Well, I would say the new site is 95 percent complete. The new store is still under construction, but everything else is pretty much ready to go. I think. I hope. I pray.
The tech guys fiddling with the last few piddly little things asked me if I could quickly whip up a post with few links in it (their exact words) and both a YouTube and a Vimeo video so they could do the final tweaking. Since I don’t whip out blog posts with links and videos in them on the spur of the moment, I decided to throw up a copy of the email I sent out last week to those who subscribe to my alerts. The email didn’t include videos, so I’ve added one of my favorite little videos at the bottom: the brilliant short piece in the movie Fat Head about the guy from CSPI and the Vimeo of my appearance on Australian TV that caused such a hoorah that the station took it down.
I’ve been wanting to do one of these book review emails for a while, and today a confluence of events more or less pushed me over the edge to do it.
First, I’m having all kinds of problems getting the new site and blog up and working properly. I never imagined it would be this much brain damage. But it has been. So, this email at least gives me some way to communicate.
Second, someone sent me a link to an article about how important reading is and how it often gets back-burnered due to the exigencies of life.
Finally, Kristi McAfee, my able assistant called me this afternoon to tell me that July 15 is the big Amazon.com Prime Day where everything is to be sold at an enormous discount. Or so they say. (According to Amazon customers, this was a bust; according to Amazon, sales were up tremendously. Who knows?)
So, I figured I would crank out an email of the type I would like to send monthly, since I can’t work on a blog post, and you might be able to grab any of the books I’ll mention that might be of interest at a big discount.
As everyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows, I love to read. And have done so all my life. Started with an excellent teacher in second grade and hasn’t let up since. I always have at least ten books going at any time. Right now, for example, I’m at various points in the following books: Life’s Engines, The Closing of the Western Mind, Galileo’s Middle Finger (An absolutely phenomenal book; I just finished it this morning. Would never have read it had I known the subject matter (other than it’s about what happens when social justice activists run headlong into actual scientific contradictory data).), The Arc of the Swallow, The Perfect Theory, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, How to Catch a Russian Spy, The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat, On The Move [Who knew Oliver Sacks was a weight lifter and at one point held the California record for the squat], The Vital Question and I’m working through the first volume of Ian Kershaw’s excellent two volume biography of Hitler, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris.
I love to read because it is a terrific return on investment. Having written or co-written ten or twelve books myself, I know how much effort goes into the process. It takes me at least six months of solid work to write a book, and that’s just the writing. That six months does not include the time I spent doing the research. I figure it takes other writers at least that long, so if I can knock out a book in 8 hours or so of reading time, that means I’ve gotten the gist of what it took the writer at least six months to write and God only knows how much time to research. So I trade 8 hours of my time for many months (or even years) of the writer’s life each time I plow through a book. A great return as far as I’m concerned. Plus, if you’ve got a problem, somewhere at sometime, someone else has had the same problem and has written about it. All you have to do is look.
I’ve read a few really great books over the past couple of years, and those are the ones I want to put you on to.
At the top of the list is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. This book is a masterpiece, a tour de force, a whatever adjective meaning grand and glorious you want to apply to it. Absolutely phenomenal! Kahneman is a psychologist who happened to win the Nobel Prize in economics a few years back, and his book is an overview of what he’s learned over the course of his long career about what makes us tick. It’s a wonder the book even got published. Kahneman wrote the manuscript, then threw it in his desk drawer, because he didn’t think it would be of interest to the non-psychologist. At some point, he dug it out, asked a friend to read it and report back. The friend went nuts over it, and for good reason. This is one book you will never regret putting the effort in to read. You will learn many facts about the behavior of your fellow beings that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. Just one small thing I read in this book has saved me a ton of money.
For my entire business life, I’ve always operated on the idea that in a negotiation it’s always best to let the other guy come up with the price, then go from there. I’ve always couched it as the whale that breaches first gets harpooned. From Kahneman’s book, I learned about framing, and how it applies to negotiations. You want to set the price, because then everything is framed at that price and the negotiating starts at that point. The whole section on framing is enlightening. One of the themes that runs through the book is that in the minds of just about everyone losses loom larger than gains. We have a much more intense reaction to the idea that we might lose a thousand dollars than to the idea that we might win it. Let’s say I put 950 white marbles in a jar along with 50 black ones, mixed them all up, and gave you the opportunity to reach in blindfolded and pick one. If you get a white one, you get a thousand dollars. If you are unlucky enough to pick a black one, you get nothing. It’s no lose situation for you. At best, you walk away $1,000 richer, at worst, you’re no worse off than when you started. Now, let me add a twist. What if I told you that instead of picking a marble out of the jar, I would simply give you $750, no strings attached? Or you could go ahead and pick from the white/black jar. Picking from the jar is a 95 percent proposition, so the option to pick from the jar is worth $950. But there is a slight risk. You could go home with nothing, and since you have a for-sure $750, you would actually lose something. Even thought it makes vastly more sense by all the laws of probability to pick from the jar, almost everyone takes the $750. Why? Because losses loom larger than gains. The despair you would feel over losing the $750 is greater than the joy you would experience over walking away with the thousand bucks.
The entire book is filled with behavioral examples such as the ones above, and all of them – at least to me – have been of great value in parsing the behavior of my fellow humans.
Now let’s jump to a fiction favorite.
If you have any interest in World War Two, I can recommend an excellent series of novels written by David Downing. The first one is Zoo Station (all the books are named after a particular station in the German rail system), and starts in Danzig (now Gdansk). The protagonist, John Russell, is a British expatriate journalist living in Berlin, shacked up with a German actress and dealing with a son from a previous marriage. Russell is approached by a Soviet agent, who asks him to write some glowing pieces about how wonderful the Nazis are. Russell decides he had better inform the Nazis of what’s going on because he fears them more than he does the Soviets. Then the Brits get wind of it, and since Russell is a Brit, his own government wants a piece of him, too. The whole situation sets the stage for the six volume set spanning from pre-WWII Berlin to post-war Berlin. You get to experience the Second World War from a Berliner’s perspective. The plotting is gripping, which keeps you reading, while at the same time you learn a ton of history. I’m a student of WWII and everything I read in these books that I knew about was presented in a factual way. I haven’t enjoyed books as much as I did these in a long time. MD read them, too, and loved them. And she’s not a WWII nut like I am, though she’s coming around.
If you are into business books, I’ve got a recommendation that will save you a lot of money. The book is The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig. Once you’ve read this one, you’ll think twice about buying another business book based on a phenomenally successful CEO. This book is one of the most enlightening I’ve ever read. It shows you how execs and companies can do no wrong…until they do. Until they do, they’re protected by the halo effect. Rosenzweig absolutely savages one of the books I thought was the basis for business 101: From Good To Great by Jim Collins. He does the same kind of job on the sloppy thinking in this book as the one I try to do when I dismember a bad scientific paper. Reading The Halo Effect will make you a much more astute buyer of business books and will make sense out of a lot of what you read in the business press.
As far as nutritional/science books go, I’ve read a lot of fairly technical stuff that probably wouldn’t be of interest to the non-technical reader. As I mentioned at the start, I’m reading Nick Lane’s The Vital Question, which is extremely technical and probably not of a lot of interest to anyone not really, really fired up about how the first primitive, rudimentary forms of life dealt with energy. If you’re into that, grab a copy.
I gave a couple of talks a few months ago at the first big international low-carb conference held in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of the data I talked about in my first talk came from a website put up by a guy from the UK named Sam Feltham. He has created a spreadsheet showing pretty much all of the dietary studies over the past 15 years or so in which low-carb diets were pitted against low-fat diets. As you might imagine, the low-carb diets carried the day in the vast majority. Sam did yeoman’s work in collating all the information from all of these studies and putting it on a spreadsheet available on his website.
He has also written a slim little book, which I found to be excellent, called Slimology: The Reatively Simple Science of Slimming. It’s a book I would like to review at length on my blog. In it, Sam discusses how he came to the low-carb diet, and, fascinatingly, how he experimented on himself to see what worked and what didn’t. He kept meticulous records of his various experimental diets that included over 5,000 Calories per day of either low-fat or low-carb or a real-food low-carb diet. The book is replete with photos of Sam during the various diets. I’m sure you can predict what he discovered. Sam’s book is a short introduction to the science of nutrition and how it led him to discover that the low-carb diet is the best diet for most – but not all – people. I think Slimology is probably the best short introduction to the low-carb diet that’s available. And it’s a fun read chock full of interesting little tidbits about life in general. You can’t go wrong with this one.
Also, while on the subject of nutritional books, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Modern Nutritional Diseases, 2nd edition, by Fred and Alice Ottobobi. The Ottobonis, both practicing scientists of long duration, have written an excellent general guide to the influence of nutrition on disease. The book explains in simple terms the many concepts, pathways and terminology encountered in the study of nutrition. I’ve found the book to be absolutely invaluable. And the Ottobonis are two of the nicest people I know. Their book belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in nutrition.
I’ll end with a recommendation for a great little book on critical thinking. I hit a little bit of a speed bump when I first started reading When Good Thinking Goes Bad: How Your Brain Can Have a Mind of Its Own by Todd Riniolo as I came upon the following words in the introduction:
“…I personally advocate a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet as the healthiest lifestyle choice.”
He goes on to say that he believes as he does based on not very good evidence. In fact, he uses the words “flimsy evidence.” And he admits he shouldn’t have the confidence he does in his dietary beliefs. After all the disclaimers, he still says parenthetically “As a side note, I still think I’m correct about low-fat/high-carb diets!”
It was a little difficult for me to get past his position re: diet in the first few pages of the book, but I did. It turns out the book is a real gem. Almost a primer of critical thinking, filled with exercises that the author walks you through to show how to approach a problem. This book is a good companion for another favorite critical thinking book of mine, Mistakes Were Made, reviewed here in a blog post a few years ago. One of these books has a liberal bent while the other has a conservative one. Makes it good to read both.
Oh, the author of When Good Thinking Goes Bad, who teaches critical thinking at a small college in New York, put his email address in the book, so I emailed him to set him straight on the dietary issues. We engaged in a spirited discussion of the virtues of low-carb dieting. I think he’s coming around.
Okay, that’s it for the book recommendations for now.
Let me know if you like this sort of thing. I plan on doing it once a month to recommend a handful of books out of the bunch I’ve read from the month before.
Videos inserted by request of techies. (So far, it looks like we can get only the YouTube to work. In Chrome, at least.)