Okay, so reading itself isn’t returning (cause y’all know I’m addicted). Instead, this is the return of book reviews! I’ve been reading up a storm this month — you can keep tabs on what pages I’m turning on the right hand side of the page. I should also really clean up/update my “books” page. (I need to get my laptop working again so I can use my delightful publishing software…) Onto the books!
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
This was my wonderful friend Blair’s pick for our book club. I’d been secretly eyeing in on Amazon and I was thrilled when she picked it (thus forcing me to buy it). The author, Erik Larson, also wrote Devil in the White City which is about the Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer operating in Chicago around that time. (I know, it sounds like a weird combo but it was great!)
Larson’s newest book tells the story of the Dodd family living in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. The father, William Dodd, served as the United State’s ambassador to Germany at the time. Most of the story is told through the point of view of William and his daughter Martha. Martha, quite the floozy, loves the intrigue of the Nazi party and its members. Her exploits through the book, including a serious relationship with a member of the KGB’s predecessor, were quite astonishing especially given the time period.
I never really got attached to any of the characters, but I did find their lives very interesting. I also kept having to remind myself that this was non-fiction. Larson tells his stories so well that you would swear you’re reading a fictional thriller. The ending is a bit of a downer but I suppose I shouldn’t have expected rainbows and sunshine at the end of a book about the rise of Hitler. I’d definitely recommend In the Garden of Beasts to anyone who is interested in the time period, enjoys political intrigue, or enjoys very well written non-fiction.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was curious to read more from Michael Pollan. In Defense of Food flew by for me and I felt like this book was much more relatable than Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan discusses the current obsession with “nutrients” and some interesting paradoxes in the Western world. For example, Western doctors often find obese patients with vitamin deficiencies that are normally only found in malnourished populations. Their hypothesis, and one of the largest components of Pollan’s book, is that we’ve stopped eating food.
That sounds weird, but it doesn’t seem to be too far from the truth. We’ve made eating so easy and refined food products so much, that a lot of what we put in our bodies doesn’t resemble real food — the kinds of things our grandparents ate growing up. Because of this, we put a lot of “food products” into our body but not as much nutrition. Scientists try to fill this gap by isolating nutrients (like Omega-3s or saturated fats) and painting them as good or bad. The “good” nutrients become fads and food scientists find ways to inject them into foods that they would never occur in naturally. Because it’s not a natural occurrence, we don’t reap as much of the benefits. It’s starting to become obvious that it’s not just one nutrient, but the interaction of a group of nutrients from various foods, that cause good health benefits.
With that in mind, Pollan encourages readers to Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He breaks down this (seemingly logical) advice into real world applications in the final section. Unlike Omnivore’s Dilemma, most of the information and advice given was very relatable. I finished the book and wanted to go immediately to a Farmer’s Market. I’d highly recommend this book — it’s a fast read and very informative. I think we should all know more about what and how we eat!