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Curious Folks Ask: 162 Real Answers on Amazing Inventions, Fascinating Products, and Medical Mysteries (FT Press Science) [Kindle Edition]

Sherry Seethaler
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“Dr. Seethaler has written an excellent book for any interested student of science. She answers great questions about the world around us in this fascinating book. As a high school science teacher, I encounter many of these from my own students. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who has pondered questions starting with ‘how,’ ‘what,’ or ‘why.’”

–Ernest James Lo, Science Teacher, Woodside High School, Woodside, CA


Prepare to Be Fascinated!

Why does the flu change every year?

       • What makes glue sticky?

       • What causes out-of-body experiences?

       • Are all brands of gas the same?

       • Will adult stem cells work as well as embryonic stem cells?

       • Is one “horsepower” really equal to the power of one horse?

       • Why can’t you sneeze with your eyes open?

       • How much does a cremated body weigh?


These are just a few of the fascinating science and health questions real people have asked top science writer and San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Sherry Seethaler. Curious Folks Ask brings together 162 of her best answers–all crystal-clear, accurate, quick, and a pleasure to read. Seethaler is one of this generation’s best science explainers, and it shows: Every answer is accurate, fun to read, and distilled to a single page or less! Want to know how canned air works…or nuclear bombs? What causes goose bumps, earwax, dandruff, headaches? Whether it’s healthy to crack your knuckles, drink decaf, eat chocolate? What it costs to run all those LED lights around your house? It’s all here–and a whole lot more!

  • Your body’s oddities: knees to knuckles, itches to sneezes
    Surprising facts about how your body grows and works
  • Our ingenious inventions
    The past, present, and future of our relentless human inventiveness
  • Pesky pathogens: viruses, bacteria, and prions
    How they keep outsmarting us, and why it’s so hard to stay healthy
  • Common chemical concoctions
    The science behind the everyday products that have transformed our lives
  • Uniquely human: how we got here, how we’re unique
    New lessons from genetics, archaeology, and evolutionary biology

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In the vein of David Feldman’s Imponderables books, here’s an interesting collection of questions and answers based on Seethaler’s column in the San Diego Union Tribune. The format is straightforward: first the question, then the answer. The questions are grouped into categories—ingenious inventions, body parts, pesky pathogens, health nuts, and so on—and the answers range in length from slightly more than a page to a few sentences. It’s the kind of book you read a bit at a time, and it’s just the thing for anyone who has been wondering why some people blink more than others, why California requires the use of snow tires in winter, why you don’t keep your eyes open when you sneeze, or what eyelashes are for. Not as lively or as entertaining as the Imponderables books, probably because the questions are generally a bit duller, the book is still informative and reasonably entertaining. Trivia fans will find much to amuse themselves with here. --David Pitt


As seen on WebMD, Woman's Day Radio, The ManCow Show, and KPFA's Exploration radio show.

Product Details

  • File Size: 560 KB
  • Print Length: 226 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 5 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002ZM6KDW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,740 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Open the book to any page and you're bound to find a captivating question with a well-written and interesting answer. It's perfect for teachers wanting to add some spice to their lectures...and makes for an excellent gift for the budding genius of the family.

Here's a sampling of the questions:

Is a lightsaber (yes, the Star Wars sword) possible?

Why does my radio crackle with static or some other interference?

Since contact lenses move with your eyes as they move, how are bifocal contact lenses possible?

Why is it so difficult to make a hearing aid that works?

Why do certain electrical cords (those used by fans, in particular) curl over time? Certain others do not.

Why is the adhesiveness of white glues, such as Elmer's, stronger than that of glue sticks?

How come I can use cold water in my washing machine but I have to use hot water in my dishwasher?

Fun stuff!

Seethaler is a Science Writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. She holds a B.S. in Biochemistry (University of Toronto), a M.S. in Biology (Yale) and the Ph.D. in Science and Mathematics Education (Univ. of California-Berkeley), thus, readers can be confident that her answers are based upon good data and reliable information sources.

Highly recommended for school, public and college library collections and consideration for gifts to bright, curious and inquisitive individuals of all ages.

R. Neil Scott
Middle Tennessee State University
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Curiosity Rewarded April 26, 2010
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Can you define geophagy? What about zoopharmacognosy? I couldn't either until reading "Curious Folks Ask." Now I know why my dog sometimes eats dirt and that animals occasionally eat things for pharmacological reasons that are not normally part of their diets.

"Curious Folks Ask" is the book to read by the incurably curious, the hopelessly nescient, and even the pseudo-omniscient in need of humility and reality. The entire book is a collection of questions and answers organized into 8 categories: ingenious inventions, chemical concoctions, body parts, bodily functions, pesky pathogens, assorted ailments, uniquely human, and health nuts.

This reader likes Seethaler's book quite a bit. It's a book that one can read in a few sittings or read sporadically during the day to turn empty minutes into mini science lessons. If one has no interest in a question topic or finds it too difficult, one can skip and move on to the next one. I surprised myself by skipping very few questions, and even gave a cursory read to the "skipped" ones.

Some of Seethaler's answers seem to have been written by a politician. She begins on topic and somehow she disarmingly ends up on a somewhat related but different topic. Her book is so fascinating, however, that these few transgressions are easy to forgive.

In a nut shell, I enjoyed this book, learned from it, and would recommend it.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit long winded for me April 21, 2010
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In the movie Dragnet, Officer Friday's partner asked him a question, and after a very long-winded answer he quipped, "Well, I know one thing for sure." "What's that?" "I'll never ask that question again." That's how I felt sometimes with this book. Quality of the questions aside, I wish they took the advice given to Jimmy Carter after his first debate: Answer the question first, then explain. The answers too often start out with a complete history of the subject before they ever get to an answer. This type of book, I believe, needs to be quicker to the point.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lackluster July 29, 2010
By Sham I.
Format:Kindle Edition
I found the book to contain a list of decent questions but ultimately the answers were lacking. While some contained simple answers that most could understand, I found quite a few answers to be either parially wrong or to be very jargon-filled and unecessarily complex for the target audience of this book. I feel that some more thorough editing and less personal quips in the answers could vastly improve this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Subject matter too narrow. Not enough sources. February 24, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Sherry Seethaler is a science educator for a university and a science columnist for a newspaper. With "Curious Folks Ask" she has presented the world with a well-researched, science-based book of trivia to answer various questions you have always wondered as well as questions you never thought to ask.

This book covers the following topics:
Chapter 1 - Ingenious inventions
Chapter 2 - Chemical concoctions
Chapter 3 - Body parts
Chapter 4 - Bodily functions
Chapter 5 - Pesky pathogens
Chapter 6 - Assorted ailments
Chapter 7 - Uniquely human
Chapter 8 - Health nuts

Chapters 1 & 2 discuss inventions and scientific explanations of how things work. Chapters 3 through 8 are all about the human body including diseases, evolution, and nutrition. I personally would have preferred much more of the first two chapters about inventions, mechanics, and physics and much less of the later chapters on health and diseases. In the first chapter Seethaler attempts to answer the question of whether a light saber is possible, and she briefly summarizes that topic as written by Michio Kaku in "Physics of the Impossible", a book which I have read and enjoyed. If you are interested in futuristic technology from a physics perspective, I recommend you read that book instead.

"Curious Folks Ask" seems to be very well-researched, but unfortunately Sherry Seethaler provides us with very few of her sources. The book has no footnotes, endnotes, or bibliography. Occasionally she will mention a specific book. Sometimes she provides the reader with a link to a website such as NASA's page with the current count of known exoplanets or the World Health Organization's page about a certain medical condition.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting
There was some good info in here.
Published 2 months ago by mika chavez
4.0 out of 5 stars Never stop learning
An interesting little book covering all manner of questions from science to economics to ... well, some of them are unclassifiable. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Ray Anselmo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Liked it
Published 7 months ago by Anthony L.
3.0 out of 5 stars book of answers
This was an interesting book. It was more like a FAQ manual. It made for good reading and was entertaining. This may prove quite useful to the trivia pursuit crowd.
Published 9 months ago by Jude-Farley Pierre
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Bathroom Book
Interesting collection of short explanations on a wide range of subjects. Fun reading when you want to kill a few minutes.
Published 10 months ago by Kevin Curtis
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Published 10 months ago by RECAMECAL
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting read.
Lots of great information into easy to understand language. Sometimes there was more than I needed to know. I like how the topics are arranged.
Published 14 months ago by Ellessay
4.0 out of 5 stars Some stuff i was unaware of
This book was interesting to read and had a few questions i have never thought about asking. I enjoyed most of the book, but would like a more streamlined book with specific... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Nicole Finsley
5.0 out of 5 stars For the curious
Like the title says. This was purchased for my wife, who loves random knowledge. She can open this book, pluck a random bit of knowledge out of it, and she's happy. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars I knew that... I didn't know that....Really!
A great "game" of a book.... test your knowledge on all sorts of topics. Answers are well researched and enlightening. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Cecelia Cody
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More About the Author

Sherry Seethaler is a science writer and educator at the University of California, San Diego. She also writes a weekly column for the San Diego Union-Tribune in which she answers readers' questions spanning nearly every imaginable science topic from "Why do I sneeze when I look toward the sun?" to "Is a lightsaber possible?" to "Is one horsepower really equal to the power of one horse?" to "Why do lizards do push-ups" to "What causes out-of-body experiences?" That last question really does fall under the purview of science! You can read the answers to these and 345 other questions in Seethaler's books, Curious Folks Ask: 162 Real answers on amazing inventions, fascinating products, and medical mysteries (FT Press Science, 2010) and Curious Folks Ask 2: 188 Real answers on our fellow creatures, our planet, and beyond (FT Press Science, 2011).

Seethaler earned a bachelor of science in biochemistry and chemistry from the University of Toronto, a Master of Science and a Master of Philosophy in biology from Yale University and a Doctor of Philosophy in science and mathematics education from the University of California, Berkeley. She has studied theories of learning and the extensive literature on people's alternative ideas about mathematical and scientific concepts. Her dissertation research examined how eighth-grade students and undergraduates make sense of scientific controversy, with a focus on the genetic engineering of food.

Her passion is to help people rediscover the wonder about science that we all shared as children, before we had concluded that science meant facts to be memorized from a textbook. Back then science meant bugs and slugs, trees and seas, stars and scars, rocks and... (well, you get the picture). Science is also a way of approaching problems and a way of thinking about the world that we can each apply to making better reasoned health, political and consumer decisions. Unfortunately, precollege and even college science classes often fail to teach us how to do this. To fill that gap, her book Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to sort through the noise around global warming, the latest health claims, and other scientific controversies (FT Press Science, 2009) is an empowering yet palatable set of tools for making sense of the health and science-related issues we encounter in our daily lives.

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