January 2016 Reading Recommendations

Early this month I wrote a review of Dr. David Ludwig’s relatively low-carb diet book Always Hungry? As a consequence, I’ve been inundated with emails from readers asking me if this book replaces all the other low-carb books out there. I always answer in the negative. There are a number of good low-carb books in print that anyone following such a diet should have in the library. So, of all the low-carb books out there, which ones do I recommend? Or, which ones would I consider the core books for low-carb followers?

My own books aside, I would recommend three. One is Dr. Ludwig’s book, Always Hungry?, mentioned above. Another would be The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney. I reviewed that book on my blog a few years ago. (If you plan to combine a low-carb diet with a rigorous exercise or resistance training program, I would also highly recommend The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by the same authors.) The third book I would recommend is Dr. Richard Feinman’s book The World Turned Upside Down. Dr. Feinman’s book is highly informative, funny, and quirky, just as he is. It is filled with a lot of biochemistry and subjects missing in the other two books. It has just dawned on me that I have never reviewed the Feinman book, which I need to remedy at some point.

The three books above all come at low-carb from a little different perspective, so reading all of them gives a more complete perspective.

Speaking of Dr. Ludwig’s book, it hasn’t been out for a month, yet he’s already being attacked on the blogosphere.  Stephen Guyenet launched a pretty comprehensive attack on his own blog Whole Health Source.  Dr. Ludwig fired back today with a response of his own, which is a succinct explanation of the insulin-carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity.

In last month’s recommendations, I mentioned a book on the mitochondria my friends the Ottobonis had recommended.  I’ve since read Life – The Epic Story of our Mitochondria, and it is indeed excellent.  The problem with most books on the mitochondria is that they are either way too technical or so simple they don’t adequately explain how these organelles that keep us alive really work.  This book is different.  It is complex enough to thoroughly present the information, yet basic enough so that said information is comprehensible to the non-scientist.  A real benefit of Life – The Epic Story of our Mitochondria is that it not only discusses the mitochondria in terms of what they are and where they come from, but also how mitochondrial dysfunction causes many, many familiar disorders. In addition, there is a section on enhancing mitochondrial health.  A highly recommended book.

If Life – The Epic Story of our Mitochondria doesn’t satisfy your quest for mitochondrial knowledge, grab a copy of Nick Lane’s terrific book Power, Sex, Suicide, Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life.  Should you decide to take it even further, read The Vital Question, also by Nick Lane.  If you polish off all these books, you’ll know more about mitochondria – an important subject where health is concerned – than 99.9 percent of people on the planet

Last month’s letter started off with a recommendation of Kathryn Schulz’s wonderful book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  If you have, there are a couple of essays you will probably enjoy, referencing her book.  One, written by Schulz herself, appeared in the New Yorker.  In Dead Certainty, Schulz discusses one of the case histories she wrote about in her book.  One of her subjects was brutally assaulted and was able to remember and positively identify her attacker, who ended up convicted and incarcerated.  Years later, DNA evidence exonerated him, and he was released from prison.  The assault victim was horrified she had made such a mistake in identification and apologized to the wrongly accused man.  After being out of prison for several years, he was once again convicted and once again incarcerated for another murder.  This time Netflix produced “Making a Murderer”, a TV serial documentary on his case, which has provoked a huge outcry from the public for his release.  Schulz’s essay basically says: not so fast.  Let’s be careful on extra-judicial trials by the public.  A very good read.  Especially if you have read Being Wrong and are familiar with the specifics of the situation.

Hard on the heels of this essay is another.  Making a Murderer, “Biased” Journalism & Necessary Outrage is a counterpoint to Schulz.  It is also a very good read.  Especially for me because not only does it discuss the case Schulz wrote about, but a few others involving gross miscarriages of justice as well.  One section particularly interested me because it was about Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley, the so called West Memphis Three. The vicious murders for which they were convicted took place in Arkansas while I was living there, so I was familiar with the crime. Plus, Damien Echols’ wife, while she was working for his release, lived with one of our best friends in Arkansas. We met her and ultimately Damien when he was finally released in 2011 after serving 18 years on death row.  If you really want to see a gripping documentary, get a copy of Paradise Lost, the story of the murders and subsequent trials and convictions of Damien, Jason and Jesse.  If you decide to grab a copy of this documentary, just get the first one.  There are two other follow up documentaries that pretty much suck, so avoid them.  A great follow up to the story is the more recent documentary West of Memphis.

In one of the early posts of these monthly recommendations, I mentioned The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein.  The book is about the genetic basic of athletic excellence, and, if you have any interest in athletics – your own or others – you should read it.  It’s filled with engaging stories of athletic excellence and why those phenomenal athletes are different from the rest of us.  Since I played baseball for many years, I was really interested to learn why Albert Pujols and a number of other major league sluggers couldn’t hit a female fast pitch softball pitcher.  And why Barry Bonds refused to even try.  It’s a phenomenal story.  And it’s just one of many in Epstein’s book.

Epstein wrote The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene, an essay about a woman who diagnosed her own extremely rare and bizarre form of progressive lipodsystrophy (a disordered storage of body fat).  Not only did she diagnose her own disease while a host of doctors couldn’t, she also diagnosed another variant of it in a famous Olympic athlete.  This essay tells the story of how she did it.  Which was nothing more than total commitment and a never quit attitude.  It shows what a non-scientific person can accomplish with nothing more than sheer fortitude and a willingness to learn science on a DIY basis.

Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas is another book I read this month that I can heartily recommend.  I had a friend who read this book a few months ago and had been bugging me to read it, so I finally did.  It was much, much better than I thought it would be. Author John Pollack explains why analogies are such powerful tools for persuasion.  If you can encapsulate something you are trying to explain in an analogy that people can understand, you’re golden.  Especially if you are trying to market something to them.  And by the same token, if someone explains something to you in terms of an analogy you can understand, you are all that much closer to being sold.  Shortcut describes the five components of a perfect analogy, so that you can create your own or see through an analogy someone is using to persuade you.  The whole idea of analogies as persuasion tools is something I had never thought about, and this book truly opened my eyes.

What with all the traveling we did this month, I kind of fell behind in my fiction reading, so I don’t really have anything to recommend.  But I am almost finished with a book so engrossing it may as well have been fiction.

Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris is the story of a serial killer loose in Paris during the German occupation.  In 1944, Parisians in the 16th arrondissement began to notice and complain about the strange stench coming from an apartment on rue Le Sueur.  When the police finally gained entry to the apartment, they discovered a charnel house containing the dismembered remains of many, many victims.  The apartment belonged to a physician (we always get the bad raps), who had a bizarre history, and who had obviously high tailed it.  And the chase was on.  A story made even more interesting by the unusual (for the time) methods of the detective who sought the killer.  I may end up being disappointed in how the book ties everything up because I’m not there yet.  But after reading through about two thirds of it, I can tell you it’s a great read. And it gives you a pretty good idea what Paris was like under Nazi occupation.

I’ve got a brutal travel schedule coming up starting next Monday.  By the time we get back on March 8, we will have been in London, Frankfurt, Cape Town, Little Rock, Boulder, Vail, and Chicago.  And, unhappily, little of it for fun.  Almost all work.  But the good news is that I’ll get a ton of reading done on all the flights, so I should have many recommendations for next month.

Speaking of this travel, I’ll be speaking at Low Carb Vail 2016, so if you want to catch up on the latest low-carb has to offer, come to the conference.  I would love to meet you.