A pleasing, entertaining sojourn into the realm of what makes us tick.

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THE BODY

A GUIDE FOR OCCUPANTS

The intrepid explorer and popular travel writer journeys inward—literally—to explore our mortal coil.

A narrative by Bryson (The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, 2016, etc.) rarely involves the unfolding of a grand thesis; instead, it’s a congeries of anecdotes, skillfully strung, always a pleasure to read but seldom earthshakingly significant. So it is here. The author does some on-the-ground digging, talking to scientists and physicians, while plowing through libraries of literature to get at the story of how our bodies work. Early on, he pokes at the old bromide that the human body is an assemblage of a few dollars’ worth of assorted chemicals and minerals. Not so, he writes: We’re made up of 59 elements, including carbon and oxygen. But, he adds, “who would have thought that we would be incomplete without some molybdenum inside us, or vanadium, manganese, tin, and copper?” Bryson employs the example of an “obliging Benedict Cumberbatch,” of medium height and build and good health, to venture that the real cost of a human is “a very precise $151,578.46,” a figure that turns out to wiggle and wobble as we layer on additional costs. As ever, the author collects lovely oddments and presents them as so many glittering marbles: The largest protein in the body is titin, whose “chemical name is 189,819 letters long, which would make it the longest word in the English language except that dictionaries don’t recognize chemical names.” The heart, which, Bryson notes, doesn’t really look like a valentine, does only one thing: It beats, “slightly more than once every second, about 100,000 times a day, up to 2.5 billion times in a lifetime.” Along the way, the author considers whether the old surgical practice of bleeding was really a good thing to do (it wasn’t), how "cytokine storms” work, and what the winning combination is for a long life—one factor is wealth: “Someone who is otherwise identical to you but poor…can expect to die between ten and fifteen years sooner.”

A pleasing, entertaining sojourn into the realm of what makes us tick.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53930-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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