway.” Kassinger describes the possibility of replacing fossil fuels with algae-based fuels, the ecological threat posed by toxic algal blooms at sea, and the various locales to which her research took her, including an algae oil farm in Brazil, a seaweed research center in South Korea, and a test kitchen (from which she shares recipes, such as dulse and cheddar scones and Irish moss blancmange) in San Francisco. Even readers who never expected to enjoy a book about slime will find this an informative and charming primer to “the world’s most powerful engines.” (June)
Praise for SlimeAn Amazon Best Science Title of 2019 A Science News Best Title of 2019 A New York Times New and Noteworthy TitleA Science Friday Best Book of the Summer A Library Journal Best Science and Technology Book of 2019 A BookPage Best Book of 2019 “Kassinger gives these Plain Janes their time in the sun…Great reading.” —Ira Flatow, NPR’s “Science Friday” "Algae are among the earth's oldest life-forms, pervasive in everything from pond scum to crude oil. Kassinger explains their history and biology, and makes a persuasive case for their future importance." —New York Times Book Review “No organisms are more important to life as we know it than algae. In Slime, Ruth Kassinger gives this under-appreciated group its due. The result is engaging, occasionally icky, and deeply informative.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, New York Times-bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize-winner The Sixth Extinction "Kassinger has found in algae an undervalued topic truly worthy of closer attention...In the end, Kassinger has us rooting for pond scum—it might just save us yet." —Science News "In spite of having studied algae for more than 30 years, I learnt much from Slime...Compelling...There is something for everyone, from committed phycologists to people who hitherto (but hopefully no longer) regarded algae as an inconvenience or worse. Blanket weed may never seem the same again." —Nature "Slime illustrates the important role algae have played in the world...Overall, Slime gives a distinct view into these underappreciated organisms and demonstrates our intertwined history with algae. Hopefully, it will help readers see algae in a different light." —Science Magazine "Fascinating and relevant...As Kassinger finds unique nuggets within algae's backstory and possible future, she unravels amazing, microscopic details of this vital resource...Where it gets really interesting is her detailed explanation of the large role algae played in the complicated, multistep process of human evolution, supplementing our ancestors’ diets with iodine and the omega-3 oil DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both essential ingredients for developing larger brains. And it has continued to serve as a nutritious food source for many cultures ever since...Kassinger has penned a wondrous story of this multifaceted, often misunderstood microorganism whose existence is vital to our own." —BookPage, starred review "We often look for big solutions, but the reality is that the smallest things often offer hope. This globetrotting book showcases the 'algae innovators' (the phrase of the month) exploring what we can learn from these often-ignored plants." —EcoWatch “A book full of delights and surprises. Algae are the hidden rulers of our world, giving us oxygen, food, and energy. This is a beautiful evocation of the many ways that our past and future are entangled in their emerald strands.” —David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and Pulitzer Prize-finalist The Forest Unseen "Deep and enlightening...Readers will learn more about algae than they ever imagined (and relish every minute of it). Comparisons to Mary Roach and Susan Orlean are well-deserved, and Kassinger’s erudite and wide-ranging approach should entice readers with a wide range of interests, from food to fashion, bioengineering, marine biology, farming, and general fascination with the wonders of nature. Gardeners will welcome Kassinger's latest, and everyone else will feel lucky to discover this winsome writer." —Booklist, starred review "A fun and fascinating deep dive into the natural history, current uses, and vast potential of algae...Accessible and enthralling...Kassinger delivers the powerful and optimistic message that slime just may be our savior...Thorough but not dense, informative but never boring—a delight from start to finish." —Kirkus, starred review "In chirpy prose chock-full of homespun metaphors...Kassinger turns an obscure subject into delightful reading...Even readers who never expected to enjoy a book about slime will find this an informative and charming primer to 'the world’s most powerful engines.'" —Publishers Weekly “Slime is a revelation! Algae has the power to cool the planet, replace plastics, fuel vehicles, and feed the world. This visionary book belongs in the hands of every policy maker, business leader, and engaged citizen looking for answers to our most pressing problems. It also happens to be a delightful read in the tradition of Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, and Michael Pollan. Ruth Kassinger turns a reporter’s eye to the natural world and finds an epic narrative there, populated by dedicated scientists, intrepid chefs, and starry-eyed visionaries.” —Amy Stewart, New York Times-bestselling author of The Drunken Botanist and the Kopp Sisters novels “Ruth Kassinger is a witty and affable guide throughout this globetrotting celebration of an overlooked life form. Reading Slime will convince you that algae deserve our respect, and even our gratitude—they are ancient, fascinating, and essential to life as we know it." —Thor Hanson, author of Buzz, The Triumph of Seeds, and Feathers
A fun and fascinating deep dive into the natural history, current uses, and vast potential of algae.
Who knew that the slimy green stuff we commonly encounter as seaweed and pond scum is a driving force behind all of life as we know it? In this accessible and enthralling book, Kassinger (A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants, 2014, etc.) writes that algae are responsible for creating the environment that supports our existence on this planet. Today, algae are much talked about as an abundant source of alternative energy, but scientists have discovered that the usefulness of algae extends far beyond biofuels. They play a role in the production of a bevy of everyday products, from beer to paint. In seaweed form, algae are incredibly versatile and nutritious. The seaweed industry alone generates more than $6 billion per year, and seaweed may be an effective prebiotic. (As just one of the many charming features of this book, the author includes a few delectable seaweed recipes in the appendix.) Never one to shy away from getting her hands dirty, Kassinger traveled around the world to interview researchers and see for herself how algae may help save coral reefs, curb climate change, and produce eco-friendly plastics. She also provides exciting updates on how algae are being used to solve that pesky petroleum problem. Importantly, the author doesn't overlook the not-so-rosy qualities of algae, touching on its potentially harmful effects on marine life. Still, there is no ick factor here. Kassinger delivers the powerful and optimistic message that slime just may be our savior. "Remember," she writes, "that every fish in the sea depends on algae and that every plant on land is actually a sophisticated alga."
Thorough but not dense, informative but never boring—a delight from start to finish.