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Originally published June 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 26, 2007 at 2:19 PM

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Book review

"Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense" stays on its toes

What Mark Kurlanksy did for salt in his popular nonfiction, "Salt: A World History," Scott McCredie does for balance.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Scott McCredie will read from "Balance" at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com).

"Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense"

by Scott McCredie

Little, Brown, 296 pp., $24.99

What Mark Kurlanksy did for salt in his popular nonfiction, "Salt: A World History," Scott McCredie does for balance. (Not "balance" in the psychological sense. Balance, as in how we don't go around falling down all the time.) It's a tough sell at first — nearly 300 meticulously cited pages on how the inner ear functions? Really? — but it's actually a fascinating read.

Former journalist (and one-time Seattle Times reporter) McCredie excels at delivering nitty-gritty scientific details in the form of wonderfully memorable anecdotes. He explains, for instance, what is physically occurring inside the human vestibular system (all that balance-related stuff in your ears and brain) by describing the extraordinary acts of Ringling Bros. circus performers.

Author appearance

Scott McCredie will read from "Balance" at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com).

He illustrates instances wherein the system falters by analyzing John F. Kennedy Jr.'s fateful plunge into the foggy sea by Martha's Vineyard in 1999. Or by following a Tacoma-area woman with a special disease that makes her unable to walk with her eyes closed.

References to Northwest-centric landmarks — climbing Mount Si, sailing on the Sound — mesh nicely with references to scenes from J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy "Lord of the Rings."

Some of the book does get a little silly. A few of the author's personal anecdotes, like his ill-advised attempt to stand on a basketball, might send you skimming for a page or two, but the vast majority of the book provides fantastic, Malcolm Gladwellian fodder for cocktail conversation: "Did you know that the average cat can survive a fall from five and a half stories onto pavement?" Why? Because cats have good balance.

Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745

or hedwards@seattletimes.com

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