BOOK REVIEW: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras

Bodyweight Strength Training AnatomyBodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book combines a calisthenics manual with the anatomical drawings and descriptions necessary to explain the muscle activations involved in each exercise. It takes a very straightforward approach, being organized by body part. Each chapter discusses the component muscles of said part and their unique features, and then gives a series of exercises to work said part. For each exercise, at least one anatomical drawing is provided, showing the primary and secondary muscles being worked in the exercise. In some cases, more than one drawing is needed to convey the full range of motion of the exercise, but in many cases one drawing is sufficient. Each exercise also receives a brief bullet-point description of the action, a textual list of muscles utilized, and notes on issues and cautions to keep in mind to get the most out of the exercise.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book. It discusses general principles to be kept in mind like the need to balance opposing muscle groups, and it also lays out the advantages and limitations of calisthenics, or bodyweight, workouts over other approaches to fitness. Like a number of other calisthenics’ books, this one emphasizes the advantage of not necessarily needing any equipment. In other words, with a little creativity and some quality doors, robust furniture, or park access, one can do all of these exercises without either a gym membership or costly trips to the sporting goods store. Of course, one does need sturdy stationary objects to pull against, particularly to maintain a balanced upper body. What I like about this book more than some others I’ve read is that it emphasizes the need for safety in taking the equipmentless approach. I’ve cringed before in seeing some of the improvised set ups that have been jury-rigged as examples in other calisthenics manuals, but this book uses stout furniture and rafters to get the point across.

Chapters 2 through 9 each focuses on a particular body part, including (respectively): arms, neck and shoulders, chest, core, back, thighs, glutes, and calves. Each chapter starts with some general information on muscle action before launching into the exercises. If you have a particular interest in developing your glutes (i.e. your butt, your backside), then this is definitely the book for you. The author specializes in glutes, and while there are about a typical number of exercises for that musculature, the background information up front is more extensive than for most of the other chapters. For many of the exercises, the author proposes regressions and progressions — that is, easier and harder variants of a fundamental for those who either aren’t up to the basic yet or who need a harder version to challenge them.

The penultimate chapter, Ch. 10, presents whole-body exercises (e.g. burpees, mountain climbers, etc.) and discusses the benefits of including such exercises in one’s workout regimen. Included in this chapter is an introduction to both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and to Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT.)

The final chapter offers an overview of all the factors to keep in mind when arranging exercises into a program (e.g. number of sets, repetitions per set, and how such considerations are varied depending upon one’s goals.) There’s a lot to consider when putting together a workout regimen, including: the necessary rest periods, balancing one’s workouts to avoid structural imbalances, and how to vary one’s approach depending upon one’s individual goals. A section on exercise for fat loss is included, which is important not only because there are so many people interested in that subject but also because there is so much misinformation out there.

As mentioned, most of the graphics are anatomical drawings showing the muscles in cut-away as the action of the exercise is being performed. There are a few other graphics to help clarify information, as well as tables in the last couple chapters to present information in an organized and easy to use fashion.

I found this book to be informative and well-organized. It’s a straightforward presentation of the skeleto-muscular action involved in various calisthenics exercises. If that’s what one is looking for, or even if one is just looking for a guide to bodyweight exercises, this book will meet your needs.

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BOOK REVIEW: Plyometric Anatomy by Derek Hansen

Plyometric AnatomyPlyometric Anatomy by Derek Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book performs two tasks at once. First, it’s a guide to the broad range of plyometric exercises and how they can be conducted safely. Plyometrics take advantage of a phenomenon in which rapidly stretched muscles contract more forcefully and rapidly. However, you may recognize them as exercises involving jumping and other explosive movements that are used to build power. (Power being the ability to generate a force in as short a time as possible. This is in contrast to strength — a measure that’s only concerned with the amount of force generated.) I would go as far as to say the book could be useful for many individuals who don’t need any particular insight into anatomy, but who want to learn to do a wide range of plyometric exercises. (That said, if you are said person, you may want to shop around because you may find the one or two drawings per exercise may not be adequate for your purposes, and you may discover you need more guidance if you’re new to fitness activities.)

Second, the book educates the reader about what musculature is used in each exercise, and differentiates the primary movers from the secondary muscles. The book provides a happy medium useful for coaches and trainers. It doesn’t get bogged down in the anatomical and physiological minutiae, but provides enough information for individuals who want to see what muscles are working without drilling down into depths of great precision.

The book consists of nine chapters. Of these, the first two chapters provide fundamental background information. Chapter one examines how and why plyometric exercises work in a general sense. Chapter two gets into more logistical issues such as what equipment is needed (e.g. hurdles and medicine balls), what surfaces are ideal for practice (no small issue considering the loads generated), and how training progressions should be formulated.

Chapters three through eight are the core of the book. These are the chapters that describe exercises as I mentioned above. The first of these chapters presents foundational exercises. Plyometrics tend to be physically intense and so many individuals will need to build capacity before moving straight into a full-fledged plyometric exercise regime. The next five chapters explore (in order): bilateral lower body exercises, unilateral lower body exercises, upper body exercises, core exercises, and combination exercises (e.g. exercises that combine jumps with sprints or medicine ball throws with jumps and so forth.)

Each of the exercise descriptions consists of five parts: an anatomical drawing showing the action and the musculature involved, a description of how the exercise is safely performed, a text list of the muscles involved (divided into primary and secondary muscles as is the drawing), notes exploring unique considerations for that particular exercise, and variations for those who need to make the exercise more or less challenging.

The last chapter investigates injury prevention and rehabilitation. One learns how to evaluate some of the more high-risk behaviors and misalignments that must be corrected for exercises to be done safely. One also learns how a swimming pool can be used to help athletes rebuild their capacity after an injury, as well as how rehab activities can be done out of the pool.

There are graphics throughout the book. For the most part, these consist of anatomical drawings. These drawings show the body in transparent form so that one can see the muscles involved in each exercise. There is a reference section at the end of the book.

I found this book to be informative and thought-provoking, and I’d recommend it for anyone who is seeking to expand their depth of knowledge about exercise science – particularly coaches, trainers, and teachers.

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5 Essential [and Sometimes Hilarious] TED Talks About the Human Body

5.) 3 Clues to Understanding your Brain by VS Ramachandran: Ramachandran discusses three afflictions that offer insight into the working of the brain. Capgras Syndrome occurs when individuals think loved ones have been replaced by impostors. Phantom limbs occur when there is an amputated limb which the brain continues to feel the presence of. Synesthesia is a muddling of sensory inputs /experiences.





4.) Charming Bowels by Giulia Enders: How we poop. How our gut nervous system influences our central nervous system. Why there is such a thing as “too clean for your own good.”





3.) Can We Create New Senses for Humans by David Eagleman: Our senses are narrowly attuned to taking in that information that offered evolutionary advantage to our ancestors. How might technology help us transcend those bounds?





2.) 10 Things You Don’t Know about Orgasm by Mary Roach: Eyebrow orgasm, thought-induced orgasm, orgasm among the deceased, and how orgasm may cure your hiccups.





1.) The Biology of Our Best and Worst Selves by Robert Sapolsky: Sapolsky explains that one can’t look at one biological system to understand violence or cooperation. Instead, genetics, environment, our nervous system, our endocrine system, and even the digestive system come into play. He also considers how we change.

5 Interesting Respiratory Facts for Yoga Teachers


Pranayama (breath exercise) is a crucial part of yogic practice. While I may spend less time on the pranayama portion of my practice than the asana (postural) part on most days, I’ve come to view pranayama as at least as important. (i.e. It packs a lot of punch.) With that in mind, here are a few fun facts about respiration for you your consideration:

 

5.) Asthma Fact: People in richer countries are more likely to have asthma, but–within more wealthy countries–poor people are disproportionately effected. (Asthma is a condition in which lung tissue becomes inflamed, and thus it’s hard to breath.)

Source: Krucoff & Krucoff. 2000. Healing Moves. New York: Three Rivers Press. p. 288

Yogic Relevance: There’s at least some preliminary evidence that yoga practice can benefit asthma patients. Mekonnen, D. & Mossie. A. 2010. “Clinical Effects of Yoga on Asthmatic Patients: A Preliminary Clinical Trial.” Ethiopian Journal of Health Science. Vol. 20(2). pp. 107-112.

 

4.) Altitude Fact: At the summit of Everest, atmospheric pressure is about 30% of what it is at sea level.

Source: Coulter, H.D. 2001. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. Allahabad: Himalayan Institute India. p. 96.

Yogic Relevance: The slow deep breathing you sometimes teach in pranayama courses could be a life-saver. Bilo G. et. al.  2012. “Effects of Slow Deep Breathing at High Altitude on Oxygen Saturation,” Pulmonary and Systemic Hemodynamics. PLoS ONE. Vol. 7(11): e49074. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049074.

 

3.) Lung Fact: If one extracted, flattened, and laid side-by-side the 300 million alveoli of the average person’s lungs, they would cover an area greater than the average one bedroom apartment. (Alveoli are the little sacks at the end of the bronchioles where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.)

Source: Hymes. A. 2009. “Respiration and the Chest: The Mechanics of Breathing.” in Science of Breath: A Practical Guide by Swami Rama. Honesdale, PA: The Himalayan Institute Press.

Yogic Relevance: Vital capacity (total amount of air one can breath in and out of those little sacks) is increased through yogic practice. Karthik, P.S. et. al. 2014. “Effect of Pranayama and Suryanamaskar on Pulmonary Functions in Medical Students.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. Vol. 8(2). pp. BC04 -BC06.

Note: there has been confusion about the degree to which yoga helps VO2 max (maximum oxygen utilization), at least in comparison to other forms of exercise, because there has been mixed results in the literature. The consensus seems to be the effect–if any–isn’t large compared to cardiovascular exercises. The strength of the pump (i.e. the heart) seems to have more to do with this particular measure than the lung’s holding capacity. While VO2 max is an important measure for athletes, the fact that it may not be improved by yoga doesn’t mean yoga doesn’t offer many fine benefits for athletes. As I recall, this is dealt with at length in Broad’s book (i.e.  Broad, W.J. 2012. The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. New York: Simon & Schuster.)

 

2.) Nose Fact: Rhinologists (doctors specializing in noses) figure that the nose has around 30 functions in the breathing process (e.g. moisturizing and warming air, catching foreign matter, directing airflow, and much more.)

Source: In the aforementioned Swami Rama book Science of Breath in a chapter entitled, “Following Your Nose: Nasal Function and Energy” by Rudolph Ballentine, MD.

Yogic Relevance: Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is shown to tone the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS, i.e. the part of the autonomic nervous system involved in rest & digest functions.)  Sinha, A.N., et. al. 2013. “Assessment of the Effects of Pranayama / Alternate Nostril Breathing on the Parasympathetic Nervous System.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. Vol. 7(5). pp. 821-823.

 

1.) Pace Fact: At about 5 breaths per minute, most people’s thinking is clearer than usual.

Source: Brown, R. & Gerbarg, P.2012. The Healing Power of Breath. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Yogic Relevance: The breath is our most powerful tool for controlling the mind. Vindicated!

BOOK REVIEW: Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter

Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and PractitionersAnatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners by H. David Coulter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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There are many books on anatomy for yoga, and I’ve read my share, but this is my favorite.

What did I like about it? First, Coulter examines the anatomy and physiology of breathing in some detail, and that’s an important topic that is overlooked by many others. A lot of yoga anatomy books stick exclusively to the musculo-skeletal system. Second, this book doesn’t mix science and pseudo-scientific mythology. Sometimes books shift from talking about arteries and veins to nadis and chakras in a manner that can be confusing and counterproductive. Third, the book discusses how postures can be safely varied for individuals with limits, as well as discussing the most advanced expression of postures for more flexible or skilled students.

What’s the catch? There must be a downside? Well the book is dense and it’s a challenging read. It’s not that the writer uses too many technical terms. That isn’t the case at all. In fact, Coulter is careful not only about using anatomical terms, but also avoids reliance on Sanskrit names as well. It’s just that there is a lot of material that one must read painstakingly while visualizing and–in some cases—tactically probing around one’s body (or someone else’s–if they’ll let you.) I don’t know that there’s much that could be done about this, given the desire to convey the material that the book does—and it’s valuable information. The book has a large number of graphics that mostly consist of anatomical drawings and photographs of the various versions of the postures. It’s possible that more graphics could have been used to reduce the amount of descriptive text, but—on the other hand—reading it slowly and carefully is a useful and productive exercise. And, if you’re not reading it for your RYT-500, you can take your time and read it section by section, as time permits, over the course of more than a year as I did.

The ten chapters of the book are mostly divided up by classes of posture (asana.) Chapter 1 is about “movement and posture” and provides the necessary background that one will need to understand the later chapters. Chapter 2 is on breathing–both the musculature involved and the physiology of it. The rest of the chapters are on core exercises, standing postures, back bends, forward bends, twists, headstands, shoulder-stands, and meditative postures, respectively.

The book has a glossary, a short bibliography, and two indexes (one by anatomical parts and the other by practices/postures.) I normally don’t bother to mention indexes, but in this case it’s useful to know because the book’s organization is by type of posture, and so it’s not always straight forward where various muscles or tissues are being covered.

As I say, I found this book to be tremendously informative. I recommend it for yoga teachers as well as intermediate / advanced practitioners.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Science of Breath by Swami Rama et. al.

Science of BreathScience of Breath by Swami Rama
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is an oldie, but a goody. The first edition came out in 1979, but as its intent is to provide an overview of the anatomy and physiology of breath for yoga practitioners, the fact that it doesn’t access the bleeding edge of respiratory science isn’t all that detrimental.

This short book consists of four chapters. Two chapters are by the famous yogi Swami Rama, and the other two are written by medical doctors. The first chapter is an introduction to breath from the yogic perspective. It both explains why it’s so important to understand and work with breath and introduces the mythic physiology (prana, nadi, chakra, etc.) that has historically been used to explain pranayama (breath exercises.)

The second chapter is written by Dr. Alan Hymes and it explains the mechanics of respiration. While Chapter 2 focuses on the anatomy of breathing, it begins with an explanation of cellular respiration to introduce the role of breath in powering muscles. There is a fine explanation of the operation of the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles in breathing.

Chapter 3 is written by Dr. Rudolph Ballentine, and it delves into the role of the nose and nasal cavities in respiration. Breathing through the nose is emphasized in both yoga and many other systems of breath training (e.g. the Buteyko and Wim Hof methods.) This is because the nasal cavities perform many useful functions such as moisturizing and warming air, capturing pollutants, and extract heating and moisture from exhaled breath. Besides exploring nasal anatomy and physiology, Dr. Ballentine describes jala neti shatkarma (nasal cleansing with salt water) and nadi shoudhana (alternate nostril breathing.)

The final chapter, written by Swami Rama, mostly describes various techniques of pranayama (breathing exercises) and related practices bandhas and mudras (locks and seals in which bodily parts are contracted or constricted.) However, the chapter begins with a mix of physiology and mythic physiology. That is, it explains some topics not addressed earlier–such as the interaction between the nervous and the cardiovascular systems as well as chakra.

My standing complaint about books that weave together science and pseudo-science is mitigated a bit herein. My problem with putting these ideas together is that it can be difficult for the reader to determine what concepts reflect reality and which offer models to help one visualize energy. However, except for the last chapter, this book does a good job of keeping these ideas separate. The chapters by the medical doctors present the science with minimal intrusion of unscientific concepts. Swami Rama does present science and mythology together, but not so much scrambled together in a confusing mish-mash.

Chapters 2 through 4 use a number of graphics to help present the material. In the middle chapters these largely consist of line drawings to convey the relevant anatomical features or physical actions. The last chapter adds photographs to demonstrate relevant postures. There is a page of recommended readings, but it’s more of an advertisement for other books put out by the Himalayan Institute than the recommendation of books on the science of breath.

I found this book to be educational. It packs a lot of useful information into a concise package and is readable to a layman. I’d recommend it for yoga practitioners and others who are engaged in breath work.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Brain: A Very Short Introduction by Michael O’Shea

The Brain: A Very Short IntroductionThe Brain: A Very Short Introduction by Michael O’Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The human brain in 120-ish pages, it’s an ambitious goal considering that the brain is widely considered to be the most complex object in the known universe. Still, this is one of Oxford University Press’s “A Very Short Introduction” (AVSI) series, so the only promise is to give one a concise overview of the subject for beginners. In that task, the book succeeds. In fact, the book takes on some subjects that one might think beyond its scope, such as the historical progression of our understanding of the brain and how technology might be used to repair damaged brains.

The book consists of seven chapters and an epilogue. The first chapter introduces the brain, and it makes this monumental subject manageable by considering reading—a skill that we take for granted but for which the brain conducts miraculous feats from rapid accurate eye movement to turning abstract symbols into meaning. The second chapter takes the reader on a tour of the changing understanding of the brain leading up to the discovery of the neuron—the brain’s basic unit. Chapter three explores how those neurons transmit signals, the fundamental action of the brain. Chapter four examines the evolution of the human brain, both from the perspective of how it could become so complex, and of why it needed to become so. Chapter five is about how the brain receives information and uses this information to conduct activities. A majority of this chapter is devoted to how patterns of light are recognized and turned into the meaningful basis upon which to make decisions or perform actions. Chapter six offers a basic understanding of memory, one of the roles we most closely associate with the brain. Chapter seven considers whether we’ll be able to fix damaged brains, and, if so, using what technologies. A brief epilogue tells us where the future of brain research will go–having gained much understanding since the invention of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), neuroscience must find new approaches to take itself into the future.

The book uses line drawings to depict concepts that are hard to convey via text. While the graphics are simple black-and-white drawings, they are immensely beneficial. Like other AVSI books, there are no citations or notes, just a couple of pages of “further readings.” That’s not a criticism; it’s perfectly acceptable for this type of book.

I found “The Brain: AVSI” to be informative and interesting. The author uses some illuminating examples and cases to cover a lot of ground in a small package. I’d recommend the book for anyone who wants a neophyte’s introduction into the human brain.

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BOOK REVIEW: Touch by David J. Linden

Touch: The Science of the Sense that Makes Us HumanTouch: The Science of the Sense that Makes Us Human by David J. Linden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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“Touch” is a neuroscientist’s perspective on the human sense of touch, and the profound impact it has on life in our species.

It’s a short book, only about 200 pages of substantive text, arranged into eight chapters. The first chapter considers the role that our sense of touch plays in our lives as social animals. There are a number of studies described in this chapter, but I’ll cite only two that I think give an idea of what the chapter is all about. The first considers why a person holding a cold coffee is likely to be viewed more negatively than if that same person was holding a hot coffee after a handshake. The second reports that survey takers in a mall were more likely to gain compliance if they engaged in gentle, casual, and non-creepy touch—e.g. fingers to forearm.

The second chapter explores the combination of sensors we have in our skin—particularly in our fingers–that allow us to conduct feats of dexterity that (while we take them for granted) are phenomenally difficult. For all the billions put into robotics research, robots are nowhere close to being able to complete tasks that any five-year old can do. The third chapter examines how humans are uniquely geared to be able to give and recognize a particular type of touch sensation, the caress. Throughout the book there are a number of interesting stories, some of them are scientific case studies and others… not so much. This chapter begins with the story of a man on trial for flying into a rage because his girlfriend couldn’t get the pressure right when engaging in manual stimulation. (The author was actually on the jury.)

The fourth chapter delves more deeply and explicitly into sexual contact. Whereas chapter 3, dealt largely with hand against random skin, this chapter deals in genitals and erogenous zones more specifically. There are also a number of fascinating cases / stories herein. A lot of the chapter deals in how we experience and interpret pleasure.

Chapter five explains a specific type of sensation, that of temperature. It considers why crushed chili feels hot but crushed mint feels cool to the skin. While the focus of the book is on human anatomy, physiology, and social interaction, there are many cases from other species throughout the book. This chapter offers a prime example. It explains how Vampire Bats have a unique ability to sense infrared. This is of benefit to them, since they only take blood meals and, therefore, need to be able to sense where the blood is flowing and has the least insulation (fur) over it.

Continuing the examination of specific kinds of sensation, chapter six is about pain. This is where the neuroscientific perspective offers some interesting insight. In particular, because it considers why soldiers who had multiple gun wounds could do their job on the battlefield with nary a peep of complaint, but then would raise holy hell about a bad blood stick a few days later in the hospital. The case of a medic who was badly shot up but not cognizant of it until later is discussed in some detail.

Chapter 7 deals in the itchy, and asks and answers the question of whether or not itchiness is a particular case of low-intensity pain. By low intensity, I’m not speaking of the compulsive behavior sometimes spurred by such sensations.

Chapter 8 is also highly neuroscience influenced. It deals with various illusions of sensation, and how these illusions come about through the interaction of sense and the brain. While the most famous example of such an illusion is phantom limb pain experienced by amputees, Linden addresses less traumatic and more work-a-day tactile illusions for most of the chapter. (This may be because there are a number of popular works of neuroscience that deal in phantom limbs—most notably V.S. Ramachandran’s books.)

I enjoyed this book. It conveys significant technical detail, but does so in a fashion that is easy for a non-expert to follow both because of readable writing and the use of stories. The author uses frequent graphics to help clarify points, and the graphics (mostly line drawings and graphs) do their job by being easy to follow and interpret.

In short, the book was highly readable, concise, and informative. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the sense of touch.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and DiseaseThe Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel E. Lieberman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The story that this book tells is of a human body adapted and optimized for hunting and gathering that has been thrust by agricultural and industrial revolutions into conditions for which it is ill-suited. The central idea is that of the “mismatch disease.” The mismatch in question is a mismatch between the lives humans were evolved to lead and the ones that we have developed through cultural and technological progress. The human body is governed by what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “anti-fragility” or what biologists call “phenotypic plasticity.” Both terms say that our bodies get stronger when exposed to physical stressors and weaker in the absence of such stressors. We’ve now used culture and technology to reduce exposure to such stressors, while—at the same time—food is more available than ever and is in calorically dense / nutritionally sparse forms. This mismatch accounts for many problems. Of course, technology has also allowed us to reduce our exposure to dirt and germs, and this, after being once a boon, has begun to swing us into dangerous territory.

The 13 chapters (including the introduction) are divided into three parts in a logical manner to address the book’s objective. After an introduction that lays groundwork for understanding human evolution in a broad sense, the first part describes human evolution up to the point where culture became dominant force for our species. It clarifies how we became bipedal, how our diets developed, how we got smart, and the ways in which the aforementioned characteristics are interconnected. The second part shifts from Darwinian evolution to cultural evolution, and—in particular—elucidates the effects that the agricultural and industrial revolutions had on the human body. These cultural forces act much faster than evolution. While some argue that humans aren’t really subject to evolutionary forces anymore, owing to cultural and technological advances, Lieberman points out that Darwinian evolution does still effect humanity, but its effect is muted by comparison to fast-acting cultural developments. The final part looks at humanity in the present and projects out into the future. It considers what effect an over-abundance of energy and a declining need for physical activity have had on our species, and what can be done about it.

This book is thought-provoking, well-organized, and uses narrative evidence and humor to enhance readability. (A discussion of the absurdity of products in the Skymall catalog—e.g. luxury items for pet—is a case in point.) It certainly gives on a good education about human evolution. Furthermore, while there are many books out there that deal with mismatch as a cause of diseases like obesity and diabetes, Lieberman also addresses under-explored issues like postural problems from chairs, the influence of shoes on running gait, and the development of nearsightedness because of our close-focusing ways.

I’d say the book’s greatest flaw comes in its discussions of solutions at the end. The author puts all his eggs in the basket of wholesale solutions aimed to make society as a whole improve, while he could do more to share the details of what individuals can do to solve their own problems. Lieberman considers why natural selection won’t solve problems of mismatch and dysevolution. Then he considers how research and development and educational campaigns can only provide partial solutions. His ultimate solution is suggesting regulatory paternalism—e.g. what economists call Pigovian taxes–taxes designed to change behavior by making bad behavior (in this case sedentary lifestyles and over-eating / malnutrition) more expensive. Perhaps such solutions (which will remain political untenable for the foreseeable future in the US, at least) may be necessary, but one shouldn’t conclude that readers with better information and ways of approaching the problem can’t make a difference. I say this based upon the fact that a substantial (if minority) portion of the population is already doing the right thing—eating right, exercising, and not succumbing to modernity’s creature comforts. I, furthermore, say it as a one trained as an economist who has seen easier attempts at paternalism fail over and over again.

I’d recommend this book. I think it gives the reader insight into the problems caused by being evolved to be one thing while being groomed by culture to be another.

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BOOK REVIEW: Hormones: A Very Short Introduction by Martin Luck

Hormones: A Very Short IntroductionHormones: A Very Short Introduction by Martin Luck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Let’s face it; the word “hormone” is usually reserved for questions of why a male is so horny (e.g. “His hormones were raging.”) or why a female is so moody (e.g. “She’s hormonal.”) Yet, the endocrine system is about much more than horniness and moodiness. It’s the body’s lesser known communication system, transmitting signals more slowly than the nervous system, but over a broader area and with longer-lasting results. Yes, it’s instrumental in sex, but it’s also involved in regulation of almost everything else the body does. Though we associate hormones with sex, when it comes to mass appeal it’s clearly not the sexiest of systems.

Dr. Luck’s book allows one to rectify one’s ignorance of hormones without a major investment of time or money. This is one volume in a series put out by Oxford University Press that’s designed to convey the fundamentals of a subject in about 100 pages or so (in this case it’s more like 130pgs.) I’ve done several reviews of books in this series, and will likely do more. These “Very Short Introductions” are a good way to get the gist of a topic quickly and painlessly, and they are reasonably priced on Amazon Kindle and in hard-copy at my local discount bookseller. (FYI: Your results may vary. i.e. Hard-copies at some bookstores may be pricey for what these books are—i.e. subject summaries that are optimized for concision and not for entertaining reading.)

The book has nine chapters. The first is a history of the science related to hormones and the endocrine system. (It took a while to figure out that there even was a system because of the nature of hormonal action.) The second chapter hits the basics, such as what hormones are and how they work. Chapter three tells us about the role hormones play in reproduction. The next chapter is about how hormones regulate the body’s levels of water and salt (and the effects on blood pressure.) Next, there is a discussion of the calcium cycle and how calcium is banked in bone and borrowed for the purposes of other cells. There’s a chapter that educates one about diabetes and how hormones (notably insulin) regulate blood sugar. Chapter seven is devoted to the thyroid. Chapter eight describes the role of hormones in circadian rhythms and the cycles of the body. The final chapter is about where science is going with its knowledge of hormones and the advances that are being pursued.

There are few graphics in this book. Most of them are chemical diagrams in dialogue boxes that many readers will skip because of their ominous appearance. The lack of graphics isn’t a problem. Luck does use a narrative approach on occasion (such as his telling of the story of the giant William Rice of Sutton Bonington.) This enhances the book’s readability, and is noteworthy because it’s a rarity among books in this series, which—again—are written to shotgun information and not to be entertaining reads.

I’d recommend this book for those who want to learn (or brush up on) the basics of the endocrine system. It does what it’s supposed to do, and does it quickly.

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