Shannon’s 2021 Five Fabulous Favorites!
The long evenings are upon us as we slide toward the Winter Solstice. The extra dark time is just perfect for curling up with a really juicy nov….bit of non-fiction! The following is a list of my absolute favorites from this past year. If you’ve always thought science writing was dry I urge you to try one of these five books. They are all full of drama as well as data. There are mysteries and histories with everyday heroes and dastardly villains. Visit diverse cultures and far away lands and laboratories. All of the authors are exceptional story tellers writing with humor and a thorough knowledge of their subjects. So if you, like me, love science writing with compelling personal stories, engaging writing styles and humor any of these are a good bet for your next read.
The Big Fat Surprise, Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet written by investigative journalist, Nina Teicholz, absolutely blew my mind. And not only because she shows that everything we’ve been told about fat is wrong. Ranging from the history of science to documenting poor science, the political environments of the time, and the individual personalities involved she thoroughly chronicles how such a faulty idea became so completely entrenched that we no longer even question it. It has made me approach every piece of nutritional dogma with the question “what makes me think this is true?”
Exercised, Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel E. Leiberman. If I had a celebrity crush it might be this professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. I was first smitten with his book The Story of the Human Body (which I also highly recommend.) His writing and wit is such that you can actually see the evolutionary changes happening like a time lapse film. In Exercised he sleuths out the answers to questions like “if we are born to run and walk, why do most of us take it easy whenever possible?” What really got my heart rate up though, was just how much not moving is killing us. Our bodies have their own natural cancer fighters, DNA spell-checkers, antioxidants, and plaque preventers (think brain and heart) that never evolved to work in the absence of physical activity.
Range, Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. Our culture celebrates the expert, the diva, the master of a subject, skill or a sport. We are told directly or indirectly that in order to succeed we must specialize. With dramatic storytelling and lots of data, Epstein, who also wrote The Sports Gene, shows us that what really drives success in our communities, our business and our culture are folks with range–people who know and do a lot of really different things. We should all aspire to be a “jack or jane of all-trades and master of none.”
Dopamine Nation, Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence by Anna Lembke, MD. Mother Nature rewards good behavior. She does this with little drops of the feel-good hormone dopamine. It makes sense when you think of us evolving as homo sapiens. Seeking out the pleasures of sex, bright colors, social contact, and sweet and fatty tastes, all benefit the species’ survival. But what happens now that we are living in a world in which high-reward, high-dopamine stimuli are available 24/7 almost instantaneously? Lembke illustrates using compelling stories of her patients that too much pleasure leads ultimately to pain. How are we, with our primitive brains hardwired for finding reward, able to put the brakes on overindulgence? I found this book exciting, terrifying and very hopeful.
Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. As a long time body worker you’d think I’d be an expert breather. But I’ve resisted adding this to my practice for years. Yeah, yeah, breathing…. whatever. Well, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Journalist James Nester takes you through his explorations to heal himself of chronic breathing issues. He too rolls his eyes at some of the exercises and theories, but finds that they work! And they have always worked; these techniques are centuries old. It’s a look into how we used to heal ourselves before pharmaceuticals. Think of it! Curing asthmas and snoring but also autoimmune disease, rejuvenating internal organs, jumpstarting athletic performance and even straightening scoliotic spines. All with something that you’ve had all along, your breath. WOW.