Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins


Rating: WARTY!

This is an educational book about animals and the senses that they have at their command, which tend to put out own to shame, but I can't recommend it because it was so annoying to use unless all you ever want to do is to swipe from page one to the last page and back again. The page-swiping was a bit 'sticky' and slow, and there is no slide bar to rapidly move to different portions of the book.

The images are drawings which are in color but are nothing spectacular. No photographs here. There is a small paragraph of text to accompany each illustration. The book covers a bunch of different senses, fro example revealing that an octopus can taste you through its suckers! Yuk!

Other than that, it's not that great and I'd recommend looking at other options before considering this one, at least in ebook format.


Formerly Known as Food by Kristin Lawless


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum:
"...so information flow constantly back and forth between the gut and the brain....” should read "flows"?

Subtitled "How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture," this book is a tour-de-force of information on how our diet had changed over the last few generations to a point where it bears little relation to what our grandparents and great-grandparents ate. This may not seem like a problem: active change is pretty much the definition of life, when you think about it, but just like the ocean surface reveals very little about what’s going on underneath, so our dietary changes and the way food is grown, processed and packaged are having a significant, and in many cases dangerous, impact on our bodies and minds.

There's no table of contents in the front of this book. It's in the back! Whether there will be changed in the published print copy I can’t say. it was clickable back and forth - something which i see little value in. Imagine my amazement then to discover that the references - it was a very referenced effort - did not work at all!! So when it came to checking the copious references the author includes in her text, the lack of clickability (or tappability these days - if these were not words, they are now!) was a nuisance because it made it really hard to find the actual reference. In this book there are no footnotes and no chapter-end notes. There is a long set of references at the end of the book, but you can’t click to them or click back from them.

This isn't a problem with the writing quality or the book topic, but it bothers me how primitive this is in an era of common and very pervasive ebooks. These days it ought to be possible to reference something in your book and be able to tap that reference to have it pop up right there on the page without having to swipe to the back of the book to find it and hope you're looking at the right one! In a semi-scholarly work like this one, it ought to be possible to tap the reference and have it open your browser and go to the study or paper the book is referring to so you can see it right there and then. Evidently we're still a long way from that.

I know Amazon's crappy Kindle app is probably the worst in the business as compared with other formats such as PDF or the Nook, for example, for facilitating a good reader experience. Kindle is another way of saying 'mangle' in my experience, and we all know what 'kindling' is good for, but publishers are powerful entities. Some would argue they're too powerful, but that's not quite so true in this era of self-publishing as it used to be. That said, why are they not using that power to pressure the makers of reading apps to make books like this much more user-friendly? Pet peeve! Moving on!

I recommend this book because it carries an important message and not only that, it also marshals an impressive array of evidence. There are caveats to that though, which I shall delve into shortly, but that aside, this is, overall, a good effort. The author is not a scientist. She's a Certified Nutrition Educator, but she makes smart arguments and puts together a good basic case.

My problems with this book ran to referenced supportive material. References are often only tangentially supportive of the assertions made by the author, and they are not 'clickable' - once in a while there is one that is highlighted in blue and if you can tap it with your finger, will take you to a reference, but this applies only to rare end of chapter notes, not to book notes. It was often difficult to tap those references and get there, especially if it was at the top of a screen, because instead of going to the link, Kindle would drop down the little margin at the top of their screen which contains the time and settings icons! I actually tapped one link only by pure accident after I was ready to give up an trying to tap it! Annoying!

The lack of tappable links for the references though, made it a nightmare trying to verify the author's statements connected with the link because I had to jump to the back of the book and wade through the large number of references jammed together there, to try and find the one I needed. I think instead of starting numbering the references over for each chapter, they should have been continually numbered so a reader can be sure they have the correct one: was I in chapter two or chapter three? Which reference '1' out of several back there do I need to look at? I did not try to look at every reference, just a few. While noting that this was an advance review copy and therefore subject to change before publishing, what follows is what I found with regard to some of them.

At one point I read, "...the current generation of children is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents." yet when I followed the link and looked at the reference, the paper was by S. Jay Olshansky, et al, and the title was “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States Note the word 'potential'! There is a big difference between an expectation of, and a potential for something happening! Things like this harm a book's message because they make the author look more sensationalist than sensational.

At another point I read "GMOs were not introduced to the American food supply until the 1990s, so we don’t know a lot about their long-term safety or healthfulness. Even organic corn is likely contaminated with GMOs." I have yet to see what the harm is in GMOs. My position is that some are probably a bad idea, others are fine. I, like the author evidently, do have reservations about the activities of a very powerful company like Monsanto, yet while keeping that caveat in mind, the fact is that nature mixes genes between plants all the time, and the human race goes on! I don't think the jury is in yet on the benefits or otherwise of GMO's in general, so I have to ask why the negative connotation added by the author and carried in that one word: contaminated? Like this is necessarily an evil thing? So again, the wording was overly dramatic.

After talking about how food monitoring agencies are funded by agribusiness, the author extolls a report by Monell Chemical Senses Center which is funded from a variety of sources including, according to Wikipedia, “unrestricted corporate sponsorships”! Pot meet kettle!

I read, “My grandmother...was always skeptical of the benefits of organic foods. She thought it a marketing ploy to get people to spend more money,” but in my understanding,there is no real regulation or inspection of organic foods, so I've never been a big fan. But let;s not get overly dramatic about them. I read, “The review stated that pesticide residues were found in only 7 percent of organics but 38 percent of conventional foods,” and while that's far from ideal, it's certainly not the massive contamination that's been suggested! Two third of non-oganic food is also fine! And some organic food is actually 'contaminated'!

The author mentions “Horizon Organic milk, with its bright red label and happy cow on the container, gives the impression of a bucolic standard” After buying a carton of Horizon milk that, when opened, smelled of fish one time, and complaining to Horizon only to be brushed off, I have never bought another thing with their name on it. I won't touch Horizon products, so I was onboard with the comments made about how big and blended they were! I am not a fan of mega-corporations.

The author says, “Some of that common sense wisdom that farmers speak of is being replicated in the lab with findings that the fruits and vegetables we eat today are far less nutrient dense than those our grandparents ate,” and she cites “a study” but gives no reference! This made me suspicious, as did a claim in an article that was quoted uncritically which said, “...the recipe for mother's milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years,” but the earliest known mammal is barely over 200 million years old! I'm not sure where the author of the article gets this ancient date from!

There's a section of this book which bemoans the increase of C-section births, antibiotics, and lack of breastfeeding, but https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350908/ published online in October 2014 makes no mention of the disappearance of Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis from our gut. In fact, I couldn't find anything online which did talk about the disappearance of this group of bacteria even as I found mention after mention of its benefits.

The paper referenced by me above says, "The colonization of the fetal gut begins in utero with swallowing of amniotic fluid" so it's not entirely dependent on vaginal delivery. I do agree though that antibiotics and C-Section pose threats of one sort or another, but the author fails to mention that while C-sections have risen alarmingly, so that they now comprise about a third of births in the western world, it's still only a third, and only in the last two to three decades. Allergies and other issues began rising long before that. It's the rather alarmist parts of this book which bothered me, even as I considered it a worthy read for the important information it does convey. A more measured tone would have been wiser.

Breastfeeding is also not a rarity. In Australia for example, almost all mothers start out breastfeeding. It's the lack of continuation of it that's a potential problem, because by the age of one year less than a third are still doing it. I guess they feel they need to wean children asap because breastfeeding is time-consuming and they're poorly educated with regard to the importance of continuing it. Prevalence of breastfeeding was the lowest in the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, but even in these countries, the prevalence was 70%, 69.5%, and 62.6% according to this study in 2012.

So it's misleading for this author to imply that Caesarian section has risen to such dramatic heights or that breastfeeding has plummeted so precipitously that it's affecting children's health and contributing massively to opportunistic disease, allergies, and conditions. I do allow that she has a point about antibiotics, but while we can suggest natural birth as much as possible, as an antidote to C-Sections, and a lengthy breastfeeding as an alternative to formula, what is the use of antibiotics going to be replaced with? Crossed fingers and a hope that infection doesn't set in?

We could ask that antibiotics only be used as needed and not routinely, but that's a medical decision and I think most doctors know this, but there's the ever-present danger, particularly in litigation-happy USA, of a lawsuit if something is omitted and there are consequences. What we can do is have children fed a dose of the good bacteria after they're born, and after any series of antibiotics has ended, in order to keep their gut in good shape, but the author never raised this option as far as I recall.

Instead, I read, “Because traveling down the birth canal is the critical means for acquiring your microbiota, those who miss out on this process face lifelong health consequences,“ yet the reference in this case was useless with regard to supporting the author's thesis and was really hard to get to to boot!

part of the problem with this book that I had was what was not covered. It seems to be largely US-based, like the USA is the only country int hew world worth considering. it;s nit. What I kept wondering, but was kept in the dark about, was how other countries fare. Yes, there was an occasional reference here and there that strayed outside the borders, but always it was back to the USASAP. I felt there was a lot that could have been learned by taking a more global view. For example, obesity is rare in Japan, so what is it they're doing that we're not? This book was silent on such things.

I read quite a bit about the Hadza bush people in Africa. The idea is that since they lead an existence far more akin to what all humans did before farming became prevalent in our culture, maybe we can learn things from them and their microbiota. A putative dissenting voice was addressed so: “The argument usually goes something like, 'Well, we live far longer than those populations so we must be doing something right'.” The response was along the lines of "But that argument falls flat with just a little bit of scrutiny. In hunter-gatherer societies most mortality occurs within the first five years of life because their sanitation isn’t on par with ours, thereby increasing the risk for infections. In addition, they don’t have access to antibiotics for true life-threatening infections, or access to vaccinations, so it is understandable that infant mortality rates are high.“

Isn't this a refutation of precisely the argument the author is making with regard to natural birth and eating whole, unadulterated food, which these people do exclusively? Never once did this author ask why infant mortality was so high. And yes, the Hadza do have a comparable life-span to the rest of us if they survive the first five years, after that, but this is one society. Why look only at one that supports your thesis and ignore others which do not - such as, for example, ancient Egyptians, who had a relatively stress-free life and very pure foods compared with ours, and yet who lived only into their thirties for the most part? It would have been nice to have seen the author play devil's advocate instead of harping only on her own theme.

The author references a 2016 paper regarding an experiment by Erica D. Sonnenburg et al with two sets of mice, each of which was artificially infested with the same specific set of gut microorganisms. One set of mice was fed a diet rich in fiber whereas the other was poor in fiber. The results over four generations showed that gut bacteria diversity was adversely impacted by the low fiber diet. I don't have a problem accepting this at all, but the author's report made no mention of the mice's health! Was thatadversely impacted or were both groups equally healthy? In which case, what did this study show that was relevant to her thesis?

I couldn't read the study itself, because it's hidden behind Nature journal's paywall. It may well be that health was impacted (or would be), but to present a study like this which does not directly support the author's thesis is confusing a best, and misleading in that it implies such a thing when it actually makes no such claim. Another example of this was when I read that “It’s important to remember that you first must have microbes that are capable of feeding on the short-chain fatty acids. The findings of German and his colleagues and the Sonnenburgs and their colleagues remind us that many strains of these beneficial bacteria have probably disappeared from the guts of those of us living in Western world.“ Probably? The reference for this was hard to find in the end notes, but seems to refer to insulin growth factor which isn't relevant here! i read a similar thing when I read, “The discovery that many of the chemicals we are consuming every day are EDCs, and are probably changing our bodies” Again, note key word 'probably'! That may well be true, but it’s not a strong argument!

Interestingly, while searching for the article to which the author referred, I came across one which explicitly says that "Human populations with a diet enriched in complex carbohydrates, such as the Hadza hunter gatherers from Tanzania, have increased diversity of the gut microbiota (Schnorr et al., 2014). In contrast, long-term intake of high-fat and high-sucrose diet can lead to the extinction of several taxa of the gut microbiota." This one would seem to fly in the face of earlier suggestions in this book that we should reduce carbohydrates and increase fats! It only goes to show that this is a very complex topic, and the welter of information flying around can be confusing to the lay person (which includes me!). The author sort of touches on this aspect of the problem without going into much of an exploration of it and how it can be counteracted. Even such a simple thing as defining terms can help.

I read of one man who had lived with the Hadza and followed their way of life for a while and he discovered: "The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbial diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes." note that this isn't a study and the plural of anecdote, as scientists ay, is not data But though it is just an anecdote of one man's experience, it does suggest, as a counter to some of the author's assertions, that all is not lost and a change in diet can increase diversity.

Note that this article: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/08/hunter-gatherers-seasonal-gut-microbe-diversity-loss.html
suggests that there are few Hadza and fewer still who pursue traditional lifestyle. Additionally, their diet is extremely restricted: "The Hadza number just over 1,000 people, fewer than 200 of whom adhere to the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which includes a diet composed mainly of five items: meat, berries, baobab (a fruit), tubers and honey." This isn't clear from what the author writes so again this book was misleading as to sample size, and dietary variation.

The article also says, "A 2016 study, published in Nature and led by Sonnenburg and senior research scientist Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, showed that while depriving mice of dietary fiber greatly reduced their gut-microbial species diversity, this diversity was restored when the dietary-fiber restriction was lifted. But if this fiber deprivation was maintained for four generations, microbial species that had initially bounced back robustly became permanently lost." This isn't exactly clear from the book, which talks only of diversity being lost over several generations, and doesn't emphasize that while we cannot replace what has truly been completely lost - not through ordinary means - we can repair what we have by a change in our diet.

It would have been nice in this book to have had less a tsunami of facts and references and more of a coherent story as to what the problem is, what the real connection is to diet and micro biota, and what we can do, realistically and practically to fix it. The author does get into that towards the end of the book and that made for impressive reading. It just takes a while to get there! I think that's one of the weaknesses of the book in that it makes for very dense reading and I cannot see this taking off popularly, which is really what a book like this needs to do, and if it doesn't, that will be a shame.

Another issue was the conflation of correlation with causation! I read, “As I mentioned, this also points to why colon and rectal cancers are now on the rise in people in their twenties and thirties in the Western world...” but just because two things happen at the same time doesn't mean they're connected. I encountered this error several times; perhaps the author has arguments and data to support such assertions, but these were either not made or not well made.

What really shone in this book for me was chapter nine where the author launches a polemic as breathtaking as it is depressing about the devaluation and even oppression of women over the last hundred years by confining them to the house and effectively enslaving them - because that's what unpaid labor is and that's what far too many women have been reduced to doing for far too many years as "housewives' stuck between the kitchen and a vacuum cleaner. This chapter is excellent, well-written, forceful, and really quite beautiful to read. It certainly won back a lot of my good grace (as well as "Goodness Gracious!") after some of the issues I'd had earlier.

So, overall, and with the caveat that this book takes some reading, I recommend it as a worthy read because it makes some really good arguments and is an important contribution to our understanding of an increasing lack of wellness in society and of possible counter-measures we - as individuals - can undertake - and the hell with government and agribusiness who, let's face it, aren't going to do a damned thing to help as long as they can keep on minting money on the backs of the sick people they;re promoting. And you can read that last clause however you like!


Friday, May 18, 2018

American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice, with uncredited contributions by Taya Kyle


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is a review of the author's attitudes as expressed in this autobiography and the story itself. It is not a review of the military in general. Far from it: I listened to a different audiobook a short while ago, and also written by a Navy Seal, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a whole different perspective from this one, and a much wiser, smarter, and mainstream one. And it was read by the author, not by a guy who sounds like his last gig was on Hee-Haw.

Having listened to this audiobook until I could no longer stand the jingoism, racism, self-promotion, utterly braindead patriotism, and rabid bloodlust any longer, I recommend the movie. Neither the book nor the movie is anything to write home about (which is why I'm posting it on my blog instead!), but if you must do one of these options, then my advice is to avoid the book like insurgents typically avoid a pitched battle. When I went looking for the movie, having given up on the book, Netflix predictably did not have it as usual. Great business model, Netflix! As usual Amazon predictably did have it for purchase at the usual $14.99. I wasn't buy-curious and the library had it for free, so take that, Net-azon!

I'd had the audiobook from the library also, but hadn't been interested in the movie until I'd listened to some of the book; then I became intrigued as to what a blinkered right-winger had done with a fascist document like this, and I confess I was surprised it wasn't worse. It starred Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal sniper billed as the deadliest in US history with over 160 confirmed kills. Bradley Cooper does the voice of Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, so I was curious to see what he did when not impersonating a genetically-modified raccoon. He was pretty good. The movie was a right-wing redneck wet-dream, but even so, I'd recommend it way over this autobiography.

The dishonest blurb (all Big Publishing™ book blurbs are dishonest to one extent or another) claims that "Iraqi insurgents feared Kyle so much they named him al-Shaitan ('the devil') and placed a bounty on his head," but my guess is that it was not fear, merely hatred. It's what terrorists do. That in fact is the definition of terrorism: if it's not like us, subjugate it and if that isn't easy, kill it. The really ironic thing is that the author never held that sadly battle-bloodied mirror up to himself, probably because had he done so, he would have seen a reflection that was far too disturbingly familiar.

The author claims to be a Christian and repeatedly talks about religion and prayer. He puts the order as: his god, his country, his family, which really makes him no different than any other adherent of one of the big three monotheistic religions including the one he hates. The truth is that he - as in the case of most 'Christians' - doesn't actually follow Christ (who was a Judaist not a Christian). Instead, they follow Paul, who very effectively sabotaged and undermined everything Christ purportedly taught.

Very few of these believers embrace the portions of Christianity dealing with turning the other cheek, of going the extra mile, of giving your coat. Those things are very conveniently forgotten by "warriors" (a term this author liked to over-employ), who are praying even as they get amped-up when going into battle. The author is very much an Old Testament believer: all savage justice, shunning the New like most of his fellow right-wing believers, none of whom have any more faith than does a Pope who drives around in a bullet-proof vehicle.

There is asininity in this book. At one point the author says of his kills, "The Number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more." Contradiction anyone? If it's not important, why wish anything about it? He consistently refers to all Iraqis as savages, and at one point in the narrative, he expressed a desire to kill anyone carrying a Koran, but fortunately for the reputation of the US military, he heroically restrained himself. No one can argue that he did not save American lives by what he did. Given that he was there, in that situation, I certainly have no problem with that.

The problem is that never once does he question the validity of being there in the first place. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11? No! Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No! I could see a rationale - rightly or wrongly - for going into Afghanistan, but there was none for Iraq at all. Anyone who idiotically chants 'my country, right or wrong' is a moron, period. It's not patriotic to follow your government mindlessly and unquestioningly, especially when the result is almost seven thousand US soldiers dead, and over a million injured. And an estimated half-million dead Iraqis, not all of whom were insurgents by any means.

Most people who've served, particularly if they've been in the thick of it, do not favor talking about it over-much. They're stoic and reserved, and understand better than anyone how savage and indiscriminate war is. When they leave service, they want to put it behind them and move on. Assuming PTSD and/or injury allows them to do so. This author is certainly not one of those people, and while I can see this book appealing to a certain element, I can see no value in it as it stands, especially since it's been cheapened by the author himself.

It's not only tragic, but criminal that he died the way he did after surviving so much in Iraq, but when he tells stories that cannot be verified, perhaps tall stories about things he has done in the US - such as murdering 'troublemakers' in New Orleans after Katrina, or killing two guys who tried to rob him at a gas station, or punching out Jessie Ventura, or getting into a bar fight with a guy because that guy's girlfriend has apparently insulted a fellow Navy Seal. Seriously?

That's not heroic. It's juvenile, stupid, and completely unnecessary, since presumably any Navy Seal is trained more than adequately to handle any situation, including defusing one where he's being merely insulted. Does he really need a fellow Seal to go after the woman's boyfriend who presumably wasn't involved in the insulting? Was the girl offering the insult because she'd been hit on? Did the story even happen outside of the author's imagination? Who knows? What is a fact is that we can't trust anything this author wrote because it's tarnished and corroded by this kind of thing, and it devalues the entire book.

Navy Seals, or anyone in any branch of service from coastguard to marines to police, fire and EMTs don't have to prove anything to anyone, nor should they ever feel like they ought to. If the Seals made it through BUDS and hell week, that alone is an achievement which deserves respect. It doesn't matter whatever else they may or may not do. Anyone who went through Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict, regardless of the wisdom of our government sending soldiers there in the first place, is valiant and heroic enough. Someone like that does not need something like this to be respected and held in some kind of reverence. Not in my book, which is why I won't recommend this book.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Siri With Love by Judith Newman


Rating: WARTY!

I was unaware of how controversial a book this had been in the autistic spectrum community when I saw it in a bookstore and learned that it was also at my local library. I am glad I didn't buy it not because of what the spectrum community is railing against, but because the book is bait and switch and I do not appreciate book blurbs which outright lie to draw-in potential readers. I know that's a blurb's job, but usually a blurb bears some vague relationship to the book it represents. This one didn't.

The blurb begins with the following two paragraphs:

It began when Judith Newman's thirteen-year-old autistic son noticed that there was someone who not only would find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, escalators, and anything related to the weather) but also would actually semi-discuss them with him tirelessly. Her name was Siri and she lived in his mother's iPhone.
Newman's story of her son and his bond with Siri is an unusual tribute to technology. While many worry that our electronic gadgets are dumbing us down, she reveals how they can give voice to others, including children with autism...

This is an outright lie. I came at this hoping to learn more about a fascinating technology, particularly if it's one that can really help people who most need that help. The problem is that there is one chapter and one chapter only on the relationship with Siri. This chapter begins on page 131 of a book which, not counting the introduction (I never read introductions), runs to 216 pages, and it ends ten pages later. That's it. I quit reading the book when I realized that the next chapter was on a different topic and those scant ten pages appeared to be the entirety of the Siri/"electronic gadgets" discussion.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to try to sell (in the broad sense) a book that not only features this topic prominently but also titles the book after that topic, I actually expect to find that topic throughout the book, fool that I am. You lie about it like this book did, you get a 'warty' rating on my blog. The problem for me was that as I went through chapter after chapter with nary a word about the Siri and Gus 'relationship' I began to tire of the endless rambling and I began to skip and skim, dipping into a section here and there that was of interest, until when I actually did reach the section that discussed what the whole book was supposed to be about, it was far too little, and far too late.

While I cannot for the life of me understand why any parent would want to name a child 'Gus', I can understand why a mom would want to ramble on and on about her child. I think some of the harshest criticism was as rambling as this book though, with the authors of it continuing to shoot arrow after angry arrow into a threadbare target. They simply didn't get the author's sense of humor, but that's not to say their criticism was unfounded.

I think reasonable people can agree to disagree on those details so I'm not going to get into that here except to comment briefly that I think that some readers, in particular those who think the author doesn't think Gus has emotions or thinks Gus doesn't think, have flown off the handle at a throw-away comment the author made without realizing it was a 'first impression' kind of a comment that she later actually did throw-away as she and Gus matured together in their relationship and in her education.

Those critics seem to be forgetting that the author began telling this story chronologically when she was completely in the dark about Gus's status for some time after he was born, and got no help in understanding what was going on from anyone, least of all from the very community, some members of which are so virulently criticizing her now! And yes, criticizing her, not the book!

That said, I have to allow that if the very person the book's author praises highly in this book mounts a campaign against the book, then clearly something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, but the way to fix that is to reach out, not to punch out. I think what disturbed me most of all is that autism is a spectrum and not a narrow rut, yet all of the negative reviews were talking as though there is only one kind of autistic person who has only one kind of perception and feeling, which is nonsense, so I think some of the negative perspectives were a little blinkered to say the least.

Regardless of what other failings it may or may not have, this book failed for me because it quite simply did not remotely deliver on what it promised, period, and so I cannot recommend it. There are books which the autism spectrum community recommends. I recommend reading one of those instead.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Fire Making by Daniel Hume


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I don’t imagine a specialist work like this will have a hugely broad appeal, but it is very informative and well-written, and covers everything you need to know about starting a flame (from a wide assortment of sources) and building and maintaining a fire, doing it wisely, and safely, and taking charge of your situation when in the wild with regard to providing a fire for safety and cooking, for warmth, and of course that general feel-good attitude when you've accomplished something!

I can see it being of value to people who are scouts, and anyone who goes camping or spends time in wilderness areas, or anyone who fears they may be at risk - perhaps because they travel a lot or maybe pilot small planes - of ending up stranded in the wild for whatever reason! It's also a valuable tool for novelists who might like to write an adventure story!

I was impressed by how much this author knows. He's the kind of person who doesn't just talk about it, he lives it (and teaches it!). The fact is that he's been there and done that, and has the ashes of a T-shirt to prove it. I'm kidding about that last bit! Seriously, though, he knows what he's talking about and he not only tells an interesting story of his adventures, but also shares endless practical tips and suggestions every step of the way. I mean, would it occur to you that fungi can burn and even be used as tinder for starting fire? Or would you be stuck looking for damp logs on the ground, an exercise that wouldn't get you started on anything but frustration?

If I wanted more, I would have like to have learned a little bit more about the cultures he's visited and learned from, but he does give a lot, and he's been to places so far off the beaten track that there's no track - other than a game trail. Personally, I'd be leery about following game trails - the operative word being game; that's where the predators are looking for lunch! But bush is bush and unless you want to hack through it, you have to go where the path is easier.

On this score, it was interesting to read of one encounter with a lion - fortunately not a close encounter - where the author and a bush guide were on their way back from observing wildlife at a watering hole - another high risk area for predation! It must have been even more scary to wake up the next morning and find lion paw prints close by your tent. The book contains many illustrative pictures. It would have been interesting to see a picture of that, but there wasn't one; however there are very many illustrating the topics throughout the book.

Talking of pictures, I should say a word about reading this in electronic format. I have my devices set to night mode so the screen is black and the text is white. In this way it saves significantly on battery life. The problem with doing this in a book like this one - with images - is that the image is then rendered negative - and interestingly enough, not even a color negative but a black and white negative!

So when I wanted to really see an image, I had to reverse the setting and change it back to daytime to see the photos as intended. That was annoying, but it's not on the author or the publisher, I don't believe. I don’t know if it’s on the makers of these devices (in my case a phone and a tablet computer) not making it possible, or on the designers of the app (in my case, Bluefire Reader, which is normally excellent), who may well take the lazy route to setting 'night' mode, by simply reversing colors and sliding into gray scale. They don’t care if images are also reversed, I guess!

Despite this being an ARC, I found very few errors in it. In two instances the term 4x4 to describe an off-road vehicle was rendered as 4?4. Why that is I have no idea, but the 'x' didn't translate! In another case I read, "The flames given off by a single flame" which quite literally makes no sense. Other than that it was fine. Very fine! I enjoyed reading this and I recommend it.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, Alexandra Boiger


Rating: WARTY!

This is a short and essentially meaningless book aimed at young children. It purportedly champions women who were sold short, but persisted and became famous for something other than overcoming obstacles. Written by Chelsea Clinton (yes, that Chelsea Clinton!) and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger since Clinton can only draw a crowd and big bucks, it features a scant paragraph about each of the following: Virginia Apgar, Nellie Bly, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Claudette Colvin, Florence Griffith Joyner, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Sally Ride, Sonia Sotomayor, Maria Tallchief, Harriet Tubman, and Oprah Winfrey.

Chelsea Clinton and Penguin Random House were sued by Christopher Kimberley for copyright infringement. His assertion is that they 'cashed in on his hard work'. Last I heard Clinton's team of lawyers filed to dismiss the suit. I'm no lawyer and even if I were, my opinion would be irrelevant, but it seems to me that a suit like this particular one has little standing especially when launched against a millionaire celebrity.

As for the book, it became yet another celebrity best-seller, pushing out lesser-known writers once again. Big Publishing™ lavishes big bucks on big celebrities whilst turning down good books by unknowns. This is why I will never publish with Big Publishing. Every time one of us sells out to them, we walk all over others like us.

I hate for books to do well not because of their content, but because of their author, and in this case this is exactly what's happened because there really is very little content. The author is earning a six-figure sum on the backs of those who have gone before her, and if she had made an effort to put some content into the book, that would be one thing, but for someone who has grown up in a very privileged existence to then climb on the backs of those who were far less privileged and milk their hard work for tens of thousands of dollars is a bit much.

Actually, it's a lot much, and I cannot recommend this one or its sequel, wherein the author recognizes that while the USA isn't the only country in the world, it is the most important (by granting it the first publishing), and also on par with all other nations put together (they merit only one book of equivalent size). This book is far more about illustration than it is about illumination, so despite its superifcial good intentions, I really can't recommend it, and I have to wonder where all that money is going from the sales of the book. It's not like the author is exactly short of cash, but maybe it'll help pay-off that five million dollar mortgage, huh?


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Algeria is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton, Mahi Grand


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This story had an interesting effect on me because I liked it even though it's not the normal sort of story I like. Most stories that involve people recounting a travelogue - finding their roots or worse, finding themselves, bore me to death, but this one sounded interesting and miraculously it actually was. I think the author can thank Michael Palin for preparing the way with his story of his adventures in the Sahara, which I enjoyed immensely. This story was well-told to begin with, and very competently illustrated by Mahi Grand with sweet, gray-scale drawings.

The one thing I really honestly neither got nor liked about the story was the last two words of the title. Why "Like America"? It seemed like shameless pandering to an American audience. Why not "Like France"? Why not just leave it at "Algeria is Beautiful" or better yet, "Algeria The Beautiful" which both makes a powerful statement and harks to the poem Pike's Peak by Katharine Lee Bates.

The author's family hailed from Algeria, but as French citizens, they had to flee during the civil war in the 1960s, when her grandparents literally flew across the Mediterranean and settled in France. Unlike most people, the author's grandparents did not view the South of France as a paradise. Instead they viewed it as a poor man's Algeria which amused me! After hearing so much, one way or another, about Algeria, the author decided she had to visit and check out her grandparent's roots. She gave up on her hope of collecting some friends to travel with her. She should have asked me! I would have loved to have gone had I been single.

So, alone, with only the name of a contact in Algeria, she traveled. It's no spoiler to say she made it there and back safely since she could not have written this had she not (this is why first person voice horror and thriller fiction doesn't work! But I digress!). Anyway, she has some great fun, some disturbing moments, some confusing ones, and some very happy ones, and a lot of other emotions in between. The story was well-told, was entertaining, and kept me reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, Kerascoët


Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala back in August of 2015, and also Raphaële Frier's book about her, aimed at young children, back in October of 2016. This is a book for younger children still, and was penned by Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoët, which is the joint nom de plume of artists Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset.

Beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated, it tells an autobiographical story of Malala's childhood fancy and dream, and of what she wished for in a world which was and still is extremely hostile to half the population. I think it makes a worthy read for anyone. I'm truly sorry that it may not reach those children who are most in need of hearing these words.


Circuit Clay


Rating: WORTHY!

This was fascinating and I was sorely tempted to buy it myself just to see it work, which is why I mention it here, but note that I have not tried this. I just saw it on the shelf and it looked like fun for about $20. It allows kids to make safe (I assume and dearly hope it's safe!) low voltage electrical circuits using modeling clay. The clay conducts electricity which itself was way cool to me, and you can build light-up toys and models. The cover says it makes 15 projects, but I'm assuming those are simply imaginative repurposing of a few basic ones. The point about this though is to stimulate a child's imagination. Society will never run out of a need for inventive and competent engineers, and this is a good way to get a child thinking that this can be a real option for them if they want. My only concern about this is whether or not it overstimulates your child to the point where they are tempted to mess with more dangerous electric things around the house! We definitely don't want that! But with that it mind it looks like a lot of fun, and electrical modeling clay sounds way cool to me!


Build Your Own Gotcha Gadgets


Rating: WORTHY!

Now I have to say up front that I have not tried this book, but I saw it on the shelf and read a little about it and feel it deserves an honorable mention. Advertised on the box as 'Now with DOUBLE the sounds', I am frankly not sure if that's a lure for the kid or an abjure for the parent! It looked very cool and for around $20 (prices vary store to store) it's not a bad deal assuming the gadgets (motion sensor, light sensor, door alarm, etc) are buildable as advertised and they really work. I used to love this kind of stuff as a kid. Yes! I was the nerd with the chemistry set, and I never lost my love of science!


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Let's Play Yoga by Márcia de Luca, Lúcia Barros, Bruna Assis Brasil, Ana Ban


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note that there is a website for this book if you want to take a look at that before deciding whether this is for you! It's at http://www.letsplayyoga.com.

This book is translated from Brazilian by Ana Ban, and it's a fun and colorful book with some playful illustrations and a diverse cast of kids shown doing yoga poses. It begins with a lot of well written and fun advice on what yoga is all about and how it should be approached. Anything which encourages kids to be mindful, thoughtful, considerate of themselves and others, and to stay limber in a safe way, is to be recommended in my opinion!

The book is easy and gentle, and it has a lot to say about how yoga arose and what it's all about without going into too much detail on any one topic; then it goes on to show some simple yoga poses which any kid can work at. Not that it's treated as work! The authors talk of it as play, which is a great approach, because this should appeal to any kid. The book is very portable, too. it worked as well on my phone as it did on my tablet, although I have to say that some of the pages were a little hard to read not because of small text (the pages enlarge), but because of a bright green page background with off-white text! But that was only for a couple of pages.

On a personal note, I tried a yoga class one time, a while ago, and I was so disappointed in it that I never tried anything else along those lines! Unlike this book, the instructor didn't offer anything about the history and practice, and he gave no preparation, no advice, and no stretching. His sole purpose seemed less aimed at teaching us than it was at showing off what he himself could do. He offered no suggestions as to a daily regime or organized system for people to follow, and the entire class felt like a waste of my time.

I could have used a book like this when I was a kid, as well as in place of that class! It was nice to read a thoughtful and useful introduction to it. I was pleased to discover that something like this was available, aimed at kids, and which takes a holistic approach to the entire practice, discussing it in some detail but not too much, and advising kids to enter into it gamely, confidently, but cautiously, so no-one accidentally injures themselves by trying things too quickly, too strenuously or too enthusiastically!

Kids are not urged to try to get everything right from day one, but to enter into it in a spirit of can-do, and to keep practicing until the stretches and poses become second nature. It covers mindfulness, breathing (which an be employed in stressful situations away from the yoga mat!), and the poses or sanas. It's perfect for kids who may have problems exercising, because they're not required to do everything at once or to do it perfectly, or to run marathons! All they're asked is to give it a try, and to simply do as well as they can.

It's a nice philosophy to go with some nice relaxing exercises that will juice your joints, limber your limbs, spark your spine, and generally make you feel like you're doing a little something to make life better. There's nothing back-breaking or too hard here, so any child ought to be able to join in. To that end I would have liked to have seen the admirably diverse group of kids pictured here also include someone who was overweight or perhaps handicapped in some way to show that this can be done by everyone to the limits of their individual abilities and restrictions. All you need is a yoga mat - or something that will work as one - comfortable clothes, bare feet, and a willingness to give it a try! I think this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.


What the Future Looks Like by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Edited by well-known British scientist and writer Jim Al Khalili, this book is a series of speculations, under various headers, as to what we might expect from the future. I wasn't impressed with it, I'm sorry to say. I have a high regard for Khalili, who is a professor of theoretical physics and the Chair of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey. I've not read any of his books but I've watched some of his TV presentations, and enjoyed them. I was hoping therefore, that in a book that he's edited, I'd get some solid scientific grounding even for a speculative work about the future, but what I got instead was a lot of speculation and very little scientific grounding or even grounding in what;s happening today.

The authors of the various pieces were all scientists, and coming form a cutitng-edge technology sector myself, I was hoping for the speculation to be rooted in the present and logically extrapolating from existing trends and technology to give a realistic assessment, but for too many of these articles, it was evidently nothing more than an opportunity for the contributor to do little more than day-dream and fantasize about what's they hoped was coming rather than put some real effort into what;s actually likely to come. So while some articles were good and interesting, most were not, and the overall effect on me was one of "So what?" and blah.

Sometimes it was unintentionally amusing, such as when one speculator wrote, "Technologies are rarely,if ever,foisted upon us" which is patent nonsense. Did people calling into various agencies for help want a robot answering machine instead of a human? I think not. Did businesses like the one I work for, which typically have patented technology to safeguard, want everyone to legitimately carry a camera onto the premises - in the form of a cell phone? I don't think they wanted that either, but it's technology foisted upon them! Did people with a large vinyl record collection want tapes, then CDs, then e-music, constantly making their collection obsolete?

Did videotape movie watchers who were used to the movie starting pretty much as soon as you set the tape in motion want that technology to be overrun by two different forms of laser disk and then that latter one - the DVD - to be made obsolete by Blu-Ray™, which is now delighted to serve up - out of your control - a barrage of ads, then put on a glittering, overblown mini-movie menu to try and navigate before you can even the movie you paid for? I suspect not. No one asked for that, but it's what was served on us. That's not to say that people don't welcome - or perhaps more accurately, learn to live with - much of this, but they hardly begged for it. It was foisted upon us by progress, and clearly this writer wasn't thinking about what they were writing in this case. Unfortunately, this wasn't an uncommon problem in this book.

In another case, writing about autonomous vehicles, one writer declared, "The important point is that the race has been started," but he utterly failed to explain how it was that this was important! Why is it important to have autonomous vehicles? It may seem obvious to some, and others (autonomous vehicle builders, I'm looking at you) that these vehicles are safer, but judged by the long list of incidents and accidents, and design cluelessness we've read about lately (seriously your car doesn't need to keep track of stationary objects, not even the fire truck stopped front of you?!), some might believe it would be better if we waited a while for the technology to catch up before we make bold prognostications of autonomous and flying cars.

Another writer, talking about smart materials, declared that we could have sensors buried under the asphalt to have passing vehicles trigger street lights to be on only when the vehicle is passing. Unlike the characters in Back to the Future, this writer evidently did not consider a future where there are no roads, or where there's no asphalt because oil has gone, or where there is no need for vehicles to click buttons in the roadbed when a simple RFID chip - which already exists and is in wide use - could do exactly the same job. Talking about smart fabrics to build efficient airplanes assumes we'll always have oil to fuel them. Newsflash: we won't! This blinkered short-sightedness and lack of imagination/thinking outside the box absolutely plagued this book. This writer evidently didn't really give a lot of thought to how the future might look.

Topics covered include: demographics, the biosphere, climate change, medicine, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, transhumanism, the Internet of Things, cyber security, AI, quantum computing, smart materials, energy, transportation, and Robotics, and it ended with complete fantasy which I skipped, as I did the introduction. I wasn't impressed, and especially not by the total lack of cross-fertilization of ideas between all these topics. Everything was so compartmentalized you would think all these advances were taking place in complete isolation from one another. There was no speculation pursuing what happens in real life in that something is invented for one purpose and is then coopted for something else which was never foreseen, and which takes off in ways we had not imagined. Yes, that would involve speculation, but extrapolation from events like this would constitute no more wool-gathering than was already being widely indulged-in here!

There was one other important issue. This book has a whole section on climate change, yet the book itself - a book about what the future looks like - was appallingly wasteful of paper. It was printed in academic format which is, for reasons which utterly escape me, especially in this day and age, dedicated to huge whitespace margins and wide line heights. I estimate, very roughly, that about fifty percent of the page was wasted. Naturally no one wants to see, let alone try and read, a book that has the text so crammed-in that it's illegible, but I certainly don't want to see one delivered by a publisher which seems - as evidenced by its publishing practices - to have a vendetta against the one thing which is doing something about greenhouse gasses: trees.

You can of course snidely argue that "in this day and age" everyone gets their books electronically, which isn't true, but let's run with it. If you get it in ebook format, you don't kill trees, do you? Nope. But larger books still take longer to transmit over the Internet and require proportionately more energy to do so. This book is made available in PDF (Portable Document Format which is owned by Adobe, but which is now available license-free for coding and decoding files). PDF file size for a text document like this is proportional in size to the number of pages. So either way, reducing file size to, let's not say half, but three-quarters of its current size would bring it down from 256 pages to 192. Removing some of the common blank pages contained in it would bring it down more. What would the future hold if every publisher thought that way? It's one more reason why I can't recommend this.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Poorcraft by C Spike Trotman, Diana Nock


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was awesome! It tells you how to survive economically with scores of practical ideas and a host of references, and it covers a huge variety of topics, and will be of particular interest to college students, but also to anyone who is living on very limited means. It's also humorous and beautifully drawn in very bold black and white line images by Diana Nock.

It covers housing, food, fashion, health, transportation, entertainment, education and emergencies, and it has an appendix of links and resources. It offers advice on how to take out a loan, how to avoid taking out a loan, and how to pay back loans even if you feel you're sinking rather than swimming. It offers tips on how to save on groceries, how to find a place to live, how to make sure your housemates are good ones, how to find cheap or free furniture, how to put together a collection of tools for do-it-yourself projects and fixing-up places. In short, it covers pretty much everything you need to know to live cheaply and successfully. I fully recommend this one as an entertaining read and a useful tool to have around in itself!


The Angry Chef's Guide to Spotting Bullsh*t in the World of Food by Anthony Warner


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“...repelling into your body...” I believe the author meant 'rappelling'.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

What better way to start out All Fool's Day than to review a book about idiotic diet fads? In a world where women in particular and especially in the west, are made to feel ugly and worthless if they do not conform to the fashion magazine, television, and Hollywood 'standard' of beauty (i.e. thin as a rake and endowed with hourglass curves and unnaturally flawless skin), you can't blame people for wanting to trim themselves a little, but there are far too many immoral rip-off artists willing to step up and offer snake-oil and quakery to women who have, their entire lives, been primed and weakened to buy into anything which will get them into conformity with the idiotic heights that society seeks to impose upon them.

While it does no-one harm to exercise appropriately and eat wisely, the diet business is a sixty billion dollar industry in the USA alone and yet people are fatter now than they've ever been. That should tell you how fraudulent the whole thing is. However heavy or light your body is, it has a natural weight that it likes to stay close to and it will fight you with some very effective hormones if you try to force it out of that zone. That's not to say it can't be done, but the road to that end is paved with misery, failure, and a constant struggle.

You know things are bad if even Walmart voluntarily steps-up and decides to remove one if its beauty and fashion magazines from the check-out aisle because it's been deemed too obsessed with women being sexualized. If you take a look at those magazines, they rarely have a cover which doesn't mention diet, looks, and/or sex. These magazines are known for air-brushing flaws out of women's skin and Photoshopping them to make them look even thinner than they may already be. Children are bombarded with these images every time they pass through the checkout. On the one side are the magazines essentially telling women how ugly and fat they are, and on the other side of the same aisle are the calorie-laden candy bars and potato chips. That ought to tell you something about how schizophrenic we are in this world of body image which we created for ourselves.

When I requested this from Net Galley I had never heard of the Angry Chef, but the idea of it amused me. I was really pleased to learn that not only does the Author have BSc degree in biochemistry from Manchester University, he's also very much a scientist in his approach to analyzing fad diets, and he gives no quarter in tackling them one after another in this volume, pointing out in no uncertain terms how idiotic and baseless they are.

In Part One 'Gateway Pseuodscience', he covers an important topic: the difference between causation and correlation. Just because something occurs at the same time as something else doesn't automatically mean one was caused by the other. He attacks so-called 'detox' diets and alkaline diets, and he covers the topics of regression to the mean, and 'the remembering self'.

In Part Two we learn about 'when science goes wrong' and meet Science Columbo, coconut oil, the paleo diet, antioxidants, and...sugar! (Its not as bad as you think!). Part Three brings 'the influence of pseudoscience', featuring a history of quacks, the power of ancient wisdom, processed foods, clean eating, and eating disorders. Part Four takes us into 'the dark heart of pseudoscience' and educates us on relative risk, the GAPS diet, and cancer. Not ethat some of his titles and opening paragraphs are laden with sarcasm, so beware that you may think you're having your bias confirmed as you seem to be led in one direction, only to discover that your destination is elsewhere.

If I had three complaints, the first would be that the print version is a tree-slaughtering device if it goes to a long print run, because it has unnecessarily wide margins and generous text-spacing, No-one wants to see a page that's literally black with text, but a wiser publisher - one which actually cared about trees and climate change, could have narrowed the margins and shorted the book considerably by doing so.

My second complaint - be warned - is that the language is a little on the blue side and unnecessarily so in my opinion. There are four-letter words distributed throughout the text, not commonly, but often enough. I thought that was entirely unnecessary. I have no problem with such words in say, a novel, but in a non-fiction book of this nature, I think that language can be dispensed with and thereby reach a wider audience in doing so. It amused me that the cover was so prim and proper that it included an asterisk in the title - like that really disguises what the word is? Seriously? I know an author has no control over the cover when they turn over their book to a regular publisher (which to me is a travesty), but they do have a lot of say over what's inside that cover.

The third issue was that the book was a little long-winded for my taste (336 pages, of which - if you exclude the prologue and the epilogue which I always do), runs to some 286 pages of main text. The extra pages include end notes and two appendices, but the rest of the book was a bit rambling at times. Overall though, I enjoyed it. I loved the exposure of fads and quackery (Gwyneth Paltrow comes in for a well-deserved hammering) as well as a host of less well-known figures in the world of food faddism. The book contains a solid introduction to the scientific approach in which far too many of us are lacking, especially in the USA, land of fundamentalism, conspiracy and fad. The principles learned here can be applied outside the narrow field of diet and food, and I recommend this one as a worthy read.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Naturally Thin by Jean Antonello


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"...but it will relax a bit as you and your body gets into a rhythm together." Wrong verb person. Should be 'get', not 'gets'.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm always suspicious of books, especially diet books, where the author feels a need to put lettered credentials after their name. If you look at books written by legitimate scientists, for example, they never put their credentials after their name. Richard Dawkins's books are by 'Richard Dawkins', period, not by 'Richard Dawkins PhD'. Carl Sagan's were the same, as are Neil deGrasse Tyson's and Jim Al-Khalili, but you never see their books trailing letters after the author's name. Just sayin'!

There's always something new out about eating a healthy diet. Just yesterday (as I write this - March 26th), there was a report in the Washington Post wherein Satchin Panda, researcher at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was asked about a study on mice employing a technique known as time-restricted feeding. In this method, you eat more or less what you want, but only during an eight hour period. The rest of the time you fast (as it were), and this appears to work in mice. Whether it will work in humans remains to be seen!

But the real issue of a book like this is the content - does it make sense? Does it work? Is it anything really new? I have to say that I was not impressed by this short book which has very repetitive content and which seems to have only the one message which is simply common sense: eat healthily and exercise if you want to lose weight! If people are dumb enough that they need to read this in a book to get it, then this is the book for them, but the long-winded message it sends is obvious to anyone who cares to actually think about it. It's a sad commentary on the state of science education in the USA, I have to add, if we truly do need books like this, and an indictment of how 'owned' our elected representatives are by the food business (as well as the NRA and the oil companies, and so on).

If that was all there was to it though, I wouldn’t see any harm in the book, but it offers nothing more than the author's own opinions, some of which are way wrong. Yes she's a nurse, and therefore has some medical training, I used to work with nurses and I respect what they do, but while being a nurse should make one an expert in patient care, it doesn't necessarily endow a person with an abundance of worldly smarts any more than would being a doctor, or a car mechanic, or an artist.

One of the first issues I encountered was that there was an image of a list. Prior to swiping to this screen I had read how to follow this image: “Begin with FAMINE at the top and move clockwise.” There was no clock, just a list and the word 'famine' was not in the list! Note that this was an ARC, so perhaps in the final print version the instructions match the image? The word 'famine' however is itself worth a mention because in this book, despite it being so short, that word appears relentlessly like a mantra, along with its companion, 'feast'. Famine is repeated 17 times and that's just the first chapter! The repetition was too much.

The author makes sweeping statements for as sparse as the bristles are on her broom, such as: “We’ve established that dieters can only restrict their food intake for so long before they lose control of their eating.” I would agree that this has been established, as evidenced by countless failed diet plans, and as bolstered by a knowledge of evolution and physiology, but for the author to claim that she has established it is misleading, because all she offers is opinion and anecdotal stories. What studies she quotes are not referenced anywhere I could find in the book, so what they establish is open to question.

There is a lot of misinformation in the book, including some inaccuracies. One example of a study I did track down (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199004123221506) was led by Dr Philip Kern of Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, but no mention is made of him. Instead the author quotes Dr Adam Drewnowski (note the spelling, the author gives this name as "Drenowski" in the ARC I had). He is the director of the human nutrition program at the University of Michigan, but he was not involved in the study. He was merely commenting on it, which I found to be an odd way to 'reference' a study.

The conclusion of that study was that "...weight loss in very obese subjects leads to the increased activity and expression of lipoprotein lipase, thereby potentially enhancing lipid storage and making further weight loss more difficult" (N Engl J Med 1990;322:1053–9). For 'lipid' read 'fat' as in body fat. Note that the conclusion says 'potentially', and that it says nothing about causing people to put weight back on! The study also reported that "There was a strongly positive correlation between the initial body-mass index and the magnitude of the increase in lipoprotein lipase activity" so this is telling us that these study subjects, who were described in the study title as "Very Obese Humans" had more activity than would someone with a lower BMI (Body Mass Index). In short, it's something of a leap to try to correlate this with what the author tells us. It's misleading at best.

Another instance of this method of selling her approach was where I read, "Choose organic. It’s always the best way to go if you have a choice and can afford it" but she offers no reasons why. Organic food is expensive, but that doesn't mean it's better for you. If you type 'is organic food better?' into a search engine you will discover that it is far from a foregone conclusion. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-go-organic for example, tells us "While organic foods have fewer synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and are free of hormones and antibiotics, they don't appear to have a nutritional advantage over their conventional counterparts."

In short, if you wash your food properly before cooking or eating raw, you're getting the same nutrition cheaper. That's not clear from what the author says, and she also fails to mention antibiotics at all in this book - which is strange given how often she mentions meat consumption. This is something you ought to be cognizant of, if you're a meat eater regardless of other issues.

If you want to lose weight, consider (along with eating healthily and exercising as much as you can manage) giving-up meat altogether (do it wisely and seek medical advice if necessary), or at least consider severely cutting back on it. We in the west eat far too much and feeding grain to animals which we then eat is an appalling waste of food resources. If everyone in the west gave up about a twentieth of their meat consumption it would free-up enough grain to feed every starving person on the planet. But that's just my opinion!

An article in https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/pesticides-food-fears/ asks, "Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic?' and answers, "Probably not." In this article: https://www.zmescience.com/other/science-abc/organic-food-science02092015/ we read that "...researchers at Oxford university analyzed 71 peer-reviewed studies and observed that organic products are sometimes worse for the environment. Organic milk, cereals, and pork generated higher greenhouse gas emissions per product than conventional ones." So this author has not done her homework. Or she's withholding information she ought to share. Organic faming is a thirty or forty billion dollar per year industry; they're not going to tell you the truth any more than the agribusiness conglomerates are.

There are some claims in the book which are not harmful per se, but are just outright dumb! One such was this one: "People don’t usually put regular gas in their cars anymore because the new, more efficient engines require higher, purer types of gas to run efficiently." This is so wrong in so many ways that it boggles the mind. 98% of gasoline sold in the US is regular. Literally almost everyone is using it in their cars!

Just because the author may be able to afford a high-performance car doesn't mean she can extrapolate from that and make the bald assumption that everyone else is in the same boat (or vehicle!) that she is and just as well-off. Most cars use regular gasoline. In 2015, according to a study by AAA, idiots who thought their cars needed premium gasoline wasted two billion dollars putting it unnecessarily into their tanks. Not that the oil companies minded. It’s really called premium because of the premium you pay them to waste it in your car which runs fine on regular. Always go by what your car manufacturer advises as to what gas you should put in the tank. Don't ask a nurse or even a car mechanic.

Her claim that modern engines require "higher, purer types of gas to run efficiently" is complete nonsense! Higher octane gasolines are actually less pure since they tend to have more ethanol in them. Ethanol is used to raise the octane rating. The point being that if your car has a higher compression ratio, then it needs a higher octane gas. If it doesn't, it does not.

Actually modern cars tend to have sensors so that even if you're using the wrong octane, the engine can adapt (assuming it has those sensors to detect engine knocking - which can be very harmful). It just won't generate quite as much power per unit of fuel if you need the higher one and are using the lower one, but the difference in modern cars is negligible depending on how you drive, of course. Using an octane the manufacturer does not require is simply dumb. Use the one your car requires, not the one your dietician tells you to use. Hopefully you're moving to a hybrid or an electric anyway and letting oil return to being the fossil it really.

It’s misleading statements like this which cast doubt on other things the author says, especially when she says one thing and then makes a huge leaps to another assumption. For example, at one point she said, "According to the Center for Disease Control, several racial groups in the United States have especially high rates of obesity. This is a function of high famine sensitivity. They are African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians." To begin with, it’s the CenterS for Disease Control since there isn't only one. A nurse ought to know this. The author offered no reference for this study, but her claim seems to be yet another leap from facts which do not support her conclusion, especially when she lumps all American Indians, for example, into one group as though there's no difference in obesity rates between them (there is).

The fact is that in the US, African Americans are more likely to be obese than any other group, and Asians the least (http://news.gallup.com/poll/155735/blacks-likely-obese-asians-least.aspx In the BMI of 40+ category, Black Americans are twice as likely to be found. Whites and Hispanics rank about the same, very much contradicting what this author claims.

This table (https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/adult-overweightobesity-rate-by-re/) shows pretty much the same thing and shows American Indians. There is not a huge difference across the US as a whole. Interestingly, the author fails to mention what's happening outside the US. Although obesity is growing worldwide (about a third of the planet's human population is overweight!), the rates outside the US are about half what they are inside the US according to this table: https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/are-we-fat-think/. The only European country in the top 10 most overweight is Germany, So a really good question to ask would be, what is it Europe is doing that the rest of the world is not? Another interesting question to ask would be how does obesity correlate with access to free healthcare? None of these questions are asked in this book.

So it's probably needless to say by this point that I was not impressed with a short book sporting misinformation, which says the same things tediously over and over again, presumably to bulk up the size of the book which wastes more trees in the print version) and which has, as its only offering: eat wisely. Intelligent and well-read people have been doing that all along. Perhaps the book should have offered instead, advice to people to think about what they're eating, and to read some good science books on evolution and diet. I cannot recommend this.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler


Rating: WARTY!

I watched a couple of Chelsea Handler's TV shows and while they were mildly entertaining, they were not enough to make me want to keep on watching. I picked up this book out of curiosity since it was on close-out, but when I read it, I was far less impressed with this than with the TV show. I now have absolutely zero interest in this woman!

The biographical stories were boring and juvenile and presented like she was the only one that anything remotely like this had ever happened to. I had no interest in what she wrote and took quickly to skimming and finding less and less to engage me the further I went into it. In short order, I gave up on it entirely.

Does anyone really want to read about her OCD with masturbation at the age of eight? Do we really find it funny that someone pulled a prank on her that she'd killed a dog? I have zero interest in any of this juvenile stupid behavior and I cannot recommend this, not remotely, not even if you're actually a dog-handler from Chelsea in London.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Atom Land by Jon Butterworth


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is Jon Butterworth's second book on physics. I have not read his other book. The author is a Professor of Physics at University College London and also works at CERN on the ATLAS particle detector experiment. This was one of two large hadron collider experiments which were instrumental in discovering the long-sought-after Higgs Boson.

I have to say up-front that I was very disappointed in this book. For me, it confused things far more than it clarified them, which is unfortunate. I'm not a physicist by any stretch of the imagination, and I have only a lay-person's understanding of the topics covered here, but I have read extensively on these subjects, so I know my way around them in general terms. I was hoping for more clarity or new learning here, and I felt I got neither. The author used the metaphor of exploring oceans and islands to pursue the investigation of forms of energy and sub-atomic particles, but it didn't work and it felt much more like a shallow tourist trip where it's all about superficiality and gewgaws, rather than an actual exploratory voyage during which we really learn something about the venue we're visiting.

But before I really get started on content, I find myself once more having to say something about formatting. This book is laid out as a typical academic-style text, with very wide margins, lots of white space, and lots of extra pages up front that strictly aren't necessary. The publisher determines how a book should look, and supplicants to the publishing world are required to conform whether the antiquated rules make sense in a modern world or not.

For me, the bottom line is that we cannot afford to sacrifice so many trees in a world where climate change is running rampant and may be irreversible. We need trees alive, not crushed and sparsely printed on. Naturally in an ebook, this is irrelevant except in that bulkier books eat up more energy in transmission over the Internet, but for a large print run, this slaughter of forests has to stop, or at least be contained. Wasting so much paper is unacceptable.

This book had an extensive contents which served no purpose at all because it contained no links to the actual chapters nor did the chapters contain a reverse link to get back to the contents. Neither was there an index in the back. I assume there was no index because ebooks are searchable and therefore an index and a contents are really irrelevant. Who reads a contents page? Maybe some do, but I never do. I don't read prologues, forewords, introductions, or prefaces, either. If you want people to know what's in the book, make the back cover blurb serve a real purpose and put a brief contents list on that cover!

The real problem here though was the margins which ate up (by my estimation) at least a quarter of each page in white space. The chapter title pages wasted more, and each book section wasted yet more by having its own title page. I'm sure authors and publishers think this makes a book look pretty but you know what? Trees are far prettier than any book I've ever seen or heard of. The book could probably have been two hundred pages instead of three hundred, had more judicious margins and a slightly wiser use of overall space been employed. I can't sanction that kind of wastefulness in formatting.

Another issue was that while the publisher very wisely did not publish this using Amazon's crappy Kindle format, which mangles anything but the plainest of text, the book was published in a format which lent itself poorly to being read on a smart phone, because every page insists upon presenting itself as a complete page. Like an atom, it's not easily broken down into smaller component parts and the entire page is too small, especially with those margins, to be read comfortably on a phone screen. It's really designed for a tablet computer which is far less easy to tote around than is my phone.

On the phone, the reader is constantly having to stretch the page to fill the screen. Shrinking those large margins made it intelligible, but that also rendered it 'unswipeable': you can't swipe to the next page, so you have to reduce the page back to original size - sometimes requiring two shrinking efforts to achieve this properly - swipe it, enlarge it, read it, shrink it, rinse and repeat. It makes for an irritating reading experience at best.

The real problem or joy of any book though is the content (as opposed to contents!). Does it do the job? For me this did not because there were so many confusing metaphors here that it really muddied the water rather than clarified it. It was like comparing the pristine Inverness river of the thirteen century with the disgustingly polluted Thames of the Victorian era.

As I mentioned, the metaphor of sea-travel and island visits is employed here, and the book even includes maps of them of these locations, but this struck me as completely fatuous and an entirely wrong-headed approach. Illustrations of some of the concepts he was discussing would definitely have clarified things, but none of those are to be found anywhere. Instead, we have fake maps of fictional seas and islands that really have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject under discussion. To me this was ill-advised.

It didn't help that the author continually jumped around like he was in Brownian motion between one topic an another. First we sail to this island, then we sail back to where we started, then we take a train journey, then we re-board the ship and sail to another island, oh look at that island over there, but here we are at this island instead. It made for a nonsensical text in which the reader struggled to follow the topic instead of being helped along by a favorable breeze as it were.

I can't test the whole document since I don't have the text, but out of curiosity I typed in this one tiny section which struck me as being obtuse:

The sprays, or jets, of hadrons will be collimated roughly in the direction of the initial quark and antiquark. The energies and directions of the initial quark and antiquark can be calculated in QCD, and the calculation agrees well with measurements of the jets.
This scored marginally over a forty four in Flesch reading ease, where a score for comfortable reading would be sixty or seventy. Low scores are bad! The Flesch-Kincaid grade level was 12.5 which indicates a person who has started college (beyond twelfth grade in the US means graduated high-school - or post-GCE-A-level student in Britain). Although this was hardly a random sample, I believe it's representative since it isn't atypical of how this book is written, so be warned that the reading level isn't exactly aimed at the general populace! I think this is a flaw perhaps induced by having only scientist colleagues read the text? I don't know.

By the time this book reached chapter 19, roughly halfway through, and very accurately titled 'The Weak Force', and went rambling on about W and Z particles, once again without really explaining anything, but instead comparing the whole thing to an airline, I had pretty much lost all interest in this book. This chapter seemed to be one of the most confusing and therefore the weakest in the chapter list so it was aptly named, but maybe this was simply because I was so tired of these meaningless meandering and overblown metaphors that I really had no heart left in it at all, and I decided my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Even when we got down to the actual topic under discussion, the text really didn't do very much to educate or illuminate. As I mentioned, it was like a tourist version where we see the sights, but learn little to nothing of local color and history. We got a scientist's name tossed in here and there, but nothing in depth about the subject before we were whisked-off to the next. Every topic got the same short shrift no matter how easy or hard a topic it might have been to explain.

For example at one point (page 127 of the book, page 145 of the screen page count, which is an indicator of how many fluff pages there were at the start of this book), there was a brief discussion of the elements and how well-bound (or otherwise) they are, with iron standing out as tightly-wrapped no-nonsense kind of a fellow, but nowhere in this section was there any sort of discussion as to exactly why iron, of all the elements, is like this! There were hints all around it but nothing as solid as iron itself is.

Why is iron such a problem in star formation and development such that when a star starts making iron in its belly, it's doomed? Iron is like the legendary black spot in pirate lore, predicting your demise if you get it, but we learn nothing of exactly why this is so. We're told only that this is why iron is so common. I had expected, in a book like this, that there would be something to learn here, but it seems that either there isn't or the author thinks it not worth sharing, and we were never party to which of those options it was. To me this was a starting point: begin with trusty old iron, talk about the elements, and use those discussions of elements and their properties to launch the other topics covered here.

Another such issue was when the text started in on the color of quarks. Color when used in this sense has nothing whatsoever to do with what you see on the TV or movie screen, or in images on your camera. It's an idiosyncrasy of science which Richard Feynman detested. Red, green and blue are used to describe various quarks, but their opposites are not cyan, magenta and yellow! Instead, they're woodenly named: anti-red, anti-green, and anti-blue! There was an opportunity for humor there which was missed a in a community which seems fine with quarks named strange and charm! In physics, the color of a sub-atomic particle has to do with the charge of the particle, not with color, but beyond that I have no idea what it really means and this book utterly fails to explain it, or even broach it. This to me was emblematic of the overall skimpy approach employed here. I'm surprised the ship didn't run aground in such shallow seas.

The fact that topics got short shrift - or more à propos, set adrift, as opposed to being anchored solidly in something people have an instinctive grasp of, really sums up the problem: I expected a lot more from this than I got, and it was a truly disappointing experience. I wish the author all the best in his career, both academic and literary, but I cannot recommend this book.