#BookReview: Dinner On Mars by Lenore Newman and Evan DG Fraser

An Army Fights On Its Stomach. This was a fascinating look at what it would actually take to have a survivable human colony on Mars (or really on any other planetary body not Earth), starting from the same place Generals have known for Millenia: Ok, we got our people there. How do they stay there? First, they need food. From there, the discussion – and the book *is* written as an accessible third person discussion between its coauthors and the reader – centers on how to actually grow food on Mars for a population larger than one. (Sorry Mark Whatney and Andy Weir, but while your science may work for one person in a survival situation just trying to get off planet, it won’t work for a livable colony trying to ensure it doesn’t become the Mars version of Jamestown.) The science and bleeding edge/ near /future tech that Newman and Fraser discuss is utterly mind-boggling, but smaller scale experiments even in such places as The Land Pavilion in EPOCT at Walt Disney World (a personal favorite ride in the entire compound, specifically for the science it displays in action) show the promise of some of these exact techs. Overall a much more generally approachable discussion than other similar books from active literal rocket scientists (including Buzz Aldrin’s Mission to Mars, where he discusses his proposal for moving people and materiel between planets), this one really only has two flaws: First, it discusses COVID quite a bit, as it forced the interactions of the coauthors and their research along certain paths and even opened the general idea to begin with. I am on a one-man crusade against any book that discusses COVID for any reason, and an automatic one-star deduction is really my only tool there. The second star deduction is for the dearth of any bibliography. Yes, there were footnotes frequently, but even these seemingly barely amounted to 10% of the text – which is half to one third of a more typical bibliography in my experience, even with my extensive experience working with advance reader copies. Still, overall this is an utterly fascinating discussion and something that anyone who is serious about expanding humanity’s population beyond low Earth orbit seriously needs to consider. Very much recommended.

This review of Dinner On Mars by Lenore Newman and Evan DG Fraser was originally written on July 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Oceans Of Grain by Scott Reynolds Nelson

Remarkable History Of Wheat As Agent Of Change. This is one that I could make a case for either 4 or 5 stars for, and because of the doubt I ultimately sided with 5. The reason here is that while there is indeed considerable time spent on how American wheat of the Civil War/ Reconstruction era (and later) destabilized Europe and eventually led to the late 19th/ 20th/ 21st century histories we know and are actively living, there is also quite a bit establishing the history of wheat being a similar disruptor throughout all of recorded human history. Thus, while the description of the book paints it mostly as a tale of the past 150 ish years, it is actually a tale of the entirety of human existence and instead of the lasting points being about the more recent history, the lasting points (at least for this reader) are more about the overall history. Which was the crux of my internal debate. In other words, no matter the focus or points retained, this is a truly remarkable history of a particular commodity that gives a more complete understanding of major world events, particularly over the last 150 ish years. Very much recommended.

This review of Oceans Of Grain by Scott Reynolds Nelson was originally written on February 20, 2022.

#BookReview: Metabolical by Robert Lustig

Interesting Concept. Remarkable Honesty. Questionable Science. First, I gotta mention that the author intentionally left out the Bibliography, claiming it would run to 70 pages and add $5 to the cost of the book, so he instead put it on the website of the book. Which is an interesting idea, but part of his reasoning was also that this would allow users to click the links and see the sources directly… which eReader users can already do in an appropriately linked (re: fully publication-ready) bibliography. But he discusses this in the very introduction of the book, which sets the tone for how frankly he expresses his views throughout. Still, to this reader this was an attempt to obfuscate the sources at best, and was thus an automatic star reduction.

The other lost star comes from the at times questionable science. Rather than actually discussing various claims made by those with competing ideas, he simply claims massive conspiracies from Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Government, and whoever else he can try to conveniently scapegoat. And then he completely ignores the economic and social sciences in his recommendations for measures that would make Josef Stalin blanch at just how extreme this author wants to dictate to the masses.

Still, the ideas – while ultimately not truly novel and ultimately self serving as he *just happens* to run a nonprofit advocating these very positions – are interesting and explained in quite a bit of detail, from the chemical and cellular all the way up to the global. Making this a worthy text to read and consider… just don’t buy the farm based on just this one book, and make sure you seek out competing narratives to fill in the author’s inconsistencies. Recommended.

This review of Metabolical by Robert Lustig was originally written on June 20, 2021.

#BookReview: Planet Palm by Jocelyn C Zuckerman

Eye Opening, Yet Problematic Itself. This is a well documented work – roughly 30% of the text was bibliography, even if much of it wasn’t actually referenced in the text of the advance reader copy I read. (Perhaps that will be corrected before actual publication, so if you’re reading a fully published version circa June 2021 or later, please comment and let me know. :D) It does a tremendous job of showing the development of palm oil from regional subsistence level agriculture to today’s modern arguably Big Palm level industry, and how it spread from regional staple to in seemingly every home in the “developed” world, at minimum. It is here that the book is truly eye opening, and truly shows some areas that perhaps still need some work.

HOWEVER, the book also often lauds communists and eco-terrorists, among other less than savory characters, for the “efforts” to “combat” this scourge – and this is something that is both pervasive throughout the text and a bit heavy handed, particularly when praising a team of Greenpeace pirates who tried to illegally board a cargo ship a few years ago.

Still, even with the aforementioned pervasive praise of people who arguably truly shouldn’t be, the fact that the text does such a solid job of explaining the various issues and histories at hand alone merits its consideration. Recommended.

This review of Planet Palm by Jocelyn C Zuckerman was originally written on March 7, 2021.

#BookReview: Animal Vegetable Junk by Mark Bittman

Mostly Junk, Barely Any Meat. This anti-capitalist, anti-European, anti-agriculture screed is little more than a run down of a leftist view of world history (with concentrations in the post-Industrial Revolution world) as it relates to food . It often points to old and out-dated research in support of its claims, and its bibliography is both scant – barely 1/3 the size of similar nonfiction titles – and not cited in the text at all. (Instead, it uses a system of referring to a particular phrase on a particular page number inside the bibliography itself, rather than having a notation in the text of the narrative. Which is obfuscation intended to hide the text’s lack of scholarly merit, clearly.) For those who know no better, it perhaps offers an argument that will at least confirm their own biases. But for anyone who has studied any of the several areas it touches in any depth at all, its analysis is flawed due to the very premises it originates from. All of this to say, this is a very sad thing. Based on the description of the book, I genuinely had high hopes for it, as food and its history and future is something that truly fascinates me and this could have been a remarkable text. Instead, it is remarkable only for how laughable it is. Not recommended.

This review of Animal Vegetable Junk by Mark Bittman was originally written on October 15, 2020.

#BookReview: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Enlightening. This book makes its case well, and taught me much I genuinely didn’t know. Very intriguing read, and one I’ll likely use as a general guide to healthier eating. No matter what you think about food or weight loss or anything related to the very basic act of eating and the more elaborate structures of cuisine, this book should teach you something and/ or challenge any beliefs you may already have.

This review of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan was originally published on December 26, 2018.