So it feels a little funny to praise a book whose main recommendation is to develop eating habits that look strikingly similar either to mine or to wh...more So it feels a little funny to praise a book whose main recommendation is to develop eating habits that look strikingly similar either to mine or to what I'm already striving toward. But that's not at all to say that I didn't learn anything from it, or even that I didn't find myself if not identifying with, at least harboring strong veins of, the "nutritionist" philosophies he started off by tearing down. (I am, despite my fairly healthy eating, an inveterate supplement taker, for example.)
In fact, I found the history and critique of "nutritionism" (basically the idea that you can look at the healthiness of food through amounts of individual nutrients, rather than whole foods or even dishes and cuisines) fascinating and compelling. The science behind the health claims in the supermarket is astoundingly bad, worse than I would have believed.
I like Pollan's approach to making suggestions--irreverent, simple principles like "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" or "Avoid foods with health claims" or "Avoid foods with things you can't pronounce" or "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves." And I especially love that he makes a point of noting that there are lots of healthy diets--some high fat, some low, some vegan, some 100% meat and dairy (though those are mostly gone now).
I do quibble with a few of his "rules"--I know he was thinking of carrageenan and high-fructose corn syrup when he coined the great-grandmother rule, but I doubt any of my great grandmothers would have recognized some things that Pollan (and I) would other otherwise approve of--like tofu or seaweed. And I don't think abolishing snacking entirely (especially not because it's kinda wimpy--my word, his sentiment) is the right route to fewer calories, even though more mindful eating is a good goal.
But these are small things in a otherwise rocking book. If you know people who keep cycling through fad diets trying desperately to lower their cholesterol or weight or blood sugar... give them this book.(less)
Chris makes a convincing argument that our obsession with safety for our kids is having serious negative side effects -- basically that it's destroyin...moreChris makes a convincing argument that our obsession with safety for our kids is having serious negative side effects -- basically that it's destroying their ability to become self-motivated adults. He walks us through how this shows up in a range of areas, from school to access to nature to the disappearance of meaningful work for children.
This can be an uncomfortable book sometimes for us parents. It's hard enough to let go in smaller ways than what Chris is suggesting. But I also found it inspiring, and the problems as he describes them really ring true. This is not a self-help book, it's more of a call to action/(less)
This is one of the perhaps few books that is a favorite of both me and my approaching-two year old. It's a sweet story of a girl and her day planting...moreThis is one of the perhaps few books that is a favorite of both me and my approaching-two year old. It's a sweet story of a girl and her day planting a flower box for her mother's birthday. Nadia loves the last page, when the family looks out the window at the skyline together ("cee-tee"!).
That would really be enough on its own, but it's just a refreshing change to have the background be urban (they carry the groceries home on the bus and live in a walk-up apartment), the girl be home with her dad while her mother works (or goes to school?), and the family be African-American without any of that being the point. It's just the backdrop, as a perfectly normal way for a family to be.
And, because I have a bee in my bonnet about accuracy in kids books, I will note that daffodils, tulips, and daisies are highly unlikely to be blooming at the time. But as the range of misrepresentations goes, that's pretty minor. At least the flowers are all themselves drawn pretty accurately, as are the pigeons. (less)
Intriguing, worth a read, but not quite as "dazzling" as touted. Perhaps this is mostly because it was written for a very lay audience, so only in som...more Intriguing, worth a read, but not quite as "dazzling" as touted. Perhaps this is mostly because it was written for a very lay audience, so only in some cases did we get even an inkling of how the conclusions were drawn. I realize that you don't want to put regression charts in a popular-audience book, but this was too much to the other extreme for my taste. I might look up some of the original papers some day.
I also felt that despite the "no moralizing, economics is just seeing how things are" premise, that the politics of the authors bled through. If conventional wisdom on something didn't match their results, then people who had challenged that conventional wisdom were far-sighted and rigorous (even though they were just guessing), but if their results backed conventional wisdom, then anyone who had thought to challenge it was made fun of (anyone who had dared question that more incarceration lowers crime, for example, though they never addressed whether their data distinguished between stiffer sentences for violent crime and non-violent/drug crimes).
Also there was an overstatement of the value of test scores as a stand in for life success in the discussion of parenting. The fact that various things that parents do didn't seem correlated with higher test scores was taken as proof that parents don't have much effect. I think that's an overreach (though I do support the "parents don't have as much control as you think" school).
In one example they talk about how being adopted "matters" for the negative because "IQ" is strongly genetic (a whole other question), but then mention that as adults, adopted children do *better* than their peers in terms of college attendance, well-paid job, and delaying marriage. In other words, school performance is not a great indicator of future success. What a way to close out a chapter obsessed with school performance.
For all that, some of the other discussions (power of information, teachers cheating standardized tests) were intriguing and the value of being reminded to question conventional wisdom is always good.(less)
Well, I understand why this got a Pulitzer. I hope every student is having to read it in high school. I'm afraid they're not.
Although Diamond's main p...more Well, I understand why this got a Pulitzer. I hope every student is having to read it in high school. I'm afraid they're not.
Although Diamond's main purpose is to answer the question "Why did the peoples of some continents conquer and dispossess others?" in a non-racist fashion (and succeeds convincingly), the book in many ways is a history of the world, and one less Eurocentric and less focused on irrelevant details than many whose point is explicitly trying to do that.
This was one of those awesome books that blew my mind in almost every chapter with some fact or analysis that threw something I knew or thought I knew about the world into a totally different light or explained how something got the way it was. (For example, my nerdy self loved the description of how people go about starting to domesticate plants, why we have domesticated almonds but not acorns, stuff like that.)
Diamond uses a mixture of ecological history, linguistics, and archeology to make a pretty concise and well-supported argument that a few things—suitable domesticable plants, suitable domesticable animals, east-west vs north-south axis, and size—led to the large differences in development of technology, epidemic diseases, writing, and political organization that allowed, for example, Europe to conquer the Americas. It's a fascinating tale that everyone should know.
I especially appreciate the perspective that comes from his choice to focus in detail on what happens when cultures collide in areas outside the Europe-Americas story. The story of the South Chinese expanding into the Indonesian archipelago and Polynesia, for example, allows this American reader to not only become a much better-educated world citizen, but to think about the issues in a less familiar context where I have fewer knee-jerk associations.
While Diamond bends over backward, and rightly so, to make clear that there's not only nothing inherent in different people's genes that led them to develop "civilization" at different speeds, he also tries to be clear early on that there's nothing inherently wonderful about civilization either. I know from another paper of his that hunter-gatherers actually enjoyed better physical health than settled farmers. (He does slip from this from time to time, though, and starts talking as if it's too bad not to invent any given thing there is to invent.)
But still, his account leads right to, yet doesn't address at all, some hard questions: Was/is it inevitable that those who did accidentally acquire food production and its advantages address the population pressures that arise from food production by overrunning and massacring in cold-blood other societies? (It is sobering and instructive to remember how much of that had already happened long before 1492.)
Should we care about the extermination of human populations and their languages? (It seems that the early human-caused mass extinctions of large mammals had *huge* effects on continental competitiveness: might loss of human cultural diversity do the same?)
Or, perhaps more relevant to today's world: recognizing that the advantages held by the global North were not "earned" or "deserved," is there justification for us to continue wielding our economic power to maintain that disparity rather than letting/helping other areas either "catch up" or remain at the complexity level appropriate to their environment?
Although Diamond's neutral political/moral stance irritated me at times (mostly when it bordered on "it's inevitable that human societies are self-centered warmongers"), I think it was the right choice for the book--those are important questions, but ones that his analysis should contribute to, not vice versa. He even offers a bit of a look at an answer when he starts, tentatively, to explore why Europe went a conquerin' overseas and China, which alone by his measures could also have done so, didn't (yet).(less)
We just finished reading this outloud as a family. Rebecca and I had read it shortly after college, but I didn't remember much except that it had been...moreWe just finished reading this outloud as a family. Rebecca and I had read it shortly after college, but I didn't remember much except that it had been striking and weird. The rest of C. S. Lewis's adult fiction tends to be stilted or too obviously Christian, but this is an exception. As Robin said, "Wow. I didn't know he could be lyrical."
Anyhow, Lewis's religiousness is certainly influencing the concerns he takes on and how he wraps it up (I might have ended it differently), but it is far from dogmatic or even from having some explicit moral to be hammered home. It's good midrash in that it takes an existing myth (Cupid & Psyche) and gives a thorough, complex, and sympathetic look at what it might have meant through the eyes of another character (one of her sisters). And a note at the end makes clear that his intention in writing the book was that as soon as he learned the myth he thought that this was how it "must have gone." A pretty good reason to write this sort of a novel really.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is the book that my mother, a former children's librarian, came up with when I asked her for the most egregious factual error i...more**spoiler alert** This is the book that my mother, a former children's librarian, came up with when I asked her for the most egregious factual error in a children's book, for an article I was thinking about writing (and still might).
The story is a great idea, and the pictures are beautiful, but that is destroyed by inexcusable carelessness. The title character, Lili, is looking for her grandfather, who plays the french horn, backstage at a ballet production. As she wanders around looking we get to see all sorts of parts of backstage--dancers warming up, the props room, the costume room, etc. All well and good.
But then she finds her grandfather, and HE'S CARRYING A TUBA. Well, it's a little small, maybe a baritone horn. But in no way is it by any stretch of the imagination a french horn. This is the whole conceit of the book, and the author/illustrator and all the editors along the way missed that it was the wrong instrument?! (I've showed it to several non-orchestra people who all knew immediately what the problem was.)
Knowing that, I asked someone who used to work backstage to look over it, and unsurprisingly there are other small problems too: No way the stage manager of such a large house would be changing lightbulbs himself. Set pieces are called props. The offending instrument has a little attachment for holding music on it, like in marching bands, even though the grandfather is standing in a pit surrounded by music stands.
I'm surprised and saddened that this book seems to get such good reviews everywhere. (less)
So far, this book is equal parts inspiring and frustrating. Since one of his main goals is to get gardeners to space things out more, allowing them to...moreSo far, this book is equal parts inspiring and frustrating. Since one of his main goals is to get gardeners to space things out more, allowing them to water less, and I'm an urban gardener with no choice to add another half-acre of lawn to my garden we're off to an awkward start. And he's a little harsh about his fallen mentors in intensive gardening and a little egotistical about his own fertilizer recipe.
Nonetheless, he clearly knows his stuff, and his explanations of everything from selecting transplants to understanding seed saving (and when to buy seed instead) to sharpening your tools (different angles for spades and hoes, yo!) are detailed and useful and fascinating. If you want to really answer questions like "How much water is enough?" he'll help you. I will be glad to have this on my shelf as I keep learning to garden. If I even need to start from scratch somewhere with space and get a really big yield, it will be indispensible.(less)
We just re-read this as a family out loud. Since I didn't remember every plot point, it was interesting to see just how familiar so many of the passag...more We just re-read this as a family out loud. Since I didn't remember every plot point, it was interesting to see just how familiar so many of the passages were. I must have reread it a lot as a kid.
It feels odd to even try to rate or review such a classic, even though there's nothing superlative about the story or the writing. And woah, I'd totally forgotten all the God stuff. But Meg is a strong character and there's something archetypical and resonant about her struggles. (less)
Has almost as much about how to plan, grow, and harvest food for root cellaring as it does about making a root cellar (makes sense, of course). Pretty...more Has almost as much about how to plan, grow, and harvest food for root cellaring as it does about making a root cellar (makes sense, of course). Pretty awesome. I like that it has very detailed fancy options, but also descriptions of people doing things much more simply. And that there are plenty of options that work if you're not out in the country. Looking forward to trying some of this ourselves next season!(less)
This is one of my surprise favorites on my daughter's bookshelf. It's not one I knew as a kid, and it's an easy reader, which are often misery to read...moreThis is one of my surprise favorites on my daughter's bookshelf. It's not one I knew as a kid, and it's an easy reader, which are often misery to read aloud--repetition, short, simple sentences, no contractions, etc.
But this is a sweet book that holds my daughter's interest, while being funny and subtle enough to be a story that I like even after multiple readings. I also think it's cool to have a successful kids book with no kid characters. Our hero is an old guy, but not only that, he's never portrayed in relation to a family. He's just an old guy with a cat, he's happy, and he wants to bake a cake for his neighbor for Christmas because he's concerned about the fact that she appears to think fruitcake is good food. I don't know if we learn more about him in other books in the series, but we don't need to. (less)
**spoiler alert** Since my daughter grabbed this book off the library shelf a few years ago, we have gotten our own copy and gifted it to many others....more**spoiler alert** Since my daughter grabbed this book off the library shelf a few years ago, we have gotten our own copy and gifted it to many others. It's just marvelous.
Quick summary: Girl grows up biking (bike seat to tricycle to training wheels...). Then she outgrows her bike and her family can't afford a new one. So she first raises money by fixing other kids' bikes and then takes salvaged parts and builds herself a new one.
What's not to love? Girl with attitude. Parents who both help her learn to fix bikes. Ingenuity, spunk, and recycling. But also, looking a little deeper: urban kid whose parents aren't rich, with some freedom to roam her neighborhood and earn her own money. Trying several things before one works. Sticking to something that takes a long time even though you are daunted and your friends question whether you can do it. But all without being hamhanded about the message. Generosity (she gives her outgrown bike to a young friend). Exuberance.
NB: Though the main character is white, at least not all of her friends are.
Oh, and it's well written, which I can attest to after having read now it many many times. And it can hold the attention of a class of 2nd graders(less)