A mixed bag of reads.
“Drop Dead Healthy” – A.J. Jacobs – Human guinea pig Jacobs undergoes a 2 year self-experiment to become (tongue in cheek) ‘‘the healthiest man in the world”. Tackling the entire system one body part per month, he wades through a minefield of contradictory and scientifically egregious advice to discover what works and what doesn’t. Jacobs humorous, Woody Allen-esque style makes for page turning, addictive reading. 4.5/5
Favourite quotes – “I had to stop using Nike’s beautifully succint “Just Do It!” (I discovered that the advertising copywriter got the idea for the phrase from the last words of executed murderer Gary Gilmore. So I can’t say it without thinking of a firing squad” (pg 129)
The key to making healthy decisions is to respect your future self. Honor him or her. Treat him or her like you would treat a friend or a loved one.” (pg 48)
”Methland” -Nick Reding – With its origins as an industrial age performance enhancer enabling its users to ”work for a really long time and feel great about doing so”, meth has been characterised as the perfect American drug. Shattering the image of idyllic, small town America, Redding explores the perfect (shit)-storm of economic, social and political forces coalescing to produce the meth crisis currently ravaging these heartland communities. 4.5/5
Favourite quote ”…the United States is ‘psychological, not a sociological nation.’ What he means is that we will always hold the individual responsible over the group, blaming the drug addict instead of investigating the environment in which he grew up, and (conversely) celebrating the quarterback above the team following a win. (pg92)
“The Men Who Stare at Goats”– Jon Ronson – Investigates the US military’s lesser known and unorthodox penchant for the paranormal. Ronson interviews former members of a black-ops unit commissioned for the development of psychic spies, remote viewers, specially trained Jedi-warrior-monks who can walk through walls and stop a goat’s heart just by staring at them. Bordering on the seemingly ridiculous and bizarre, many of the ideas have since been appropriated, reactivated and provided as a kit bag for psy-ops units in the war against terror. Some of the more interesting techniques include the use of psychotropic drugs, subliminal messaging and continuous playing of the Barney Dinosaur theme song as torture techniques. Interesting topic, but reads a little like a mish-mash of loosely connected articles. 3.5/5
“The Shallows” – Nicholas Carr – With a computer in every pocket and a wealth of information at our fingertips, it’s counterintuitive to think that we’re actually becoming less intelligent due to our ubiquitous use of computers and the internet. With research emerging on the neuroplasticity of the brain, scientists are realising that our surfing habits are literally changing the way we read and think. The shallow consumption of byte sized chunks of information is resulting in fractured attention spans, impoverished memories and an inability to synthesise and evaluate information with any critical thought. Carr’s historical treatment of the evolution of information technology over the ages is fascinating and shows that with each advancement something is gained and something is lost. Definitely in my top 5 reads for this year. Important read for teachers dealing with the ever-demanding digital generation. 5/5
fave quotes – “It is the very fact that book reading under stimulates the senses that makes the activity so intellectually rewarding. By allowing us to filter out distractions, to quiet the problem solving functions on the frontal lobe, deep reading becomes a form of deep thinking.”
“As we externalize problem solving and other cognitive chores to our computers we reduce our brain’s ability to build stable knowledge structures, schemas, that later can be applied in new situations. In other words the brighter the software, the dimmer the user.”
“Jordan Grafman, head of the cognitive neuroscience unit at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explains that the constant shifting of our attention when we’re online may make our brains more nimble when it comes to multitasking, but improving our ability to multitask actually hampers our ability to think deeply and creatively. “Does optimizing for multitasking result in better functioning—that is, creativity, inventiveness, productiveness? The answer is, in more cases than not, no,” says Grafman. “The more you multitask, the less deliberative you become; the less able to think and reason out a problem.” You become, he argues, more likely to rely on conventional ideas and solutions rather than challenging them with original lines of thought.”
“Kitchen Confidential” – Anthony Bourdain – I love cooking, but hate cooking shows. I’ve sometimes watched thinking, “who would ever want to do that shit job??” In Bourdain’s biographical account of his journey from line cook to celebrity chef he underscores how horrible working in kitchens really is. He reveals the steaming underbelly of the restaurant scene – the drugs, the sex and the unsavoury colleagues. Bourdain is nevertheless attracted to the high pressure adrenaline rush of a hectic environment as much as he is to his pure love of food. Sprinkled liberally with practical tips for the casual diner (don’t eat fish on Mondays, avoid buffet brunches, don’t order specials, vegans are sickly fuckwits) as well as the home chef, Bourdain’s loosely connected collection of anecdotes was an entertaining and laugh out funny read. 4.5/5
Favourite quotes – “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride. Sure, it’s a ‘play you pay’ sort of an adventure, but you know that already, every time you ever ordered a taco or a dirty-water hot dog.
“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”
“The Neuro-Revolution” – Zack Lynch: The rapidly developing field of neuroscience is not only increasing our understanding of the human brain, but also providing numerous means to influence it. The resulting neurotechnology and its expected transformative effect on human existence is expected to usher in a renaissance equivalent to the agricultural, industrial and information revolutions. Combining research from a variety of fields together with a fair amount of crystal ball gazing, Lynch has produced an informative and thought provoking vision for the future. 4/5