Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain

The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Steven R. Gundry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author is exceptionally accomplished in his field - heavy on the practice side (heart transplants) and heavy on the research side. The claim he makes sounds first. I'm glad I hung in there and kept reading.

Essentially, he has discovered how lectins (the large proteins found in plants) make people ill. Not all vegetables, mind you, but a boatload of them are toxic and interrupt messaging between cells creating serious inflammatory reactions (think: celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, acid reflux, lupus, IBS, and much more). Actually, since there really is nothing new under the sun, I'm sure someone in the past has noticed this, but until Gundry devoted himself to deep research on this, it hasn't been given much air time.

His discussion on the systems which plants have devised to NOT be eaten is fascinating. It turns out they know when they are being assaulted - picked or eaten - and they immediately produce more toxins in response to this, and it has been measured! This is one of the many surprising things I learned while reading this.

He is neither anti-vegetarian, nor pro-carnivore. The book does list everything you should and should not eat, and fish is most prominently featured along with healthy fats and cruciferous vegetables, but he recommends eating poultry and meat daily in moderation, as well.

The book is very well researched and accessible to the non-scientist. The data he presents -
unassailable. Lectins are now on my radar....permanently.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this book made me feel better about my own stress, so I've only good things to say about it. The Upside of Stress summarizes the studies done on how we interpret our stress and then how this interpretation gives the stress a positive or negative expression in our lives. Whether you have been through a traumatic event, are emerging from a loss of employment, or have an iPhone malfunction .... what should you think about your misery and how might these thoughts mitigate your sadness or your disquietude? There are so many nuggets of wisdom in these pages. Moreover, the research is current, so if you read a lot of books like this (I do), I promise you that you will definitely learn something new.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Virgil was right. “They are able who think they are able.” Amy Cuddy would agree 100%.
She would add that in order to “think you are able”, start by standing up straight.

It isn’t hard to understand how the food we eat every day influences our health and the clarity of our thinking, among other things. It is not, however, immediately obvious that something as simple as our posture can impact our self-efficacy and the ideas that others may hold about our self-efficacy. Whether we are alone or in a group, whether we are on a stage or vacuuming our family room, our body language is always instructing us, sending information to our very core beliefs about our presence in this world. Wow. The studies detailed throughout are cheerfully offered up and I have to say, her predisposition for positivity comes through on every page. This book is informative - it is filled with simple advice, all of which is cost-free to implement, and all of which has an immediate positive impact on your state of being.

If you read it, you are going to love Amy Cuddy’s style and you will be blown away by the content of her research.

So, tap in to your inner-Wonder Woman or Superman. Strike a powerful, heroic pose for a few minutes each day. You might feel a little foolish and the dog might tilt his head at your odd behavior, but you will feel the difference immediately!

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got the audio version of this book a year ago. Every time I thought to dive in, I felt a mild quaking in my soul. Gah, this is gonna be so hard, I worried. As a mere mortal without any background in computer science, advanced mathematics, logic, or statistics and risk, I feared my reach exceeded my ability to grasp.

Well, I wasn’t 100% wrong. It was hard. However, I understood and I learned. Yes, I hit replay dozens of times, but I got it. (Of course, after I ran through the audio version twice, I ordered the book because I just had to have it in my library.)

I did not expect the multidisciplinary palette from which the authors created this work. While teaching me about optimization problems in computer science, I came better to understand mean-variance portfolio optimization, game theory, equilibrium strategies, and caching, just to name a very few. This book has great depth. Remarkably, it has even greater range.

When examining the algorithmic dances that computers do nanosecond by nanosecond, we are also examining how we make decisions every day. Should I stay on this jammed expressway? How long should I wait for a table at my favorite eatery? Is it better to do three small laundry loads per week or have one big laundry day? How should I best arrange all of these books on my shelves? If you are like me, you have experienced that frustrating little circle, spinning and spinning, as your computer tries to wrest a result from the digital universe or just from your hard drive. When you are waiting for a taxi or a train, you are experiencing a life-size version of that little spinning circle. When do you chalk it and look for Plan B?

This book describes how computers solve their problems and at the same time it shows us how the problems computers solve are just like the ones we deal with and solve, day in and day out. This isn’t too shocking, since humans set up the computer decision-making trees in the first place. Still, when I am synthesizing many possibilities, or struggling with family schedule optimization problems, I really can’t wait to apply terms like “simulated annealing” and “the price of anarchy”.

At the end of the day, when my family members are all doing the equivalent of sticking a thumb drive in my ear and starting their respective downloads, instead of objecting with: “Wait a minute, one at a time, I have to think!”, it will bring me joy to say, “Don’t trigger a Bufferbloat, guys, no one wants a Tail Drop.”

Most fun fact I learned:

“In contrast to the widely held view that less processing reduces accuracy, the study of heuristics shows that less information, computation, and time can in fact improve accuracy.” My translation? Don’t forget to ask grandma what she thinks, it’s likely to be spot on.

I really loved this book. It is one I will return to often.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival

This book shines light on, well, light.   The authors literally want America to turn off its lights.  These sentences best sum up the book’s central theme: 

“As a nation, we are sick because we don’t sleep.  We are fat and diabetic because we don’t sleep. We are dying from cancer and heart disease because we don’t sleep”.

“If you sleep at night for the number of hours it would normally be dark outside, you will only crave sugar in the summer, when the hours of light are long.  It is the “perennial adaptation” or the chronic, constant intent to hibernate, that causes overconsumption of carbohydrates and obesity and its attendant high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inevitable heart failure” 

I loved this book because the authors never attempted diplomacy when addressing man-made diseases.  If you are obese or if you are a vegetarian or if you think fake sugar will help you lose weight or if you still think that carbs are important (year-round) you will be set straight.  You will be served the real dope - unceremoniously, emphatically, and with a touch of hyperbole. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the book was first published in 2000; the author’s blunt instrument delivery (which I found refreshing and amusing) can now only be found in red state/blue state polemics (which I do not find amusing).  The authors of this book are not afraid to step on your toes to make a point.

The book is well-researched with almost 100 pages of end notes.  I always like to see that and it is especially appreciated in a book that makes Big claims, as this one does.

I do think the authors get side-tracked a few times on the basic nutritional advice (eat more fat and protein, few carbs, and no added sugar, whatsoever).   I happen to agree with all of that stuff, but I am somewhat new to the perils of 24 hour light made possible with electricity and made much worse with electronic intrusions.  I would have preferred more about the cost of progress…you know, the “What have we lost?” aspect.   I don’t mind when my laptop does context switching, or when my 14 year-old does context switching in a casual conversation, but I’m not crazy about it in my books.

This was a good book with a ton of very useful information for how to live a better, more healthful life.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: The Kept

The Kept The Kept by James Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did an audio version of this book and it was superbly narrated by Kate Udall. Flawless performance.

A random selection from the audio cd section of the library, I had no idea what I was in for.

This is a very dark story of a barren woman - a midwife - who began taking babies to raise as her own. It is set in the late 19th century, during a brutally harsh winter in upstate New York. Years of wrongdoing are halted and life unravels on a single day of unspeakable violence.....and her unholy deeds catch up. They seep into every corner of every hour and she is condemned to outrun her fate while trying to connect with her 12 year old, Caleb. The two of them, while bent on revenging the deaths of their loved ones, also tear at the world, trying to wrest peace and understanding from its hollowed soul.

The extremes of sadness, regret, malevolence and sacrifice are hard to take. The author does a fine job of folding his reader up in these extremes. I felt like I was chained to all of their iniquities and could not be free until I had finished the book.

The ending was ambiguous and since I like my redemption crystal clear, I promptly made up my own ending. You will probably do the same.

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: The More They Disappear

The More They Disappear The More They Disappear by Jesse Donaldson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This work of fiction closely examines a single rural town in Kentucky where every family has been touched by the evils of oxycontin. It is a fast read, with a good old-fashioned linear approach to the storytelling - and the story lent itself quite well to that. It is not hard to imagine entire communities forever changed by the opioid epidemic. Although it is fiction, what the book illustrates IS happening. It is happening right now, right under our noses.

You will find many of the characters in this story very endearing; some you will want to run down with your car.

The author does not lecture. He doesn't need to. Instead, through the events in this story, he expertly reveals how the darkness of oxy addiction reaches deeply into and across families, vaporizing goodwill, and butchering hopes and dreams.

I could not put it down.

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