It's easier to successfully find fault than it is to find new correct solutions. So is the case with The Great Cholesterol Myth. While the authors appropriately acknowledge that there's some truth to the myth -- the data do show that cholesterol does matter for middle-aged white males with heart conditions -- the medical establishment has vastly over extrapolated from these findings to conclude that lowering cholesterol levels for huge portions of the population is a good thing -- and that any side-effects aren't worth paying attention to.
I have first-hand experience with this. A couple of years ago I developed a textbook case of walkthrough angina so obvious I could diagnose myself with a simple internet search, but I dutifully followed my GP's orders to go to the cardiologist and have multiple tests done, whereupon the cardiologist concluded "you have a textbook case of walkthrough angina." He went on to prescribe the "standard treatment" of beta blockers to "lower my high blood pressure" and statins to "lower my high cholesterol".
I first replied, "I don't have high blood pressure". The cardiologist then looks at my chart and reads the blood pressure readings that have been taken at the beginning of each of my visits. They're actually on the low side. Disregarding my response and his own assistant's work, he takes my blood pressure himself and concludes that I don't have high blood pressure and don't need the beta blockers.
I then say I don't have high cholesterol. He pulls those data too, then protests that they're several months old. I respond that I've never had high cholesterol. He says I should take statins anyway. I decline. He unhappily shrugs and indicates we're done.
Of course there was never a discussion about diet as a way to lower cholesterol.
I've read everything I can find on "walkthrough angina". It's uncommon, untreatable, and it has a small negative correlation with having a heart attack such that it is believed to be a protective mechanism. It's annoying, but benign.
Statins and beta blockers have side effects, yet there was a knee-jerk reaction to prescribe them. Perhaps that's because of the biggest side-effect of all: It makes money for cardiologists and pharmaceutical companies, a fact clearly pointed out by the authors.
Pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is the easy part. The hard part is what to do about heart conditions. The authors go on to cover some more respected and more speculative recommendations about diet and lifestyle, then they get deep into recommending supplements -- not coincidentally supplements that have author Dr. Sinatra's name on them, and for which the supporting evidence is spotty.
Maybe some of the work some of the time. I even bought one to try. But I'm skeptical, and you should be too.
Do your own research, get dissenting views, and don't just take the authors' word on everything here, especially as they gain financially from your doing so.
Only about one out of every 50 audiobooks that I buy I find so boring that I give up on them. This was one of them. The problem is that the contents of the book just seem so obvious.
The author's point is that several personality traits that at the extreme ("extreme" meaning the traits are so strong that they directly cause the person to have problems functioning throughout much of what they do) are each part of a personality spectrum. These traits exist because even at high levels they are adaptive for our species, and most important, adaptive for individuals given that they understand their traits and the manage their lives appropriately.
The problem is that our current society is so focused on what is "normal" (and by this what is really meant is what is average), that people with traits well outside what is average, but within what is healthy and adaptive, are stigmatized and told, either directly or implicitly, they're not normal and that they should get help.
The traits discussed are:
1. Adventurous (ADHD--Attention Deficit Disorder)
2. Perfectionist (OCD--Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
3. Shy (Social Anxiety Disorder)
4. Anxious (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
5. Dramatic (Histrionic)
6. Self-Focused (Narcissism)
7. High Energy (Bipolar)
8. Magical (Schizophrenia)
For each trait the author describes what the trait is and how it is useful and adaptive. He then gives examples of people high in the trait, how they have been situations that have made them suffer for the trait, and how they have figured out how to arrange their lives to use their traits to their advantage.
If you don't know what these traits are or have trouble thinking of ways the traits can be used to an individual's advantage, then this book may be interesting. Otherwise, it will all seem obvious and uninteresting.
Marc Cashman does an excellent narration.
If your criterion for what makes for a first-rate non-fiction book is for you to change your thinking, then A First-Rate Madness should go into your reading list.
Since antiquity some thinkers have argued that madness and genius are closely related. Ghaemi makes a compelling case for this being true, at least for certain disorders: hyperthymia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Ghaemi also makes an interesting case for how drugs can modulate the disorders to make leaders more effective, with JFK as an example, or can worsen their disorders, showing how Hitler dramatically worsened when he started taking intravenous methamphetamine five times a day.
Depressive episodes give the leader greater empathy and realism. Hyperthymia and mania give the leader greater creativity and huge bursts of energy at critical moments.
Ghaemi argues that these first-rate mad leaders are optimal for periods of crisis because of the superior perspective and depth their madness gives them. Correspondingly,Ghaemi argues that while mentally normal leaders are likely to do a better job during non-crisis times, during crises they are prone to blundering because of their shallowness.
Ghaemi presents his argument via the case method, with biographies of several famous leaders going back to the American Civil War. These biographies focus on the leaders' mental state, using the same methodologies used to diagnose living patients.
The result is a tour de force that will appeal to readers interested in leadership, psychology, and biography alike.
Sean Runnette, as usual, does an excellent narration.
This is a must-read for anyone professionally involved in the creation of advertising. It's written for people without background on the subject, but does such a good job in organizing and clarifying the principles that it's a good read for even marketing veterans.
Berger does an excellent job exploring and detailing the message elements that cause people to remember advertising messages and stories, and to want to pass around those stories (with or without embedded ad messages). The book explores 6 principles involved in why things catch on:
* social currency
* practical value
These principles serve as a checklist for the creation of advertising, especially any advertising that attempts to be viral.
If you want to know what caused the obesity epidemic, here it is!
Sugar, Salt, Fat is about how the processed food industry figured out how to use sugar, salt, and fat to make processed foods taste more than just good, but to make them something close to addictive. With this technology, they could make cheap, unnutritious foods taste good, and use the resulting high margins to fund advertising to drive demand. The food industry also made these foods more convenient than cooking. They even played a role in killing off home economics in the schools to ensure the next generation would not know how to cook.
Oh, one little side-effect that the industry needs to sweep under the rug: because these processed foods are so unlike foods found in nature, the body body can't properly gauge when these foods make the body full -- causing people to consume far more calories than they need.
Some interesting angles to the story are the involvement of the tobacco industry, such as Phillip Morris’s acquisition of food companies; and the healthy lifestyles pursued by the food industry executives, who eat their own products far more sparingly than the general public does.
This is not rocket science, but it’s great investigative journalism. It may be the best investigative journalism about the food industry since Upton Sinclair's work a century ago about food impurities. Yes, that good; that important.
One minor annoyance is that the narrator, Scott Brick, over dramatizes. Brick mostly narrates fiction, which he should probably stick to. He was perhaps chosen because he did an excellent narration of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (another great book for folks concerned about modern food), but that book was more of a memoir, making it a better fit with his narration style. Sugar, Salt, Fat is pure investigative journalism. The emotional level of Brick’s reading doesn’t fit with this genre.
This book made me sad and angry.
I'm angry that the War on Drugs is disguised war on Blacks and Latinos, and especially on young Black men. Michelle Alexander looks at the War on Drugs from every angle to show how the War on Drugs is selectively pursued to perpetuate a racial underclass, and how each step in that pursuit is covered with plausible deniability that the gross racial disparities that the system produces are racially motivated.
The War on Drugs is not only a mistake like Prohibition was; it is indeed the new Jim Crow. It's evil, wrapped up in intentions that sound good.
I'm sad that Michelle Alexander did not write a better book about the problem. The book is verbose and repetitive, making the same points again and again, in just slightly different ways. The sentences are even flabby. This book could be reduced by half and leave nothing useful out. This would make it a far more compelling read, allowing it to reach a broader audience. This, too, is a tragedy. This message needs to be heard.
Having worked in the pharmaceutical contract research industry, I have observed that for the most part the author's fundamental complaints about the pharmaceutical industry are correct. The public desperately needs to know about how the industry has gotten out of control. Its greed is now a major drain on the health and wealth of the world, but most particularly that of the United States. This book is an excoriating expose of the industry.
For at least my taste, this book would have been much better if it were not so much a one-sided rant. The invention, development, and marketing of pharmaceuticals is complex and requires trade-offs. The author tends towards going over the top about about the sins of the drug companies and sees only what's bad. There's lots of sin to write about. But there's not a hint of balance to the author's work. A more reasonable presentation, with a little more perspective on why the drug companies see things as they do and act as they do, would have made the author's arguments more compelling and her book more interesting.
The author's tone is exacerbated by the reader's tone, which is chronically scolding. It's not pleasant to listen to hours of scolding. Further marring the performance is that reader mispronounces several key names that are important to the story and are repeated many times, such as the name of Senator Birch Bayh.
The author's fundamental points are critically important and should be widely known. For just that fact this book is worth reading. But the message will probably not become more widely known until it is delivered by a better author.
I've enjoyed de Botton's prior books. This one is a severe disappointment.
One of the things I've enjoyed about de Botton's work is how he brings a far-ranging understanding of canon of Western philosophy to bear on the major issues of modern life, doing so in an understandable and sometimes entertaining way. As I have no particular expertise in Western philosophy, I have always assumed de Botton was reasonably accurate in his understanding. Religion for Atheists gives me now great doubt about that.
In Religion for Atheists, de Botton discusses one subject that I have particular expertise in: Zen Buddhism. I found de Botton to be shockingly inaccurate. For example, he describes the Japanese Tea Ceremony as a ritual used in Zen. It isn't, and anyone who did a little as read the Wikipedia article on the subject could figure that out. Yes, Zen philosophy has heavily influenced the Tea Ceremony, so there is a relationship there. But it's like the US Thanksgiving holiday. The Thanksgiving dinner ritual is heavily influenced by Christianity, but Thanksgiving is not a ritual of the Christian church.
De Botton goes on to make a similar mistake about the Japanese Tsukimi festival, again thinking it's a Zen Buddhist festival. It's not.
Another weakness of Religion for Atheists is the author's numerous suggestions for impractical and implausible ways to implement valuable aspects of religion in an atheistic ways, such that it undermined the concepts the author was trying to promote.
De Botton's TED talk on this subject is pretty good. I suggest listening to that and skipping this book.
The writing of many great thinkers can be difficult to follow. Their great points are often much clearer in the hands of other writers. Author Joan Magretta demonstrates this with the works of Michael Porter. It seems that most executives are aware of Porter, but few bother to read Porter because it's difficult reading. Magretta's work takes that barrier away.
Everyone directly involved in business strategy needs to know Porter's thinking. "Understanding Michael Porter" is an excellent way to do it.
One of the biggest and most common flaws Porter finds with typical business strategies is that they fall into the trap of thinking that if the company is the best at something, that will make the company successful, and further that there's something unique that the company can do to be the best. In reality, all the competitors are working hard to execute well. Striving to be the best is a zero-sum game that has everyone copying everyone else and that does not lead to profitability. Rule #1 is not to make this mistake.
From there, Porter gets more complicated, describing the various types of strategies that can lead to superior profitability. The key thing is differentiation. Managers must make emotionally difficult decisions to ignore some opportunities so that they can focus on others.
In my consulting work, I apply a simple test to determine whether the strategy avoids the error of aiming just to be the best and embraces differentiation. Write out the strategy in one or a few sentences. Reverse the meaning of the strategy statement. If the result sounds somewhat plausible as a strategy, then you have a real strategy. If the result sounds ridiculous, then you have a ridiculous strategy.
Several reviewers have commented negatively on the performance given here by Erik Synnestvedt. I concur. The reader has an odd and annoying sing-songy drawing out of the end of most sentences, depending on the vowel sounds involved. You can hear it in the sample. At first it doesn't seem so bad, but after a couple of hours of it, it gets increasingly annoying and distracting.
Dan Ariely's "Honest Truth About Dishonesty" is a nice divergence from his earlier books on irrationality, and contains much more original psychological research than these books. If you've enjoyed his prior books, you'll enjoy this one.
Ariely's books are all connected by the theme of how it is that we fool ourselves. In this work, Ariely shows that we're fooling ourselves and others just a little bit, almost all of the time through a number of clever experiments. What's particularly interesting is that Ariely finds that this cheating is not driven by cost/benefit tradeoffs -- the generally accepted rationale for why people cheat -- but, as in keeping with Ariely's prior work, cheating is found to be driven by less rational motivations. Changes in cost/benefit do matter, but opportunities for rationalization, the effect of social norms, and cognitive dissonance are at least equally important.
I don't know why Ariely keeps choosing Simon Jones to read his books. Jones is a great reader, but in a strongly British theatrical manner. Ariely, whom you'll get to hear in podcasts appended to the end of the book, or whom you may have heard on a TED talk, speaks American English with an Israeli accent. Further, the places Ariely writes about are almost always either in the US or Israel and almost never in England. If you know what the author sounds like, Jones seems to be a strange choice.
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