Sunday, February 26, 2017

Goodman, Anthony A. (2011): The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness (The Great Courses Series)

What is it about?

This is a brief lecture series (6 lectures) on the basics of human nutrition - what to eat, what not to eat, and what to believe and not believe about trendy diets and food/nutritional supplements.

In addition, the most of the lectures touch upon exercising especially with respect to healthy ways to eat and drink to support exercising. Furthermore, one of the lecture focuses on losing weight in particular.

The basic message of the lecture series is unambiguously clear: with the exception of very, very few athletes who train very, very hard, all that is needed for healthy living is a balanced, normal diet (i.e. not a diet in the "marketing" sense) and a moderate amount of exercising about every second day or so.

Was it good?

The lectures are delivered very clearly and in an engaging way with an authority and fluency of a senior academician.

Moreover, basically all the stances the lecturer takes are backed by references to academic studies, mostly large-scale review studies (i.e. syntheses of research literature).

Thus, what the lecture proposes is very credible and credibly presented - at least in my opinion.

Moreover, the lecturer in a very nice way crystallizes the basic points of each of the lectures at the end of each lecture, making the core contents very hard to miss.

The main take-away for me?

The main take-away from this lecture series has to be that common sense, moderation and a generally active life style is entirely sufficient for a healthy life. Thus, no diet or supplement can fix a lifestyle which is unbalanced or otherwise unsustainable to begin with - even though the industry pushing such a (contrary) message is a billion dollar if not a trillion dollar industry globally.

Who should read the book?

This lecture series is without a doubt recommendable for just everyone. Moreover, the duration of just about 3,5 hours is not excessively long for anyone.

The book on The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wenborn, Neil (2012): Napoleon - In a Nutshell

What is it about?

True to its title, the book is a short life history of Napoleon Bonaparte.

After the "early life" section in the beginning, the book is mostly military history - covering Napoleon's "active" life in terms of battles and conquests.

Was it good?

The book certainly provides an informative overview of the life of Napoleon.

However, I would have appreciated a more "micro history" approach, in which battles, military expeditions, conquests, political struggles etc. were not so dominant.

Thus, after reading the book, I was still wondering a bit about "who was Napoleon, really" and "what was Napoleon like as a person".

The main take-away for me?

If there is one take-away (albeit probably an unintended one), it surely must be that determination takes one quite far, if not all the way to the ultimate goal in all cases. Namely, Napoleon was, if nothing, else, apparently quite a determined person.

Who should read the book?

This is once again one of those books which on the one hand would require that one has a heightened interest in the subject matter but, on the other, in such a case one probably does not any longer have a need for a book like this.

I would more readily recommend the book, had it focused more on the human being instead of the military goings on during his active years.

The book on Napoleon - In a Nutshell

Kingett, Robert (2015): Off the Grid - Living Blind Without the Internet

What is it about?

In a nutshell, the author covers his experiences of living without Internet for a month.

As an extra spin on the story, the author is blind (or nearly so), and consequently has been quite dependent on information and services available on or over the Internet, which makes the Internet-free month even more trying.

Was it good?

The book is quite good; especially the intimate first person narrative is quite credible, illuminating and entertaining.

The narrative does not follow a straight linear progression, but focuses on the most salient observations, feelings and occurrences, which woks rather beautifully.

However, I can't help wondering, how the narrative would have been different had the author not been blind - i.e. how a month without the Internet would be for me, for example.

The main take-away for me?

I think that there are two take-aways (or three, if you count my realization of how invaluable the Internet is especially for the disabled). First, the Internet has been institutionalized in the Western lifestyle to the degree, that its use is so pervasive in our daily lives that it is difficult if not impossible to really appreciate the myriad things which are "powered" by the Internet until it's not available.

And second, I really appreciated the author's commentary on how he was more "in touch" with people and his surroundings once the Internet with its numerous social media platforms and what not were not supplying a constant stream of distractions.

Who should read the book?

The book could be healthy reading for anyone using the Internet on a daily basis - and especially the "heavy users" among us are bound to find something to reflect upon in the book.

The book on Off the Grid - Living Blind Without the Internet

Homes, Jamie (2016): Nonsense - The Power of Not Knowing

What is it about?

The book is about ambiguity (i.e. situations which appear ambiguous to "us"), and how we deal with and should deal with it.

Instead of a scholarly account, or something approaching or based on it, the book is laden with short stories or case illustrations, which are supposed to elaborate on the propositions advanced by the author.

I'm not sure if there is a clear-cut basic message in the book, but it could be something along the lines of ambiguity increasing all the time in the modern world, and consequently people must be capable of effectively dealing with it - something that the school system should prepare our young.

Was it good?

To be honest, I expect a bit more from the book. The topic is quite interesting, but the book in a way did not fully deliver. The book is more of a collection of quite interesting stories or case illustrations, but a strong red thread throughout the book was a bit lost on me.

Thus, the book does not compare in terms of quality to Malcom Gladwell's comparable works, for example.

The main take-away for me?

This is quite hard to tell. Well, some of the stories, especially in the beginning of the book provide quite useful hints concerning how to eliminate and intentionally bring about ambiguity in social situations to one's benefit. Thus, ambiguity can be used tactically in social interactions.

Who should read the book?

This is so very general interest book, that it should be readily accessible to everyone. On the other hand, the lack of a clear-cut red thread throughout the book makes it quite hard to really recommend the book to anyone. Thus, instead of this one, I would recommend any of Malcom Gladwell's books instead - they cover quite similar issues, if not ambiguity as such in a book-long treatment,

The book on Nonsense - The Power of Not Knowing

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Close, Frank (2009): Nothing - A Very Short Introduction

What is it about?

The book offers a brief discussion about "nothing".

However, "nothing" is not understood as a philosophical notion, but a physical one. Thus, the book mainly discusses about the void and the origins of the universe (out of nothing).

Was it good?

I actually expected the book to be substantially more philosophical by its nature. This philosophical stance is there, but really only in the first chapter.

From there onwards, the book is - dare I say - a fairly standard introduction into fundamental physics, with a particular emphasis on the void, and how our understanding (and even acceptance) of the void has developed over the time.

Truth to be told, I probably would have enjoyed a more philosophical book more, but I can't say that I didn't enjoy the book reasonably as it stands.

The main take-away for me?

I had failed to fully realize previously how instrumental high-energy physics is in advancing our understanding about where the universe has come from; i.e. how the big bang "brought about everything".

This is, without doubt, a failure of understanding by me, but this book did an excellent job in explaining how high-energy particle physics can recreate the conditions prevailing very, very shortly after the big bang, and how consequently "we" are able to better understand the nature of the big bang and perhaps even where it came from (i.e. what there was "before").

Who should read the book?

I would recommend this book to those who want to have a brief introduction into fundamental physics. Those, however, would like to have a more philosophical treatment, have to look elsewhere.

The book on Nothing - A Very Short Introduction

Carrasco, David (2011): The Aztecs - A Very Short Introduction

What is it about?

The book is a brief and general overview of the Aztecs.

It contains an historical account spread throughout the book, and a very heavy emphasis on the "world view" of the Aztecs with special focus on their religiosity (which perhaps is difficult to separate from other aspects of Aztecs' world view).

Was it good?

To be honest, I had higher hopes about the book than what the actual reading experience realized.

What I especially struggled with was the quite pervasive discussion about religiosity, mythical stories, legends, gods and other such aspects of Aztecs' world view, which I felt as overshadowing the "historical Aztecs".

Hence, I would have appreciated a more historical treatment, perhaps especially focusing on the "micro history", i.e what the daily life was like and so on, instead of rulers and wars. Admittedly, there are such elements in the book throughout, but I somehow failed to get a coherent historical picture while reading the book.

The main take-away for me?

The take-away what the book would seem to offer me is that the Aztecs were thoroughly immersed in their myths and gods, and the rest is dominated by rulers and wars. However, I suspect that this is not what the take-away should be.

Who should read the book?

I would not generally recommend the book unless one is very interested in the Aztecs and already has good basic knowledge of the subject matter. Then again, if this is the case, one quite likely is not in a need to read a very short introduction about it.

The book on The Aztecs - A Very Short Introduction

Roughgarden, Joan (2013): Evolution's Rainbow - Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

What is it about?

The book definitely has an agenda, which is to demonstrate that "natural" sexuality (i.e. among animals) includes a wide variety of sexual orientations and combinations of partners' genders and sexual orientations - well beyond female-male relationships. For example, in some animals, there are more than one male and/or female genders; in some animals, individuals may change their gender during their life cycle; and in some animals same sex relations are very common.

Thus, the author - herself transitioned from male to female - is intent upon challenging - or better, attacking - the notion of homosexuality or other than male-female relationships being "unnatural".

Was it good?

The book definitely presents a very compelling case in  favor of the case the author has set out to make. Indeed, the author presents an astonishing collection of quite surprising sexual behaviors, including gender changing phenomena, prevalent in the animal kingdom.

One could say that the book even slightly overdoes in this regard, because the compilation of examples is so overwhelming.

Thus, the book would perhaps be more enjoyable, if it focused only on some 20% of the empirical material - or did it with more condensed style - because I started to a bit forget the original point of the book while plowing through the biological details.

The main take-away for me?

I certainly did not know before reading the book that animal sexuality is so very, very varied. In this regard, the book really opened an entirely new world for me.

Moreover, according to the author, animal sexuality still is an understudied and poorly understood phenomenon in all its variety.

Who should read the book?

I would say that the book would be good reading for basically everyone, if the biological enumeration was substantially more economical. Currently, I suspect that a heightened interest in the subject matter is required to appreciate the contents throughout. However, if an abridged version of the book was available, I would recommend it to everyone.

The book on Evolution's Rainbow