Books I read that I think are worth reading I will put here from now on [November 2009], others from the past I will add as they seem relevant to other postings. I will indicate the category of the book contents after its details in ‘[ ]’. I will put books in alphabetical order of the author’s last name, or the last name of the first author for books with several contributors.
Wade Allison, Radiation and Reason, Wade Allison Publishing 2009 [science, radiation and health]
I bought this book because of a mention in an article by Simon Jenkins. I think it is an good contribution to the debate on building more nuclear power stations. It gets a longer review in the blog.
Peter Davies & James Gubb, Putting Patients Last, Civitas 2009 [society and work]
The primary author of this book is a GP in Halifax, UK. He analyses the requirements of the NHS management in the light of of a book by Donald Keough, The Ten Commandments for Business Failure, and adds an eleventh. The message is that the NHS management plans are plans for failure. I know from personal experience from projects I have done with the NHS how true these assessments are. They could be applied to many other activities where a small management core determines how the experts are to function.
Daniel Goleman, Focus, Bloomsbury, 2013 [psychology, business]
I found this book disappointing. The contents could have been expressed in 10% of the pages. There is a lot of “this sentence” from VIP “A”, “that sentence” from VIP “B”, “another sentence” from VIP “C”, …, with anecdotal examples of people who get things wrong because of some trait or lack of a trait. There are resources given and references for follow up, but pointers to those in a small pamphlet would have been a better job.
James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore, Climate Cover-Up, Greystone Books, 2009 [politics and environment]
The book catalogues in a readable manner some of the techniques used to hide the reality of global warming as a man-made threat to the current living world. In recent years to 2009 the most common method is to suggest that there is uncertainty in the science and a lack of consensus among climate scientists. That companies and politicians have worked with public relations companies to spin their way out of problems for which they should be culpable means that those groups are no longer trusted; credibility has been degraded. Hoggan commissioned polls of public opinion and found just that in Canada. One disjointed statistic in one of the polls is that 5% of people said that they were not concerned about the problems of climate change, but people thought that 50% of others were not concerned about climate change: people are unsure of each other.
Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, REWORK, Vermilion, 2010 [society and work]
REWORK is an inspirational book. It is not new in its ideas; in particular it reminded me of Up the Organization by Robert Townsend. The book presents a paradigm for a productive organization by the people who started www.37signals.com, a business that started as a web site design office and branched into software when stuff they developed for their own use seemed to interest their clients. This is another product of their experience that they are selling. Its appeal is that it turns round many of the assumptions of the current business world. The back cover says it all: ASAP IS POISON, MEETINGS ARE TOXIC, FIRE THE WORKAHOLICS, UNDERDO THE COMPETITION, FIGHT BLOAT. Don’t be put off by the upper case or mixed size and colour fonts. This book is full of gems to give thought. I don’t think that everything should be taken literally, but rather as a starting point for reworking ones plans and ideas (PLANNING IS GUESSING, INSPIRATION IS PERISHABLE). As always the implementation is the hard bit.
Fred K. Johnson, Right Hemishpere Stroke, Wayne State University Press, 1990 [Rehabilitative medicine]
I bought this book because one of my friends had been afflicted by right hemisphere stroke. I wanted some insight in the hope that I might be able to help his rehabilitation while he was in hospital. Other friends and colleagues had suffered stroke but I had never been in the same position to help them. The subtitle of the book is A Victim Reflects on Rehabilitative Medicine. Fred was 37 when the stroke happened. He was working in a large company based in Florida as labour relations negotiator and he lived with wife and young son so this was a very significant change in life circumstances. Fortunately he had insurance cover to help with hospital costs and comments how in dealing with the Unions he had worked to minimize this insurance cost to the employer. Especially fascinating is the early paranoia he feels because it seems everyone is discussing his condition without letting him in on it. He at least wanted an ‘educated guess’ for his prognosis because that is what he found he could make when dealing with the Unions. Later he feels it a tremendous achievement when he can wheel himself into an elevator; he reflects that this is not what most people would see as a skill but such basic things are now his challenges. He learns to read again, but after a return to work ultimately is given ‘unpaid recuperation leave’. He admits that he does not realise how little he can really do. He never is able to deal with multi-digit numbers again and cannot remember his own phone number. Yet he can speak and after doing a course at the University of Texas, Austin, finally speaks and writes for a stroke victims organization.
Richard Koch, The 80 / 20 Principle, London 1997 [self-help]
I have a policy of buying a book whenever I am in an airport. This forces me to read something I would otherwise not think of reading; I force myself to choose something. This book was one such and I found it very valuable. Although the book has a business focus there is so much that is relevant to how we live. It is not just 80/20. These are issues that get recycled in many books and internet articles, and are themselves not new, but here they are gripping written about. The online version can be read at:
David MacKay, Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, Cambridge 2008 [sustainability]
I did not read this book cover to cover. Rather I used it to look up fast answers to all the things I always intended to work out myself. I felt guilty for a while, though less so now that I see the amount of research effort needed to turn intention to result.
The online version can be read at : Sustainable Energy – without the hot air
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture, Two Roads 2008 [life, health]
I read this book in 2014 after watching the talk on YouTube that was the base for the book.
This was a real last lecture of a man dying before the age of 48 years of pancreatic cancer. He provides inspiration on how to live with good tips to keep you track for making the most of life. I could not fit every circumstance of suffering but has something useful for anyone.
John Yudkin, Pure, White and Deadly, Penguin 1988 [science, health, politics]
I read this book in March 2010. This is an edition published in 1988. The book was originally published in 1972. It is about sucrose.
I was prompted to read it because it was recommended by Robert Lustig, a US paediatrician, in a talk he gave on childhood obesity in 2009. It was difficult to get a copy and it was some weeks before one appeared on abebooks (at a big price even allowing for inflation). I felt something like shame for not reading it 30 years earlier. Yudkin writes engagingly and the science is an important contribution. His main theme is that sugar, not fat, is the cause of coronary heart disease. (This was the important matter that Robert Lustig was raising; in particular the fructose component of sugar.) That fat was the cause of vascular disease was a hypothesis started in the USA by Ancel Keys that caused the US government to propagate the low-fat high-carbohydrate message for health; and sugar is a carbohydrate. Yudkin mentions Ancel Keys early in the book, “One such person is the American physiologist Dr Ancel Keys, the most important and certainly the most dogmatic research worker who expounds the view that coronary heart disease comes from dietary fat and that sugar has nothing whatever to do with it” (page 3).
There is an excellent explanation of the difference between epidemiological an experimental evidence (pages 69). Then there is a comment that fits well into what we have to face with global warming, “First, living organisms can often adapt to change if it is not too rapid, nor too profound. If, however, the change is very rapid and very profound the organisms may succumb” (page 69). Then his estimate for rates of accommodation, “It is likely that, for a fairly considerable alteration to occur in a population, something between 1,000 and 10,000 generations are needed. In human terms this would range anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000 years” (page 70). We can argue over the detail but these are serious views that have to be factored in to any assessment of change. He suggests that the move from hunter-gatherer to agriculture less than 10,000 years ago has not yet been fully assimilated to in our evolution and has consequent diseases.
The same considerations apply to genetically modified crops. We have been doing selective breeding for thousands of years, with increasing insight into the process by cross breeding. The new methods are a big jump in the way changes are made – inserting a gene from one species into another – and we need more assessment of the consequences.
Another amazing comment for the time of publication is, “One distinguished American research physician has written that blood cholesterol is a biochemical measurement still in search of clinical significance” (page 76). Even now dietary products claim to lower cholesterol without specifying exactly which form. It is generally acknowledged that cholesterol in HDL is good, but subtracting that from total cholesterol does not leave you with bad cholesterol only, some of the LDL is not harmful either – triglyceride level is a more important indicator.
An ironic passage in the book is on page 131. He is discussing sugar as a cause of dental caries and at a lecture at Newcastle Dental School he says that, “almost everyone knew that a major cause of tooth decay was the eating of sticky, sugary confectionary, cakes and biscuits …” (page 130). The lecture was published and evoked a very angry letter from Professor B. Cohen who was doing dental research at the Royal College of Surgeons to produce a vaccine, “He thought it ridiculous that I had not pointed out that the holes in teeth were caused by bacteria that produced acid” (page 131). The punch line, “I visited the laboratory soon after the lecture, and I don’t suppose I need to tell you how dental caries was induced in the monkeys. You’ll have guessed, I am sure, that it was by giving them lots of sticky sweets” (page 131). He is not saying that the bacteria are not needed for tooth decay, but that a food that we are not used to (over the past 30,000 years) causes disease in some way. Presumably if we had been eating sugar for 30,000 years we would already have our own inbuilt ‘vaccine’ against caries.
In the last chapter of the book, Attack is the best defence, he discusses by personal example how research that might cause the sales of some products to drop gets the researcher ridiculed and dropped from presenting results in conferences. This is stunning stuff, and true to the Yudkin integrity is not second hand or hearsay. There is the amazing case of the conference to which he was invited (page 178). The whole conference was cancelled and the (eminent) organizer dismissed from the post. The conference happened 4 years later with another organizer and no invitation to Yudkin.
Here is an example of the ridicule (page 168): The 1972 edition of the book went out of print before Yudkin had time to finish a new edition for publication. In the Bulletin of the World Sugar Research Organization appeared a note, “‘Pure, White and Deadly’. J. Yudkin. Davis-Poynter Ltd, London 1972. Readers of science fiction will no doubt be distressed to learn that according to the publishers the above work is out of print and unobtainable.” Yudkin comments, “I do not mind people disagreeing with whatever conclusions I draw from research – my own or that of other serious research workers. But to say that my work is ‘science fiction’ is to say that what I had published as representing the results of my research and that of my departmental colleagues, as well as he research by other scientists I had quoted, was invented and imaginary” (page 169).
By the time I had gotten near the end of this note on the book I was beginning to wonder why copies of the book are so hard to obtain, but I will not start any conspiracy theory.