In case you missed Part I of our analysis of the decade’s best nonfiction, you can check it out here.
9/11, Pirates and Emperors, Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, et. al. – Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky has always been prolific in his political writings, but the aftermath of 9/11 saw an increase in the relevance of his criticisms of American foreign policy. As an unabashed radical and critic of American interventionism, Chomsky’s writings express points of view that are virtually unrepresented in the mainstream discourse. For those who agree and those who disagree, Chomsky represents important challenges to American foreign policy that need to be addressed, given the country’s ongoing role in violent global affairs.
Moneyball - Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is arguably the best nonfiction writer of the Aughts, and Moneyball is one of the best nonfiction books of the Aughts. Lewis made Billy Beane and sabermetrics (i.e. baseball statistical analysis) into a superstar and super-method. No other book has had as much effect on the general management of a sport than Moneyball has had on baseball. OPS shifted from undervalued to properly or even overvalued (and, you know what’s next) and teams continued to hire Art Howe (well, that wasn’t a good thing). More than simply chronicling Beane’s (general) managerial philosophy, Lewis extracted meaningful themes from it such as capitalism’s push for efficiency as reflected in baseball and overcoming the deleterious effects of dogmatic insiders.
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Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food stays true to its subtitle: It justifies a no-nonsense guide to eating. The book’s seven-word slogan encapsulates Pollan’s prescription: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Of course, “food” strays from the standard definition of food. For Pollan, what was around and recognizable as food during the life of your great-grandmother (or your great-great grandmother, depending on your age) constitutes food. Processed foodstuffs simply are not food.
Pollan doesn’t reach this conclusion until the third part of the book. He spends much of the first two parts critiquing the science of nutritionism that has lead us Westerners to consume these deleterious processed foods. Pollan rejects the idea that when it comes to food, the whole is the sum of its parts. Injecting nutrients into otherwise unhealthy foods does not necessarily make them healthy. Nutritionism is an imperfect science, and Pollan relays study after study that show that what nutritionists initially thought was healthy actually is not: The demise of the “lipid hypothesis” is one such example. Moreover, even though micronutrients (i.e. vitamins) are added to processed foods, they usually co-exist along with harmful additives and the much-maligned corn and soybean oils. Processed food and the Western diet more generally, claims Pollan, are what have led to the spike in Western ailments such as heart disease and diabetes starting in the mid-20th century. Pollan argues that there is something about eating proper whole foods that confers us immense health benefits even if isn’t clear what exactly is causing these benefits. His seven-word mantra is his response to these facts and the gist of his argument.
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