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 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....more
Chris makes a convincing argument that our obsession with safety for our kids is having serious negative side effects -- basically that it's destroyinChris 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/...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 p 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)....more
I will have much more to say on this book in an upcoming column. Suffice it to say that if I could insist that the president read just one book, any b I will have much more to say on this book in an upcoming column. Suffice it to say that if I could insist that the president read just one book, any book, it would be this one.
I have critiques sure — early on it could use either more technical backing up, or more layperson-friendly walking through.
But it's so incredibly refreshing to have a decidedly capitalist, non-radical economically trained someone call such thorough bullshit on the "but we have to let the markets decide" excuse for everything a handful of lazy business execs want to do to enrich themselves.
The best part though, is that it didn't just reinforce what I thought I knew. It challenged some assumptions and gave me new reasons or language for others. I'm going to have to read it again to be able to hold enough in my head to have the debate, but I intend to do so......more
One of the most astoundingly brilliant books I've ever read. Makes a case for how crazy things like noun cases and conjugation develop—and why they go One of the most astoundingly brilliant books I've ever read. Makes a case for how crazy things like noun cases and conjugation develop—and why they go away again. So so good....more
I gave this book five stars because that's how strongly I feel it ought to be widely read. If I were going on strict quality, I'd give it a four, as I I gave this book five stars because that's how strongly I feel it ought to be widely read. If I were going on strict quality, I'd give it a four, as I had some direct quibbles with a chapter or two and really felt a few chapters wanted more analysis/organization. And, given that it's written for a lay audience, I didn't always feel that I had enough information to assess how solid the research they chose to focus on was—but at least it wasn't super easy to poke holes in it, which it is for so much of the sensationalistic "studies" reported in the news. And they almost always had several different sets of studies pointing to the same thing.
Overall, however, it was wildly fascinating to read a book about kids/parenting that wasn't a "parenting manual" and wasn't devoted to trying to push a particular ideology. Some of it reinforced my gut instincts/habits and other parts challenged them, and I see that as generally a good sign. Some of it felt very very important—stuff on praise, lying, sleep, race relations, aggression, early learning styles that emphasize developing "executive functioning"—others of it less so (I don't really give a crap when you should test kids for gifted programs or elite private schools, even though the science of brains developing at different speeds and IQ, even for those who set store by it, not being a fixed number, is interesting.)
Surprisingly, also, given the very disparate topics covered, I found the points they drew out in the conclusion to be pretty powerful, especially the point that good traits and bad traits aren't on the same continuum—you can be high on both or low on both—and having good traits (sociability, cheeriness) doesn't protect you from developing bad ones (aggression). Much food for thought. ...more