Review: Rich Food, Poor Food

Jayson Calton and Mira Calton – Rich Food, Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System (GPS): Shop Smart, Shop Healthy, Save Time, Save Money ….. Avoid Hype and Harmful Ingredients

Man, I hate nutrition books. It’s even less fun for someone who has to be in the room with me while I’m reading them. There’s a lot of cries of frustration, hair pulling, and exclamations of, “That’s not how chemistry works! UGH!”

Let me give you an example. During their discussion of “Banned Bad Boys,” because who can take an author seriously if they don’t use alliteration, they tell you how terrible brominated vegetable oil and potassium bromate are, because bromine is bad. Let me show you some pictures.

This is what potassium bromate looks like:

File:Bromičnan draselný.JPG

This is what bromine looks like:

File:Bromine 25ml.jpg

Did you notice something? Perhaps the fact that they look nothing alike? That is because, in chemistry, typically compounds act absolutely nothing like their elemental forms. Sodium and potassium, both (in ionic form) micronutrients without which you would die, in their elemental forms literally explode when they touch water.

I couldn’t find any pictures of brominated vegetable oil, just a bunch of pictures of nutrition labels, bromine, and poison symbols, but that is probably because it probably looks exactly like ordinary vegetable oil.

So, I’d forgive them for being confused, except that they really hammer the point in. Let me quote: Brominated vegetable oil “is composed mainly of bromine, a poisonous chemical whose vapors are considered both corrosive and toxic.” And yes, bromine is a huge jerk. I have worked with it, and it’s fucking evil. You’re pouring it and these terrifying dark red gasses are flying up into the air, and you’re wearing a mask and the sash on the fume hood is all the way down and you’re still a little freaked out because it looks like you’re in a bad mad science movie. But once it’s in a compound, it no longer gives off vapors. I promise. And “mainly”? Define “mainly”, because I am pretty sure it is “mainly” vegetable oil.

But I mean, seriously. I’m not even arguing about whether BVO is bad for you. It probably is. It’s banned in a bunch of other countries. That’s good enough for me. But why the bad chemistry facts? This guy has a PhD in nutrition, and he doesn’t know how chemistry works? And it didn’t even occur to him to maybe CHECK THE INTERNET before publishing this garbage? How am I supposed to believe a single other thing he says?

I have a lot more to say about how nutrition books are bad in general and this one specifically, but I’m tired and I want to go home.

Review: The End of Leadership

Barbara Kellerman – The End of Leadership

This was a really cool book. She talks about how technology is changing the world and making us completely unleadable. She also questions the business of teaching leadership, which is clearly not working, as leaders lose more and more powerful the more educated (as a group) they get. I’m not saying it as well as she did, so you should read the book.

Review: Forecast

Mark Buchanan – Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology, and the Natural Sciences, Can Teach Us About Economics

I have a request, plz. More physicists write more books about things that are not physics. Please and thank you. I want to hug him, because he brings out new science metaphors. Not the same old ones we’ve all heard before, but brand new ones. Hugs. If he wants them, of course.

This guy is pretty smart, and he has some smart things to say about economics. Specifically, that most of economic theory is stupid, and that economists keep throwing good money after bad (see what I did there?).

Specifically: The belief that markets reach equilibrium and return to equilibrium when perturbed is bullshit. Markets are chaotic, unpredictable, and tiny perturbations can make them explode. Like the weather. And market predictions fail for the same reason that meteorological ones always used to, before meteorologists accepted that they even if they had 100% of all the information about all the mosquitos in the world, they were still not going to be able to predict the weather perfectly.

So, the book has some tools for prediction that actually work, and talks about how one would go about making additional tools. It also spends many, many words whining about how dumb social scientists are. If you’re a hard scientist, you’re used to that and it feels like home, but everyone else might find it a little off-putting.

I like and approve of this book.


Review: The Making of a Story

Alice LaPlante – The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing

Writing books are so tricky, because the hard part of writing is not the technique. Yes, you need to learn technique at some point, but it won’t get you more than 5% of the way. So technique books, fun as they probably are to write, are just really not that helpful in general.

Especially this type, the “General Advice for All Kinds of Writing” type. Too general to actually be helpful in any way to anyone.

So, now that I’ve declared the whole genre worthless, let me tell you about this specific book. Despite its claim to be general advice, this book is about writing short stories and creative nonfiction. And it does that by example. The book is easily half filled with actual short stories and actual pieces of creative nonfiction. Which sounds like a great idea, but it was not for me. I am not a fan of either of those genres, and wouldn’t be writing them anyway, so probably I should have just put the book down once I realized what it was about.

The techniques offered were completely standard. If you have ever read a book of writing advice, you have read this book. And with one exception, I didn’t feel the stories added anything to the book. That exception was a Raymond Carver story, first as it was originally published by his crazy minimalist editor, then a second time as he would have published it, with significantly fewer edits. It was pretty excellent example of how much editing can change a story, so that was pretty great.

Did I mention it’s long? Really long. And for nothing. So, I’d say, unless you really love short stories, read a different technique book.

Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Verbal Self-Defense

Lillian Glass – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Verbal Self-Defense

Do you have the kind of crippling social anxiety where you just wish that someone would make a list of EVERY SINGLE acceptable small talk topic? Boy, do I have a book for you. Other lists include: a list of everything that might be wrong with your voice and/or body language that you aren’t anxious about yet, a Helpful List of things YOU ARE DOING that are RUINING YOUR VOICE (including eating dairy, talking, and clearing your throat), a list of Important Things You Should Know About Yourself, a list of foreign words borrowed by English, a list of things to do when you are in need of self-care, a list of commands for men, a list of commands for women, a list of things you should expect to hear from your teenager at some point in their teenagerhood, and dozens of separate lists of types of people you may have to talk to.

But wait, you may be saying, a lot of those lists have nothing to do with verbal self-defense. True, but we here at Idiot Industries believe that you wouldn’t need verbal self defense if you just weren’t an idiot.

This book is exceptionally comprehensive. So comprehensive it’s insulting. I came to this book looking specifically for how to deal specifically with a couple of really venomous people. I didn’t come to it for speech therapy, body language, or how to make friends. While I would have needed such a book several years ago, I would have looked for a book called, “The Idiot’s Guide to Basic Social Skills.” Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think that “verbal self-defense” is exactly a beginner technique.