July 13

2020 Book Reviews: A Baker’s Dozen Pt 3

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For those who can remember that far back, I started this series of book reviews of my favorite 52 books of 2020 way back in January.  I wanted to write one long review of all 52 books, but my wife talked me out of it.  So, I broke the whole thing down into four posts, each reviewing 13 books (a baker’s dozen).  I got the first one finished in early January, then the second at the end of January.  Then nada.

As most of you know, I started a weekly newsletter called The Arrow in January as well, and I’ve kept it going through 27 issues with the 28th coming up next Thursday.  (If you’re at all interested in subscribing, click here.)  It has ended up occupying a lot more time than I thought it would, which has stolen time I would have otherwise spent blogging, thus the delay.

I’ve got a new theory I’m working on, and I would like to post on it as a means of sort of thinking on paper (or in electrons?) as my friend Peter does.  But I can’t get to it until I get the final two parts of this four part book review posted.  So, here we go with the third installment.  The books are ranked in no specific order.  They are just listed as I pulled them off the shelves.

Permanent Record

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden was without doubt the most chilling book I read in 2020.  I got it as a Christmas gift and read it between Christmas and the new year.  In truth, I think I finished it on New Year’s day, so it could fall into either year, I suppose.  It doesn’t matter what you think of Snowden, you need to read this book just to see the depth of surveillance the US government perpetrates against its own citizens.  It’s really unbelievable.

Snowden was caught on the horns of a real dilemma.  When he signed up to work for the CIA he swore to uphold the Constitution and he swore a secrecy oath.  His issue was what happens when those two come into conflict?  The Constitution or the secrecy oath?  Which is pre-eminent?  He went with the Constitution.  But not without a lot of agonizing.  He knew going with the Constitution was the right thing to do, but he also knew he was risking a long prison sentence, his relationship with his long-term girlfriend (now his wife), and his family.

As he was agonizing over this decision, which was not made on a whim, he and his girlfriend visited an appliance store where he endured a demonstration of a smart refrigerator.  As he was driving home from the store he began to ruminate on whether he was making more of the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance of its citizens.

I remember driving home in confused silence. This wasn’t quite the stunning moonshot tech-future we’d been promised. I was convinced the only reason that thing was Internet-equipped was so that it could report back to its manufacturer about its owner’s usage and about any other household data that was obtainable. The manufacturer, in turn, would monetize that data by selling it. And we were supposed to pay for the privilege.

 

I wondered what the point was of my getting so worked up over government surveillance if my friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens were more than happy to invite corporate surveillance into their homes, allowing themselves to be tracked while browsing in their pantries as efficiently as if they were browsing the Web. It would still be another half decade before the domotics revolution, before “virtual assistants” like Amazon Echo and Google Home were welcomed into the bedroom and placed proudly on nightstands to record and transmit all activity within range, to log all habits and preferences (not to mention fetishes and kinks), which would then be developed into advertising algorithms and converted into cash. The data we generate just by living–or just by letting ourselves be surveilled while living–would enrich private enterprise and impoverish our private existence in equal measure. If government surveillance was having the effect of turning the citizen into a subject, at the mercy of state power, then corporate surveillance was turning the consumer into a product, which corporations sold to other corporations, data brokers, and advertisers.

We all know his ultimate decision.  When you finish the book–assuming you enjoyed it as much as I did–you should watch the documentary about it called Citizenfour. After reading the book, you know what was going through Snowden’s mind and how terrified he was as all this was going on.  If you do get the documentary through the Amazon link above, pay for it. It’s just a few bucks to rent. Don’t make my mistake and get the free one. It is absolutely riddled with long ads you can’t fast forward through.  Drove me crazy.

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave

I have mixed emotions about this book.  I loved David Downing’s Station books set in Germany in the days leading up to WWII and beyond.  They were exceptional.  In case you want to start there, the first is Zoo Station.  Terrific book! The whole series is wonderful. Since I loved the Station books so much (they all have Station in the titles), I thought I would give Diary of a Dead Man on Leave a whirl.

The main character is a Soviet agent who was born and raised in Germany.  He was seduced into the Communist Party when younger and has been working for them since.  His handlers send him to a small railroad town in Germany to see if he can reinvigorate a former Soviet cell there.  He’s instructed to find a room in a boarding house and get a job as a cover.  He rents a room from a widowed woman with two sons.

He strikes up almost a father-son relationship with the younger of the kids, who is in grade school.  He goes about his Soviet business, but most of the book is about what goes in the boarding house, which has let rooms to a diverse group of people.  What I found fascinating about the book was its depiction of interwar Germany of ordinary people trying to make a living.  The book is definitely not one you can’t put down.  I would read a bit then read something else.  The reason I ended up putting it on this list is that although I didn’t find it to be a page turner, I’ve found myself thinking about it many, many times since.  And, to me, at least, that’s the mark of a good book.  One that resides in your mind for a long time.  If you give it a go, don’t expect a thriller.  But do expect to learn a lot.

Clean

I ran across this book when I was browsing at a bookstore.  I was hooked by the first three short paragraphs.

Five years ago, I stopped showering.

 

At least, by most modern definitions of the word. I still get my hair wet occasionally, but I quit shampooing or conditioning, or using soap, except on my hands. I also gave up the other personal care products—exfoliants and moisturizers and deodorants—that I had always associated with being clean.

 

I’m not here to recommend this approach to everyone. In a lot of ways it was terrible. But it also changed my life.

I was hooked because, I, too, had stopped showering.  But in my case it was about 15 years ago.  And I didn’t stop showering, I just stopped using soap and shampoo when I did.  When I first quit using soap, I quit using all the “exfoliants and moisturizers and deodorants” as well.  I stopped using even shaving creme and shaved without (which really isn’t all that bad).  After a few years, I went back to using moisturizers with sunscreen and shaving creme, but that’s about it.

As it did for the author of Clean, James Hamblin, a medical doctor, ditching soap changed my life, too.  In a tremendously good way.

I had been writing (in my head) a long explanatory blog post about going soap and shampoo free and describing what a difference it had made in life. When I came across the above paragraphs while thumbing through the book, I figured the author had beaten me to it. But he hadn’t. It’s a totally different book than the blog post I’m planning on writing.

The book tells the fascinating story of the development of soap, which seems to all of us to have been around forever.  But that’s not the case.  It’s a relative newcomer in terms of a product most of us now use daily.  Same for toothpaste.  Same for a ton of different cosmetics.

The author delves deeply into how a number of cosmetics of various kinds rose from being made in someone’s kitchen to national and even international prominence.  Many of them promoted by so-called influencers.  In fact, one of my favorite lines in the book is

But the first mistake in the wellness industry is thinking a professional influencer is your friend. An influencer is a person who explicitly wants your attention because they want to monetize it. Nonetheless, they are popular with the kids.

Reading this book will teach you a lot about immunology, skin diseases, and skin products.  Next time you’re tempted to buy an ingestible product with peptides in it to promote better skin health, remember this author’s admonition:

It’s like if you needed new tires and you put rubber into your gas tank.

Load up on vitamin C instead.  It’s required to make collagen, one of the main components of skin.  The amount of money you spend on this book, you’ll save many times over by not falling for various health and beauty scams.

The Pleasure of Thinking

I absolutely love this book.  Given my inclination toward any book on critical thinking combined with my admiration of Theodore Dalrymple, it’s hard for me to understand how I waited so long to read it.

The Pleasure of Thinking is not so much a book about thinking in general, but one about the author’s thinking as he searches through musty used bookstores the world over for books to add to his collection.  It’s difficult to describe other than that.  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a person who has also searched through musty used bookstores the world over for the same reason, I tore through it with great relish.

Instead of trying to tell you about it, I’ll simply quote some of his observations.  Those of you who enjoy the few observations below, will love the book.  The first is one that triggered me in a good way, because it is absolutely true of book collectors.

It is astonishing, when one has been around books a long time, how often one recognises a volume by some very tiny aspect of the appearance of its spine or dust wrapper.

 

It is possible to know a great deal, and yet be mistaken about the very subject of one’s knowledge. Thus we always see through a glass darkly, yet pronounce on everything as if our eyes were at one and the same time the most powerful microscopes and telescopes possible.

 

Taste is formed by what is presented to it; and under the British system what is presented to it, at least in very large part, is trash. The appetite grows with feeding.

 

There was something more, however. In Africa, and elsewhere, I came to see that truly poor people, those who could not assume that there would be enough to eat on the morrow, wanted desperately to be clean, tidy and neat. When they achieved it despite all the obstacles, their cleanliness, tidiness and neatness represented a triumph of the human spirit. Those people in rich countries who lived in avoidable squalor and went around scruffily, with artfully torn jeans, were not so much expressing their solidarity with the poor and wretched of the earth, as they fondly imagined that they were doing, but distinguishing themselves from them.

 

Ever afterwards, I felt a visceral dislike of the fashion for dressing down, for looking poor when one was nothing of the kind. It was as if there had been a mass outbreak of Marie-Antoinettism, with everyone playing shepherdess without so much as clapping eyes on a sheep.

 

If the purpose of books is to be food for thought, then the nourishment should be the best possible.

 

The pedant does not delight to find error because he is a lover of truth; he delights to find error to prove his superiority to whoever has made it.

That’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  If intrigued, grab this book.

The ChoiceThe Choice by Dr. Edith Eiger.  Ah, where do I start?

I guess I’ll start by saying something that will probably get me canceled.  I’ve never been one for the victim mindset.  So many people attribute every bad thing that has ever happened to them as a consequence of events outside their control.  In other words, they’ve been victimized.  In reflecting back over my own fairly long life, I can tell you that every bad thing that has ever happened to me was as a consequence of my own actions.  I’ve been dealt some bad hands here and there.  Some I played well while others I played poorly.  But the choice of how to play them was mine.

The various plights I’ve found myself in are of little consequence to the ones Dr. Eiger suffered.  First, she was born Jewish at the wrong place in the wrong time.  She was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up there at a time during which the Nazis were coming into power and had plans to take over her country.  She trained as a gymnast and had Olympic aspirations, but instead ended up in Auschwitz.  Her parents were killed, and she, herself, was left for dead.  Her starved body was pulled from a mass of corpses by the liberators.  People who think they have it bad should compare themselves to her.

She ended up moving to America and, against great odds, becoming a clinical psychologist. The Choice is her story, and it describes the choice between surrendering to the victimhood or rising above it.

Like I did with Theodore Dalrymple’s book above, I’ll leave you with a few quotes:

My own search for freedom and my years of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist have taught me that suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional. There is a difference between victimization and victimhood. We are all likely to be victimized in some way in the course of our lives. At some point we will suffer some kind of affliction or calamity or abuse, caused by circumstances or people or institutions over which we have little or no control. This is life. And this is victimization. It comes from the outside. It’s the neighborhood bully, the boss who rages, the spouse who hits, the lover who cheats, the discriminatory law, the accident that lands you in the hospital.

 

In contrast, victimhood comes from the inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We become victims not because of what happens to us but when we choose to hold on to our victimization. We develop a victim’s mind—a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive, and without healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailors when we choose the confines of the victim’s mind.

 

To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.

 

I was there to share the most important truth I know, that the biggest prison is in your own mind, and in your pocket you already hold the key: the willingness to take absolute responsibility for your life; the willingness to risk; the willingness to release yourself from judgment and reclaim your innocence, accepting and loving yourself for who you really are—human, imperfect, and whole.

If you are looking for an inspirational book, this is it.  It’s a book that almost reads itself.  It’s that good.

Apocalypse Never

Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never, is a long-time environmentalist who helped save the Redwoods and was co-author of the predecessor of the New Green Deal.  To challenge himself, he mounted a search for the real facts about the environmental movement, and what he found disturbed him.  Many of the quotes from the leading environmentalists had been taken out of context.  When confronted with these quotes, most denied having said them.  They said instead that the press had misquoted them.

Shellenbeger makes the case that though there is much to be done to help the environment, all of the end-of-the-world-as-we know-it mania is unfounded.  And mainly used to raise funds and drive political campaigns.  This is an eye-opening book on the business of environmentalism and a deep discussion of what is underpinned by the evidence and what isn’t.  Should be read in conjunction with Steven Koonin’s terrific book Unsettled.  Koonin, despite being President Obama’s Under Secretary for Science, has been canceled for writing such a book, which is why you’ve probably never heard of him. And why you ought to read what he has to say.
Working

I read about this book before it was published.  Waited for it eagerly and bought it the day it came out.  I both loved the book and was hugely disappointed in it.  I loved the descriptions of author Robert Caro’s dogged pursuit of the tiniest of facts.  But I was disillusioned  to discover that Caro, himself, like all of us, falls prey to the confirmation bias.  And does so despite practically going to the ends of the earth to confirm or deny rumors he’s come across.

Working is Caro’s description of the effort he puts in to research and write his magisterial biographies.  First of New York developer Robert Moses and then his famous multi-volume series on Lyndon B. Johnson.  To show you the length he went to in an effort to dig up info on LBJ denied to other reporters, he and his wife moved from Manhattan to the dinky little Texas town of Johnson City in an effort to get close to the residents there, most of whom had had interactions with LBJ as he grew up, but didn’t feel right about talking about him to outsiders.

As I say, Caro went the extra mile.  He had heard a rumor that LBJ bought an election; Caro could never confirm it.  Whatever source he dug up always said he/she had heard it somewhere else.  He relentlessly followed up with all the sources, even going to Mexico.  He finally found the primary source who gave him the info.  And proof.

But Caro didn’t relentlessly pursue everything.  He admits in a number of places in the book that he is a typical New York City liberal.  Which is neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned.  I suspect most writers who grew up in NYC and make it their home are liberal.  In Caro’s case, though, I would expect him not to fall into the confirmation bias trap where his liberalism is concerned, but he does.  And in a number of places.  I’ll give you one example.

While he’s researching the Hill Country in Texas, he concludes that life there was hard back in the day.  There was no running water, so water had to be drawn from a well and transported to wherever it ended up.  And he concluded, based on thin evidence, that the women of the era did all the transporting, which, he concludes, was backbreaking work.  He’s wondering how much they shlepped around, so he digs up

a 1940 Agriculture Department study of how much water each person living on a farm used in a day: forty gallons.  The average Hill Country family was five people. Two hundred gallons in a day, much of it hauled up by a single person.

When I grew up in the Ozarks in southern Missouri, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ farm.  They had no running water.  Everything had to be drawn from the well.  That included water for the hogs, the cattle, the chickens, and us.  I helped my grandfather draw the water from the well 2.5 gallons (the size of the galvanized container we dropped down and pulled up filled with water) at a time, and I would bet we didn’t use 40 gallons of water per day for all of the above.  And that was for six of us.  Two hundred gallons per day is insane.  But it fit with Caro’s notion of the brutal life led by women in the Hill Country, so he accepted it as fact.

Don’t let that put you off of reading the book.  It is excellent other than a few lapses.  But it shows even the best succumb to the confirmation bias, the one bias that is most difficult to overcome.
The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers is a compilation of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in favor of ratification of the United States Constitution.  It sounds dull as dishwater; however, it is anything but.  If you take yourself back to that time, you realize the United States was a confederation (of sorts) of individual states that a number of people, including Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, were trying to wrangle into a unified country.

All these states were filled with people loyal to their state and its administration, which had been elected to represent the wants and wishes of the citizens of that state, which, in many cases, were different than the wants and wishes of citizens of other states.  The authors of TFP were trying to make the point that the advantages of a single federal government–defense, for one–were greater than what would have to be given up by a given state joining that federal government.

Forming the Constitution was a whole lot of give and take.  Governors of the individual states were reluctant to give over much of their power to a federal government, so states’ rights consumed a lot of the argument.

The great thing about this book is that you can open it at almost any page and find yourself immersed in a discussion of issues that ended up being incorporated in the US Constitution or not.  The three authors lay out the arguments for both sides, then describe how they can be resolved.

I had been wanting to read these essays for a long time, but had always put them off.  I’m glad I finally dug in and went through them.  Vastly more enlightening and entertaining than I thought they would be.Range

Range by David Epstein was another book I put off reading, because I didn’t think it would be nearly as informative as it turned out to be.  The author’s contention–and I agree with him–is that most of the major discoveries in history have been made by generalists who were able to see connections those more highly specialized couldn’t see.

For example, here’s what he writes about one of my heroes, Claude Shannon:

…electrical engineer Claude Shannon, who launched the Information Age thanks to a philosophy course he took to fulfill a requirement at the University of Michigan. In it, he was exposed to the work of self-taught nineteenth-century English logician George Boole, who assigned a value of 1 to true statements and 0 to false statements and showed that logic problems could be solved like math equations. It resulted in absolutely nothing of practical importance until seventy years after Boole passed away, when Shannon did a summer internship at AT&T’s Bell Labs research facility. There he recognized that he could combine telephone call-routing technology with Boole’s logic system to encode and transmit any type of information electronically. It was the fundamental insight on which computers rely. “It just happened that no one else was familiar with both those fields at the same time,” Shannon said.

The story about Shannon was one of the few in the book I already knew.  The book is replete with similar stories of major discoveries in other fields.  Epstein’s research shows dozens of examples of generalists, who have accumulated knowledge over a number of fields tend to be able to see connections those highly specialized in one field don’t.

I learned vastly more from this book than I thought I would.  I suspect you will, too, should you decide to read it.  The book is so well written that it is an effortless read.  Contains a lot of nice references in the back, too.  Which is always important to me.Americana

Bhu Srinivasan, an immigrant to the United States, is the author of Americana, a book from which I learned an enormous amount I didn’t know about my own country.  I’ve read a lot of history, but never from the business perspective.  This book was a total eye opener for me.

Take the Pilgrims, for example.  I read about the Pilgrims at least 30 times during my years of 1st grade through college.  The focus was always on why they wanted to get out of England and come to the New Land.  And what kinds of privation they suffered once they arrived on America’s shores and had to stay alive.  And, of course, I’ve heard the story of the first Thanksgiving a hundred times.  But in all my educational experiences re the Pilgrims, I never once learned about how they financed their trip over here.  Well, it took them 25 years to do it.  And the story is fascinating.

How about Eli Whitney, who is a household name?  The inventor of the cotton gin, which revolutionized the South.  Since everyone knows Eli Whitney invented the apparatus, it must have made him rich, right?  The truth is, it almost bankrupted him.  After inventing the cotton gin, Whitney decided to monetize it (as one would say today) by renting it out to those who raised cotton.  And he decided to manufacture and sell the machine itself.  Problem is, he couldn’t keep up with demand for either renting it out to farmers or selling his own product.  And since the design was so uncomplicated, people simply made their own in violation of Whitney’s patents.  He almost went broke engaging in lawsuits to defend his own patents.

And he did end up rich.  But not from the cotton gin.  He got a contract from the Continental Congress to make muskets by the thousands for what turned out to be the Revolutionary War.

The book is filled with stories such as these.  For example, did you know that after the steam engine was invented and installed on a boat, making it much faster than horses pulling carriages, the US transportation industry changed to one of canals instead of roads. Those were the major public works projects of the day.

Fascinating, fascinating book.  Just writing about it makes me want to read it again.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.Life of Frederick Douglass

Back when all the BLM activity was taking place in 2020, I read reports from both sides.  The one book both sides of the debate recommended was the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  I had read only one book written by a former slave, Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington, and that had been years before.  So I got Douglass’s autobiography and read it.  Almost at a sitting; it’s a short book.

It’s also superb.

I love reading the writing of those who taught themselves to read and write.  It has a different aura or something undefinable about it that appeals to me.  Booker T. Washington’s book was the same way.

I reviewed this book in an early edition of my weekly newsletter this year and was taken to task by a reader for writing Douglass’s last name with only one S.  Mea culpa.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I learned much about the era and how those enslaved were treated.  I didn’t know, for example, that often slaves were hired out.  They worked for someone all day long, then brought the money they were paid back to their masters.  I learned that when slaves escaped and made it into free states, they were still not out of danger.  Not by a long shot.  There were roving slave hunters who would capture escaped slaves and transport them back to their former masters for a bounty.  I can only imagine the treatment these enslaved people endured once they were taken back.

Douglass’s did not detail his own escape in this book.  Slavery was still going on when it was written, and he didn’t want to give anything away.  You’re reading about his life as a slave and you turn the page and he’s free.  But not free enough to suit him, because he made it only to New York, a place filled with slave catchers on the lookout for escapees.

The only quibble I had with the book is the description of some of the punishments meted out.  From my years working emergency rooms, I’ve got a pretty good feel for what the human body can sustain and still survive.  A few descriptions of these punishments, in my medical view, would have done the victims in. I’m sure, though, that witnessing these mistreatments of friends and loved ones would register a powerful emotion in anyone’s brain.  So I don’t begrudge him his descriptions.

Aside from this admittedly small criticism, I thought the book was tremendous.  Of all the books listed in this post, this and The Choice were the only ones I was able to browbeat MD into reading, and she found them both excellent as well.The Golem

The Golem by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch is not a science fiction or fantasy novel.  It’s a book about the imprecision of science.  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

What’s with the Golem in the title?  As the authors explain

What, then, is science? Science is a golem. A golem is a creature of Jewish mythology. It is a humanoid made by man from clay and water, with incantations and spells. It is powerful. It grows a little more powerful every day. It will follow orders, do your work, and protect you from the ever threatening enemy. But it is clumsy and dangerous. Without control, a golem may destroy its masters with its flailing vigour.

 

The idea of this book is to explain the golem that is science. We aim to show that it is not an evil creature but it is a little daft. Golem Science is not to be blamed for its mistakes; they are our mistakes. A golem cannot be blamed if it is doing its best. But we must not expect too much. A golem, powerful though it is, is the creature of our art and our craft.

The authors’ take on various scientific experiments, based on their probing of the original work product, is that much of what we consider “settled” science is based on some pretty sloppy experiments.

For example, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was based on equations calculated from experiments done by Michelson and Morley on the 1880s.  These experiments were designed to measure the “ether” through which the earth and other celestial bodies flowed.  Michelson and Morley failed to substantiate the existence of ether, but they did derive an equation Einstein used to develop his theory.  As it turns out, the Michelson–Morley experiments were kind of sloppily done, given the state of the art of the equipment of the day.

Einstein nonetheless used these equations to formulate his famous Special Theory of Relativity.  Which, of course, called out for being tested.  The English astronomer, physicist, and mathematician, Arthur Eddington, rose to the call, and in a set of famous experiments off the coast of Africa during WWI, ‘proved’ Einstein’s theory to great acclaim.  Problem was, those experiments were sloppily done as well.

The book continues through a number of such ‘revolutionary’ scientific experiments showing how imprecise science sometimes is.

As I say: maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it immensely.  Made me even more cautious than I already was of taking studies at their face value.Bottle of Lies

All you have to read is one paragraph of investigative journalist Katherine Eban’s book Bottle of Lies to give you great pause.

Roughly 40 percent of our generic drugs are manufactured in India. A full 80 percent of the active ingredients in all our drugs, whether brand-name or generic, are made in India and China. As one drug-ingredient importer told me, “Without products from overseas, not a single drug could be made.”

Makes those generics a little less appealing, doesn’t it?  But, as the author says, it’s not just generics, it 80 percent of the ingredients in all of our drugs that are made overseas.

Let’s take a quick look at the economics of the whole generic drug business.  Let’s say you’ve been prescribed a branded drug, not a generic, and you go to your local pharmacy to get your prescription filled.  Your friendly pharmacist tells you the prescription is going to cost you $115.  Unless, of course, you would substitute the generic version.  You gulp and ask, How much does the generic version cost?  The pharmacist tells you it will cost you a mere $25.  You jump on the deal and love your pharmacist for sacrificing his/her profit to give you a better deal.

Well, it doesn’t really work that way.  Most people, including most doctors, are clueless as to how the generic drug business works.  I was myself until MD and I opened our fourth urgent care center in Little Rock many years ago.  This  clinic shared a building with a pharmacy.  In fact, the pharmacy helped finance our clinic just so we would be close at hand.  New clinics are slow at the start, so when I worked there, I would drift over and BS with the next door pharmacist, who enlightened me on the generic drug biz.

Here’s how it works from the pharmacy’s perspective.

The expensive name brand drug that costs the patient $115 costs the pharmacy $100.  The generic drug that costs the patient $25, the pharmacy gets for $6.  You do the math.  That’s why pharmacists all want to use generic drugs instead of name brand.  They make much more money on them even though they’re less expensive for the patient.

It’s a win win all around.  As long as the generics contain the real drug and no contaminants.

Which is what Bottle of Lies delves into in great depth.  You probably won’t enjoy the story, especially if you are taking one or more generic drugs.  But knowledge is power, so they say.  At least you’ll know what to look for.

Despite my advanced age, I don’t take any medications other than an OTC product.  An ibuprofen here or there or something like that.  I get all my OTC meds from Costco simply because I know how much effort Costco puts into quality assurance.  We used to sell our sous vide products through Costco, so I’ve seen it from the other side.  We don’t sell them there currently, because the margins are too low to make it work for us financially. But I’ve seen how conscientious they are, so I figure I’m getting what I’m supposed to be getting when I purchase it there.  Disclaimer:  I have no financial affiliation in any way with Costco.  I own no stock in the company.  And I don’t owe them money.

Read this book so you’ll at least know what’s going on in the generic drug business.  If anything, it will motivate you to do whatever you have to do to make the lifestyle changes necessary so that you may be able to discontinue the meds.

That’s about it for this penultimate entry into the four part 2000 book review series.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

Photo at top by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


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  1. If I never thank you for anything else, I thank you for recommending Permanent Record. It's one of those "just one more chapter" books that it's almost impossible to put down. Everyone should read it – whether you approve of his decision or not – and I intend to read it again.

  2. Like you, Mike. I'm always suspicious of those presented as gods. Upon closer inspection, I have found that most such vaunted individuals and ideas like the idol in the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible have feet of clay.

    I don't completely agree with all the ideas you have posted but I do admire your rational and critical approach, your hard core adherence to the scientific method and common sense arising from humble origins like my own.

    This is a wonderful list of books, a few I've read myself. Once again, i find some grains of truth in the old adage, "Great minds tend to think alike."

  3. Thought provoking and enlightening. Your thought processes and openness are refreshing in thee current times.

  4. I'd already read the Snowden book. I'm inclined to be sympathetic to whistleblowers in general, and Snowden in particular. But the details of what he went through in deciding to do what he did are well worth the read.

  5. Hi Mike,
    Definitely enjoyed the Snowden book.
    I will be reading Clean on your recommendation. I do keep thinking about Dermodex mites symptoms ever since you mentioned them in the newsletter. Also I have been wondering if soapy products help or hinder keeping the Dermodex population down.

  6. Hi Mike:
    So appreciative of your blogs, newsletter, and these book reviews. Thank you!

    You mentioned Snowden's book before, and I attempted to listen to it as an audio book. I could tell from the get go that this was a book that I needed to read as a print book, as I suspected I would immediately want to re read various parts before proceeding in the book. Meaty audio books don't work for me as I don't register the info as well as if I see the actual printed word. But you are absolutely right in it being chilling. I've got one book in my line up that is ahead of the Snowden's print version, and I'm nervously excited to get back to it.

    Your description of the Hamlin book, Clean, reminds me of podcast I heard several years ago featuring the butts & guts doctor, Robynne Chutkan. That was the first time I heard the term "re-wilding," reducing one's over-cleansing to encourage the body's own health balancing mechanisms. Based on that podcast and some Mercola info, my husband and I have greatly reduced, or eliminated, where the soap bar ends up, and how often we shampoo. Deodorant has been eliminated, too, and no stink from either me or my husband, and we live in steamy Florida! The deodorant elimination was a learning process, and we had a couple stinky episodes, but we're good now. Still have an old stick of regular ol Sure in the cabinet for events like a root canal, or the unavoidable family get togethers that includes my husband's 3 ex wives!

    How about a guest book review appearance by MD?

    1. Re MD doing a review… She reads about one eighth of the books i do, and she virtually never reads one that I don’t read, too. If she ever reads one I don’t read, I’ll have her review it.

  7. Hi Doc,

    There's nothing better than a great book to read, except for an accomplished reader like yourself that gives a fantastic book review that excites me to the point of ordering more books to add to the small hill I have going now. Except now I will read at least three books that you mentioned here prior to reading the others…dammit!!

  8. Many selections will be on my winter reading list. The book I am really looking forward to is……the “new” Protein Power!

  9. Hi Dr Mike,
    I ordered Permanent Record and the Citizenfour DVD…along with Bottle of Lies and Clean. Also added some more to my to-read list when I finish with these. Looking forward to reading Permanent Record especially. I'm curious about Clean. BTW, I got my husband the eye wash for Dermodex mites you recommended in another newsletter….it works! Thanks for book list and all your good info!

  10. Okay, you got me. "Bottle of Lies" is now on my shopping list. I'm sure it will just make me mad as hell, like most medical literature I read these days, but knowledge is power, and retirement did nothing to quell my need to educate the masses.

  11. Your reviews are always awesome. After reading about James Hamblin's book Clean I have ordered his What to Eat book. Keep up the great work. And let us know when the new Protein Power book comes out.

  12. I get your newsletter/email (which I love) but this is the first blog post I've gotten. Keep them coming please! Love the book reviews; read some of these already and will now read a few more. Thanks!

  13. I've ordered Clean, Range, and the Golem. They sound like great books and what I thank you for is that I can't think of another place where I would hear of these books.

  14. Interesting selections. Unfortunately the Dalrymple costs $60 used and is not at local (Los Angeles County) library. He has many talks and interviews on Youtube and there is a site called the Skeptical Doctor run by some of his fans.

  15. I love your book reviews and have ordered 2, CLEAN and THE CHOICE. Also ordered MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING, by V. Frankl. If you've not read it, do so. I read it years ago, and it is one of the most profound, enlightening ever. I learned one of my life's lessons from it/him.

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