Recent Reads … dogs, history, politics, food, and more

Whether it is a book about understanding dogs, the food system, the history of the AK, or something else, I enjoy reading a vast array of nonfiction. Here are my recently completed volumes, in no particular order: (Beware, it is not a short list.)

  • Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual – Quick read, finished the book in an afternoon.  This is not a diet book, instead Michael Pollan has collected a set of common sense rules to guide both purchases and consumption.  If you have realized that you have an unhealthy diet and want a quick guide to improving it without the strictures of a formal diet plan, then this is your book!
  • The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad – Read this volume as part of the reading for the tutoring that I am currently doing (which has also involved a lot of journal and news article reading).  In it, Fareed Zakaria presents his view of the modern political world.  It is a view that can force us to question the American focus on spreading democracy around the world and on our own definition of democracy at home.  For me, Chapter 6: The Death of Authority is the most important because he argues that one reason America became the world power that it did was because of our elites.  Those elites attempted to live up to the ideals of society and, when they failed, it was a matter of great disappointment to everyone.  Today, elites don’t acknowledge those ideals and are not held to them by the population.  Therefore, in Zakaria’s words, “we expect very little … and they rarely disappoint us.”  Overall, a wonderful book and something that any student of history should add to their reading list.
  • Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know – I am a dog person, always have and always will be!  So, when I saw this book on the library’s new book shelves, I knew that I needed to read it.  In it Alexandra Horowitz, who is a psychologist and ethologist, explains how dogs perceive the world and, especially, humans.  Unlike any other animal, dogs have evolved with humans and are social in ways that few other animals are capable of, especially outside of our closest primate relatives.  The work that Horowitz explains, both her own and that of her colleagues, provides numerous insights into the actions of our faithful companions.  For example, her description of the doggie sense of small, explains why Phoenix wants to both sniff and lick us when we get home because he is using his tongue to transport scent molecules to his vomeronasal organ.  If you love dogs, this is a volume that will make you appreciate them even more.
  • Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It – If you saw the movie and have not read any of the other literature available, then read this.  If you read a lot of the other books out there, then this book is going to provide you with little new information.  So, very good introduction to current issues surrounding food production and safety but not a volume to use if you want in-depth discussions of those issues.
  • The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change – Based on a short 20 minute movie, Annie Leonard‘s book version of the project goes into a lot more detail but still has the same conclusion: we are extracting too much stuff from the planet and that at some point in the near future we will run out of the things that we need to survive (aka clean air, land, and water).  This is an interesting book and while I question some of her numbers and details, there is little to argue with her final conclusion.  On a different note, the book is very useful because it points readers to a number of additional sources of information, especially to ones that help identify dangerous chemicals in common products.  For example: Safer Chemical, Healthy Families & Skin Deep: Cosmetics Database
  • The Gun – This book is a tour-de-force by C.J. Chivers – a former marine and current international & investigative journalist – about the development of the AK line of weapons and their proliferation around the globe.  Beginning with the development of the first rapid fire weapons (aka Gatling guns) and the early automatic guns (aka Maxim guns), this volume spends most of its length on the Kalashnikov.  This book is a great piece of historical detective work and a strong argument for international efforts to control the flow of automatic weapons, especially Cold War AKs.  While strongly focused on the AK line of weapons, including large amounts of technical details, the book provides plenty of comparative examples to support his main arguments concerning the AK.  Also, inside this book on the AK is a welcomed and interesting examination of the American response to it and the bungling of the M-16 approval, manufacture, and supply process that resulted with troops being issued with malfunctioning firearms.  This is a book that will interest many armchair and professional historians because of the breath of coverage Chivers provides.  Definitely a recommended read for anybody interested in 20th century history.

And, now I am off to the local library to reload my pile of reading materials …