Self help via pop sci

I’m not really into self-help type books—I’ve always been more of an internally-motivated kind of guy. But I realized over the weekend that the pop science books that I love to read have done essentially the same job, albeit not so explicitly. Here’s what I mean:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Self-Help Question: Want to lose weight by eating right?

Rick’s Bet: It will change what you see in the grocery store.

I’ve got a couple of hours left on the audiobook, but it’s been absolutely engrossing. Michael Pollan traces four meals back from your plate to where they came from, be it farm or processing plant. Along the way he explores the various changes in our eating habits over the last few centuries, and how our lives, health, and economy have been affected.

Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

Self-Help Question: Want to lose weight by eating right?

Rick’s Bet: You’ll think twice before going through your next drive-through.

I had already pretty much given up on fast food before I started this book, which became the last nail in the coffin. Since finishing it, I’ve only been able to drag myself through a drive-through maybe a half-dozen times in the last couple of years. It’s quite a bit drier than Omnivore, but also doesn’t hold back from naming names and pointing fingers. I’d recommend that you read this after Omnivore, unlike I did.

Supercapitalism, Robert Reich

Self-Help Question: Think you don’t understand enough about how the economy works?

Rick’s Bet: You’ll walk away even madder at the current economic bailout.

I picked this up after seeing Reich’s interview on The Daily Show last year. Again, it’s a little on the dry side, but I still enjoyed it enough to pick up a second copy to give to my wife. I don’t necessarily agree with everything said in the book, and duh I’m also not a professional economist, but I have to admit that it’s made me look a little deeper at how business and government interact and why we have many of the business-related laws we do.

Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Self-Help Question: Need help thinking outside the box?

Rick’s Bet: You’ll hesitate before drawing your next obvious conclusion, and/or you’ll look at the nightly news a little differently.

I absolutely cannot recommend this book highly enough for any and all IT professionals, programmer or not. It’s a quick and easy read, approachable by anyone and everyone. This book, unlike its title sounds, has absolutely nothing to do with the economy. Essentially, it’s all about looking deeper into cause and effect and not just stopping at what seems like the obvious answer. It also brings up something that I try to get through all of the IT professionals that I interact with: motivation and incentives. In IT, it’s very easy to get hung up on the what and how of things getting done, because those are technical puzzles that we love to solve, but we all too often forget the why. This book is all about figuring out the why of things.

Maxed Out, James Scurlock

Self-Help Question: How did you figure into the housing crash?

Rick’s Bet: As if you wouldn’t by now, you’ll think twice before making that next big purchase.

My wife and I read the book version (there’s also a film) shortly after it came out in early 2007. This was a couple of months before the first stories about the housing crash started to trickle out of the mainstream media. The housing crash was an obvious certainty to anyone who had read this book, even though the book didn’t really talk about it in those kinds of terms. Instead, the book comes at it from the view of the consumers who blew everything they owned to go out and buy their dream homes and were just starting to figure out that it wasn’t going to work. Much of what this book covers has been touched on by the media, but it may still be worth a read if you want more detail on what happened and why.

By Rick Osborne

I am a web geek who has been doing this sort of thing entirely too long. I rant, I muse, I whine. That is, I am not at all atypical for my breed.