While the book has had its critics, and while I am not fully convinced by every single one of Campbell's arguments, the scientific knowledge presented...moreWhile the book has had its critics, and while I am not fully convinced by every single one of Campbell's arguments, the scientific knowledge presented and the perspectives on diet, nutrition, and the interaction with agri-business, science, and government make for a compelling and worthwhile read. Moreover, while criticism on specific points may be valid, Campbell is open and honest about the fact that some of the evidence is only suggestive, but his argument is that when all of it (the strong, weak, and in between evidence) is brought together the clear conclusion is that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the way to be healthy physically and mentally throughout life. This is a somewhat more strict and specific formulation of Michael Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." One major difference though is that Campbell suggests that you can actually eat plenty as long as it is healthy, as studies have shown that vegetarians generally consume more calories but are healthier (with regards to a host of particular diseases discussed in the book).
I am not fully convinced that the data suggests avoiding meat and animal products completely, though I do avoid such products myself unless they are sustainably grown/raised. The protein and cancer relationship is an interesting and convincing one that I'd like to see continued research on, however little solid evidence is presented showing that animal protein is worse than plant protein. After detailing studies that show animal protein (particularly casein in several studies) is a major cancer enhancer above certain levels, he claims that other animal proteins show this effect and more so than plant proteins. I would have liked to seen the details of that. He points to one of a group of graphs showing correlations between animal protein consumption, vegetable protein consumption, and breast cancer (if I recall correctly), and claims that the graphs suggest high animal protein/cancer correlation but little or not vegetable protein/cancer correlation. This was where I was outright disappointed, since the range of animal protein consumption was far greater than the range of vegetable protein consumption, and further the total protein/cancer correlation appeared considerably higher than just the animal protein/cancer correlation. Moreover, while there may be interactions of specific protein with our body chemistry, Occam's razor would suggest we go with the simpler explanation, that an excess of protein (of whatever type; excess meaning more than the body needs) signals the body to do things that make it more at susceptible to cancer formation. I have my own theories, but this is a book review, not my personal blog.
The evidence presented with regards to diet and a host of diseases from diabetes to heart disease, dementia, and even autoimmune diseases seems strong. Of course detailed evidence of precise causes is in many cases not available or is confusing, but that only strengthens Campbell's argument as to how we should be eating and how we should be focussing research efforts. His denouncement of reductionism I think goes to far, but in the broad strokes I think his arguments have merit. What I think doesn't go to far, but is right on, is the idea that people should be given recommendations based on what is right, not based on what we think they might or might not be willing to do. In other words, he suggests that doctors and health officials shouldn't shy away from recommending a diet with, for instance, no more than 12% protein, just because people might ignore that information completely. People deserve the truth, and then if we want to help them reach toward the best diet we can get them on the path with the knowledge that every step toward the goal is, according to the evidence, effective in improving health.
Finally, Campbell's discussion on the relationships between agribusiness, scientific panels and reports, and government round out the book to provide perspective on how the debate over diet and health have been shaped over the last century or so. Fortunately this section did not stray too far from the point of the book, as it might have gotten deep into politics. However it provided enough of a narrative from Campbell's direct experience, to give the reader a good sense of what's going on behind the scenes that affects policy and dissemination of health information to the public.
In the end, for whatever flaws there are in the book, Campbell makes a strong case backed by substantial evidence and reason for at least substantially, if not completely, reducing animal-based foods and consuming whole foods is the way to a healthy and long life. Moreover, it gives the reader the knowledge and critical reasoning skills necessary to put future media reports on diet and health into proper perspective so that we don't have to always be so confused by the apparently contradictory evidence.(less)
This book was substantially enlightening and yet amazingly frustrating at the same time. Zeilinger begins simply enough with the standard story of Ali...moreThis book was substantially enlightening and yet amazingly frustrating at the same time. Zeilinger begins simply enough with the standard story of Alice and Bob (the physicists' personification of observer A and B), but he turns them into curious undergraduates. They are the medium through which the reader discovers the quantum world after being given an experimental opportunity by their physics professor and his postdoctoral student. The ground is covered and recovered, sometimes providing useful insight and other times being overly pedantic and annoying. Some parts are so dumbed down it may seem insulting, and this also makes the story take a loooong time to get through. On the plus side you learn quite a bit about polarization, Bell's inequality, and a number of other quantum topics. A bit over half way through the book Zeilinger transitions away from Alice and Bob and toward even more recent experiments with quantum teleportation. Here still many parts are well explained and without too many rereads you should have a fair conception of what is going on. Unfortunately some claims are completely opaque and claims are made with no basis. That is not to say I think they are not valid, but the claims are not supported and the reader is left wondering how the author could be so painstaking on certain points and so blase on others. If you are a patient soul and feel like you have a lot to understand with regards to quantum mechanics, I highly recommend this book. Otherwise, don't bother.(less)
This book is surprisingly good in its ability to reach both the lay reader and the reader familiar with neuroscience (I am a neuroscientist PhD candid...moreThis book is surprisingly good in its ability to reach both the lay reader and the reader familiar with neuroscience (I am a neuroscientist PhD candidate). The ideas expressed in On Intelligence are important both for scientific advancement and for philosophical consideration. While one could argue that perhaps there are other forms of intelligence or ways to produce intelligence, Hawkins does a good job in arguing what intelligence is in terms of mammalian brains and what the neocortex does. These ideas are not sufficiently discussed in the neuroscience community in my opinion, and in fact I believe they will aid greatly in advancing our understanding of the brain and creating real "artificial" intelligence that isn't actually artificial at all.
The balance between addressing the expert and lay audiences did at times leaving me wanting to see further caveats and explanations which often (though not always) did come later in the book. However the few issues I have with the book are relatively minor and do not affect the overall thesis or impact.
I do plan to buy a copy after having borrowed this book from the library.(less)