Sunday, December 25, 2016

If Our Bodies Could Talk by James Hamblin

From “the most delightful MD ever” (Buzzfeed), IF OUR BODIES COULD TALK by James Hamblin is, according to the publisher, “an enlightening book about how bodies work—and how to keep them working in a world full of myths and misinformation.” In 2014, James Hamblin launched a series of videos for The Atlantic called “If Our Bodies Could Talk.” With it, the doctor-turned-journalist established himself as a seriously entertaining authority in the field of health. Now, in illuminating and genuinely funny prose, Hamblin explores the human stories behind health questions that never seem to go away—and which tend to be mischaracterized and oversimplified by marketing and news media. He covers topics such as sleep, aging, diet, and much more. Hamblin is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and has published widely in magazines and online. The subtitle of the audiobook, which he also narrates, is “A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body.” Since everyone reading this has one of those, the audience is vast. Subjects include everything imaginable, with science answers to questions involving cell phones, vitamins, probiotics, aging (like what happens in your skin), genetics, biology, CPR, psychology, metabolic syndrome, coffee, milk, meat, sports drinks, snake oil salesmen (pseudo-science), sleeping, drugs, sex, hormones, technology, and tidbits from history (or recent examples) to keep the answers interesting. Culture figures into all this, and the author has an ear for when a topic needs some jazz notes for proper timing and stress. It’s popular science with the angle of answering questions from readers, presented with an amiable tone sensitive to the topic. It is appropriate to note that Hamblin presents various sides in arguments about some controversial topics, but applies skepticism where validity requires, and doesn’t fall for fallacies of logic in order to arrive at consensus. He may not always be right, (the HFCS debate is not as settled as he imagines: see my interview with Mark Hyman and listen to THE CASE AGAINST SUGAR or SALT SUGAR FAT as well to see that all sugar is not the same, despite the soda industry's attempts to say so), but he does display a willingness to change his opinion when presented with new evidence. What will happen to the internet and the science reporting on it? This is anyone’s guess. Perhaps a rebellion against the “McNews” in which pseudo-science is reduced to being equally popular as real science due to the strategy of saying “some scientists believe?” (This is sometimes the mantra of the History Channel, presenting their “findings” as if there is a debate among legit scientists when there is not. Everyone being in favor of equality, that sounds good, when in fact that’s not how science works, and no one’s opinion counts in real science: it’s only what you can prove.) So this is perhaps the best thing about the book: walking the line of reason and discovery. Not referring to “authority” or doing the opposite, either—believing that everyone’s opinion is of equal value. Maybe one day “factoids” of truth (coined by Bradbury) will be automatically vetted and assigned a “believability” rating by an artificial intelligence like those who now already tract us. In the meantime, listening to an audiobook as balanced as this one can only have a positive effect on one’s mind and body.                  
Audiobooks Today: “Could you relate how listening to books might have a calming effect to those experiencing stress while stuck in traffic or at the airport?” 

James Hamblin: “I’d be speculating about calming effects of audiobooks – speaking strictly scientifically, I imagine the effects vary from person to person and book to book. But I can guarantee with 100% certainty that listening to my book will impart a positively transcendent bliss that will render any aspirations to calmness irrelevant. At least, I hope so!”

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