Review: Through A Vet’s Eyes, By Dr Sean Wensley

Gaia | £20.00 | 28th April 2022

Dr Sean Wensley is an award-winning vet and lifelong naturalist who has contributed to animal welfare and conservation projects all over the world. His debut book is about how we can choose a better life for animals, from the chickens we eat to the pets we keep.
As our societies become more urbanised, we are further removed from the reality of where and how our food is produced. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the humanisation of our pets is a risk to their welfare; with 60% of UK dogs being overweight or obese, we are effectively killing them with kindness. Through a Vet’s Eyes seeks to redress this imbalance so that we see all animals as thinking, feeling beings not dissimilar to ourselves.

There is high public and political interest in animal welfare, with current attention focused on high-profile topics such as animal sentience, humane and sustainable global agriculture and breeding pets, such as flat-faced dogs, for looks over health. To fully consider and improve the lives of animals, evidence-based information is needed to help us all understand these issues, what they mean from the animals’ perspectives and what we can all do to help.

A polemic with elements of memoir and nature writing, the book takes us through the years in which Sean trained to become a vet and shares his first-hand experience of how animals are treated and used for our benefit. It interrogates the different levels of welfare afforded to them and reveals
how we, as consumers and informed citizens, can reduce our animal welfare footprint through the choices we make every single day.

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Review: Cultish – The Language of Fanaticism, by Amanda Montell

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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 15th 2021 by Harper Wave
ISBN: 0062993151 (ISBN13: 9780062993151)

Blurb

The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyses the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.

What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . .

Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.

Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.

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TBR Pile Review: Fearing the Black Body – The Racial Origins of Fatphobia, by Sabrina Strings

Book Cover
Format: 283 pages, Paperback
Published: May 7, 2019 by New York University Press
ISBN: 9781479886753 (ISBN10: 1479886750)

Blurb

In her first book, sociologist Strings (sociology, Univ. of California, Irvine) explores the historical development of prothin, antifat ideologies deployed in support of Western, patriarchal white supremacy. Beginning in the aesthetic ideals circulated by Renaissance thinkers and artists and bringing her narrative up into the 1990s, Strings charts how white Europeans and Anglo-Americans developed ideals of race and beauty that both explicitly and figuratively juxtaposed slim, desirable white women against corpulent, seemingly monstrous black women.

The work is divided into three sections. The two chapters in the first part consider how Renaissance white women and women of colour were depicted as plump and feminine, separated by class, yet belonging to the same gender. The second part of the work charts the rise of modern racial ideologies that yoked feminine beauty to Protestant, Anglo-Saxon whiteness. Later chapters and the epilogue consider how Americans normalized the “scientific management” of white women’s bodies for the purpose of racial uplift, a project that continued to situate black women as the embodied Other.

My Review

I’ve been reading this book on and off over the last few months as other commitments permitted; I found it fascinating and always picked up some new information every time I went back to it. I finished it last night with a feeling of disappointment that it wasn’t longer, but also interested in reading more by the author and on the topic.

BMI is, as I have said many times, bullshit, made-up and irrational. That it is still used by the medical profession is a travesty. Historical attitudes to fatness have varied with time and place, but scientific evidence does not support the vilification of fat people. In fact, Ancel Keys, who essentially invented the BMI and pushed for it to replace actuarial tables for insurance and medical purposes, admitted he found fat people ugly and assumed they were unhealthy. You cannot tell anything about a person’s health from a ratio of height to weight, or their appearance.

This book covers Europe and the U.S., because the author is USian, and the U.S. wouldn’t exist without European colonisation, so it covers the period from the Renaissance to the last years of the twentieth century. Five hundred years and three continents it a lot of space and time to cover.

When European’s started Othering people to justify slavery, weight was one of the things they chose to stigmatise. It coincided with Protestant disgust with bodies, with anything that might be fun, and later with changing ideas about ‘polite’ behaviour. By accusing African people of being lazy, gluttonous and dishonest, they could link that to intellect and justify colonisation and enslavement. And of course, to keep Europeans on top of the heap, the same rules had to be applied to Europeans, especially middle and upper class women.

Later still, eugenics came into play and whole new fields of scientific racism and sexism opened up for those white men determined to hold their places at the top of society. In the U.S. one of the ways they did this was to racialise Jewish, Irish, Southern (particularly Italian) and Eastern Europeans as the different groups migrated to the Americas across the 18th and 19th centuries and into the 20th century. They used the same lazy propaganda that earlier European ‘scientists’ had used to racialise and other Africans and then the indigenous populations of the Americas and Australia.

Body size and shape was used as a stick to beat people with. A ‘too thin’ rich white woman was a danger to the nation (whichever nation it was), a ‘too fat’ rich white woman, equally so, at different times. A fat black or African woman – signs of laziness and greediness – moral incontinence and hypersexuality. Because reasons.

Racist shitbags don’t actually have logical reasons, they take their beliefs and make up pseudoscience to support it. Fat hate is the same. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you have to show that ‘normal weight’ doesn’t exist, and that weight variation is just a normal part of human diversity (like the levels of melanin in the skin), they’ll still scream that fat kills.

Strings is a professional, and writes like one, unlike me; I’m just blunt and don’t mind swearing if I think it’s appropriate. I’ve seen other reviews that claim the writing is dry; I disagree. I found it clear and precise, although I would have been interested in more analysis and references from African and African American sources, but I doubt they were available given the systemic erasure and silencing of Black people in the last five hundred years.

The structure of the book puts the different strands of evidence into context and builds on Strings’ argument in a structured and organised way. Strings draws on popular and scientific literature, art and cultural movements to explore the topic and build her arguments. This is not ‘popular history but rewards careful reading and consideration.

Review: What Lies Buried, by Kerry Daynes

Kerry Daynes, leading forensic psychologist, takes us into the murky world of psychological investigation to uncover what lies buried. Each of her clients is classed as a ‘mentally disordered criminal offender’ whose psychological problems have contributed to them breaking the law.

Whether she is dealing with a young murderer who says he has heard voices telling him to kill, a teacher who daubs children in red paint and threatens to abduct them, or an aspiring serial killer who faints at the sight of blood, Kerry’s quest is to delve beyond the classic question asked of forensic psychologists: ‘Are they mad or are they bad?’

In her new book, Kerry provides an unflinching, enlightening and provocative insight into the minds of her clients, shedding light
on the root causes of their behaviour.

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TBR Pile Review: The Gendered Brain, by Gina Rippon

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Hardcover, 448 pages
Published February 28th 2019 by Bodley Head
ISBN:1847924751 (ISBN13: 9781847924759)

Blurb

Do you have a female brain or a male brain?
Or is that the wrong question?


Reading maps or reading emotions? Barbie or Lego? We live in a gendered world where we are bombarded with messages about sex and gender. On a daily basis we face deeply ingrained beliefs that your sex determines your skills and preferences, from toys and colours to career choice and salaries. But what does this constant gendering mean for our thoughts, decisions and behaviour? And what does it mean for our brains?

Drawing on her work as a professor of cognitive neuroimaging, Gina Rippon unpacks the stereotypes that bombard us from our earliest moments and shows how these messages mould our ideas of ourselves and even shape our brains. Taking us back through centuries of sexism, The Gendered Brain reveals how science has been misinterpreted or misused to ask the wrong questions. Instead of challenging the status quo, we are still bound by outdated stereotypes and assumptions. However, by exploring new, cutting-edge neuroscience, Rippon urges us to move beyond a binary view of our brains and instead to see these complex organs as highly individualised, profoundly adaptable, and full of unbounded potential.

Rigorous, timely and liberating, The Gendered Brain has huge repercussions for women and men, for parents and children, and for how we identify ourselves. 

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Audiobook TBR Review: Move! by Caroline Williams

Move! cover art
By: Caroline Williams
Narrated by: Catrin Walker-Booth
Length: 5 hrs and 38 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 15-04-21
Language: English
Publisher: Profile Audio

Summary

Did you know that walking can improve your cognitive skills? That strengthening your muscular core reduces anxiety? That light stretching can combat a whole host of mental and bodily ailments, from stress to inflammation? We all know that exercise changes the way you think and feel. But scientists are just starting to discover exactly how it works.

In Move!, Caroline Williams explores the emerging science of how movement opens up a hotline to our minds. Interviewing researchers and practitioners around the world, she reveals how you can work your body to improve your mind. As lockdown throws us back on our own mental and physical resources, there is no better time to take control of how you think and feel.

©2021 Caroline Williams (P)2021 Hachette Audio UK

My Review

This was a short listen that accompanied me on my walk to and from the pool yesterday and while crocheting today. I heard about it through New Scientist, reading the first paragraph of Williams’ article in this weeks magazine online. I bought the book on the strength of those paragraphs, and I also got this week’s magazine yesterday on the way back from swimming. The magazine article is a much condensed version of the book.

I found that there was very little in this book I didn’t already know or understand on an intellectual basis, although I didn’t know of the researchers and others she interviewed. I probably picked the information up from general reading. What this book does is bring all the information together in one place and provide simple, easy to follow advice to get the best from the research findings. The interviews are fascinating, and I especially like the idea of ‘natmov’, or natural movement training – training where people re-learn how to use their bodies like a human should by playing in nature. I think it’s something children do naturally, but school and time knock it out of us.

My only issue comes when Neurodivergent people are mentioned – dyslexics, ADHDers, Autistics specifically in this book – and people with mental distress. We have long known that researchers tend not to believe us until they ‘discover’ things for themselves. Like the link between neurodivergence and connective tissue disorders. Williams mentions the high incidence of EDS and IBS etc. is ND populations but somehow makes it sound like it’s our fault for not moving enough. She interviews a researcher who has hypermobility and then goes on to say ‘while some people with these conditions don’t like to be called disordered…’ the intonation suggests she thinks we are.

Same with mental illness – we just need to get out and about more. Maybe I’m interpreting it harshly, the author does have a history of mental distress herself, so maybe she’s just passing on the tone of research articles she’s read and the researchers she’s interviewed? She doesn’t consider any of the sociological factors that affect mental health, like increasingly unstable employment, housing difficulties, social fragmentation and loneliness.

I have shared this book with my equally autistic colleague, because the trauma section might come in handy for her mentoring, and our groups, but I warned her the author was ‘a bit neurotypical’. So, it comes with a warning to ND readers for that.

Over all, if you want some encouragement to get up and move a bit more but aren’t sure where to start or why bother, this is a useful book.

TBR Pile Review: Burn, by Herman Pontzer

54737800
Hardcover
Published March 2nd 2021 by Allen Lane
ISBN:0241388422 (ISBN13: 9780241388426)

Blurb

Over the past twenty years, evolutionary biologist Herman Pontzer has conducted ground-breaking studies across a range of settings, including pioneering fieldwork with Hadza hunter-gatherers in northern Tanzania.

This book draws on his eye-opening research to show how, contrary to received wisdom, exercise does not increase our metabolism. Instead, we burn calories within a very narrow range: nearly 3,000 calories per day, no matter our activity level.

By taking a closer look at what happens to the energy we consume, Pontzer explores the ways in which metabolism controls every aspect of our health – from fertility to immune function – and reveals the truth about the dynamic system that sustains us. Filled with facts and memorable anecdotes, Burn will change the way you think about food, exercise and life.

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TBR Pile Review: Laziness Does No Exist, by Devon Price PhD

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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 5th 2021 by Atria Books
ISBN:1982140100 (ISBN13: 9781982140106)

From social psychologist Dr. Devon Price, a fascinating and thorough examination of what they call the “laziness lie”—which falsely tells us we are not working or learning hard enough—filled with practical and accessible advice for overcoming society’s pressure to “do more.”

Extra-curricular activities. Honors classes. 60-hour work weeks. Side hustles.

Like many Americans, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure self-worth. Price was an overachiever from the start, graduating from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After Price was diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, they were forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity.

Laziness Does Not Exist explores the psychological underpinnings of the “laziness lie,” including its origins from the Puritans and how it has continued to proliferate as digital work tools have blurred the boundaries between work and life. Using in-depth research, Price explains that people today do far more work than nearly any other humans in history yet most of us often still feel we are not doing enough.

Dr. Price offers science-based reassurances that productivity does not determine a person’s worth and suggests that the solution to problems of overwork and stress lie in resisting the pressure to do more and instead learn to embrace doing enough. Featuring interviews with researchers, consultants, and experiences from real people drowning in too much work, Laziness Does Not Exist encourages us to let go of guilt and become more attuned to our own limitations and needs and resist the pressure to meet outdated societal expectations. 

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TBR Pile: Food Isn’t Medicine, by Dr Joshua Wolrich

54531941
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 15th 2021 by Vermilion
ISBN: 1785043455 (ISBN13: 9781785043451)

Blurb

Losing weight is not your life’s purpose.

Do carbs make you fat?
Could the keto diet cure mental health disorders?
Are eggs as bad for you as smoking?

No, no and absolutely not. It’s all what Dr Joshua Wolrich defines as ‘nutribollocks’ and he is on a mission to set the record straight.

As an NHS doctor with personal experience of how damaging diets can be, he believes every one of us deserves to have a happy, healthy relationship with food and with our bodies. His message is clear: we need to fight weight stigma, call out the lies of diet culture and give ourselves permission to eat all foods.

Food Isn’t Medicine wades through nutritional science (both good and bad) to demystify the common diet myths that many of us believe without questioning. If you have ever wondered whether you should stop eating sugar, try fasting, juicing or ‘alkaline water’, or struggled through diet after diet (none of which seem to work), this book will be a powerful wake-up call. Drawing on the latest research and delivered with a dose of humour, it not only liberates us from the destructive belief that weight defines health but also explains how to spot the misinformation we are bombarded with every day.

Dr Joshua Wolrich will empower you to escape the diet trap and call out the bad health advice for what it really is: complete nutribollocks.

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Pen & Sword Review: The Real World of Victorian Steampunk, by Simon Webb

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Paperback, 168 pages
Published November 13th 2019 by Pen and Sword History
ISBN: 1526732858 (ISBN13: 9781526732859)

In the last few decades, steampunk has blossomed from being a rather obscure and little-known subgenre of science fiction into a striking and distinctive style of fashion, art, design and even music. It is in the written word however that steampunk has its roots and in this book Simon Webb explores and examines the real inventions which underpin the fantasy. In doing so, he reveals a world unknown to most people today.

The Real World of Victorian Steampunk shows the Victorian era to have been a surprising place; one of steam-powered airplanes, fax machines linking Moscow and St Petersburg, steam cars traveling at over 100 mph, electric taxis and wireless telephones. It is, in short, the nineteenth century as you have never before seen it; a steampunk extravaganza of anachronistic technology and unfamiliar gadgets. Imagine Europe spanned by a mechanical internet; a telecommunication system of clattering semaphore towers capable of transmitting information across the continent in a matter of minutes. Consider too, the fact that a steam plane the size of a modern airliner took off in England in 1894.

Drawing entirely on contemporary sources, we see how little-known developments in technology have been used as the basis for so many steampunk narratives. From seminal novels such as The Difference Engine, through to the steampunk fantasy of Terry Pratchett’s later works, this book shows that steampunk is at least as much solid fact as it is whimsical fiction. 

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