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Book Review: The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla

Back side of woman in Chinese dress holdng an umbrella.Summary:
After Kristallnacht, Franz Adler, a secular Austrian Jew, is desperate to save the remaining members of his family–his daughter Hannah and sister-in-law Esther.  The only place they’re able to find letting in refugees is the relatively border-lax Shanghai.

Meanwhile, Mah Soon Yi, aka Sunny, the daughter of a Chinese doctor and American missionary, is trying to deal with the partial Japanese occupation of her home city of Shanghai while working as a nurse in one of the large hospitals and volunteering in the Jewish Refugee Hospital.

Review:
It’s difficult to review a book that the author obviously put a lot of research effort into, as well as passion for social justice, but that I just personally didn’t end up liking.  The story itself isn’t bad, if a bit far-fetched.  Clearly based in fact and solid research.  I believe the problem lies a bit in the writing.

When I read historic fiction, I like seeing history through the eyes of one person (possibly two).  It brings the huge picture you get otherwise down to a personable level.  The problem with this book is that it kind of fails to keep things at that personal level.  There’s far too much contact with actual big movers and shakers from the historic events.  How the heck is this Dr. Adler in so much contact with the Japanese and Nazi elite?  One scene like that can be quite powerful in a book, but not multiple ones.  It takes it from the realm of historic fiction to that of fantasy.

Additionally, I feel that a bit too often Kalla tells instead of shows.  Two characters will be talking about something the reader doesn’t yet know about, such as how the city of Shanghai is set up politically, and instead of putting it into the dialogue, the book just says “And then he told him about thus and such.”  That makes for dull reading.

So, really, to me, the plot itself is unique in choosing a population and area of WWII that is not written about that much.  The author clearly did his research and has a passion for the time period and issues faced by the people, but the story would be better served if it was made more about the everyman and dialogue and action were used more effectively.

Overall, this is a unique piece of historic fiction that will mainly appeal to fans of the genre looking for a new area of WWII to read about.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II

April 15, 2012 3 comments

Blue and green text on white background.Summary:
Dr. Campbell spent the early part of his scientific career researching diseases of affluence such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  When a study in rat livers demonstrated that a greater percentage of protein in the diet led to greater disease, Campbell became intrigued.  He designed the China Study to compare Chinese citizens with American citizens, since the Chinese have low rates of these diseases until they immigrate to the United States.  Through this and other studies, he believes he has the proof that most diseases of affluence are caused by the Standard American Diet.  In his book he presents these findings, as well as an insider’s look at the scientific, health, and government trifecta that vastly affects what Americans learn about health.

Review:
Clearly the most valuable part of this book is the chapter that explains Campbell’s China Study.  Since it’s generally not considered ethical to study humans and disease by injecting them with various substances, one of the better methods available is population studies.  You compare and contrast over a long period of time the differences between different populations and attempt to determine what aspects may cause bad health.  It is undeniable that the traditional Chinese rural population compared to Americans eat less animal products and move more.  Additionally they have less disease, particularly cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.  Campbell’s study establishes this easily observed fact into something that has been scientifically proven.  It is also interesting to note that those who emigrate to the US and adopt the Standard American Diet (SAD) change to the American rate of these diseases.  This is ground-breaking information, of course, but it is easy to gather this all from one chapter.  Campbell finds it necessary, for some reason, to devote a chapter to each illness, which frankly gets repetitive and tedious to read.

Beyond the study itself, which is interesting and good for people who aren’t already convinced of the health problems caused by animal products, I felt the rest of the presentation of these facts to be dull in comparison to Diet for a New America.  Where Campbell’s strength lies is in discussing his experiences as an insider in the American health and scientific industry, which frankly we all know is royally fucked up.  He addresses at length how these have become intertwined with the government and animal product lobbyists to the extent that for the sake of profit of animal product producers and those working in medicine, Americans are getting a severely watered down version of what scientists and health care workers know to be the facts.  Anytime anyone tries to tell Americans to eat less animal products, the lobbyists get all up in the way.  This is why people talk about how capitalism should not be involved in health.  It’s only natural that people who have spent decades learning cardiology might not want to suddenly have half the surgeries to perform because heart disease can be reversed by diet.  Or that people who own a dairy farm might not want American women to know that dairy consumption leads to osteoporosis.  But it does.  And Campbell illustrates why and how these facts are kept from the American public.

He also eloquently shows why we have constantly conflicting news stories on health.  Everyone knows the joke about how eggs were bad for you then good for you then bad for you (but only the yolks) all over again.  Campbell shows how this is the direct result of the conflict within the science and health industry.

I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to health, government is not for the people; it is for the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the people. It is a systemic problem where industry, academia and government combine to determine the health of this country. (page 318)

I have worked in the health field myself for years now, and I can tell you, the vast majority of the people who do genuinely care about you and your health.  But traditions are hard to break and even those within the system don’t know everything that goes on among the lobbyists and the top echelons.  I mean, they are still teaching medical students to utilize BMI to determine health in their patients, when multiple studies have shown it is not a reliable tool.  Why is this?  People want to believe what they’ve first learned, and especially in medicine, if a new idea comes along many many many studies must be done and obstinate people push for it before the method utilized will be changed.  This is meant to protect you from quacks, but unfortunately it can lead to the burying of ground-breaking information.

Plus, how would Americans react if tomorrow Mrs. Obama and her obesity prevention program came out and said everyone needs to go vegetarian or vegan?  Hell, the woman is taking flak for daring to suggest children play outside.  I think you can see my point.

Overall, this book definitely could have been shorter.  I believe it would have worked better if Campbell had presented his study and his insider’s knowledge as to why the health care and science industries seem so confused and conflicting half the time.  I hope this knowledge will convince more Americans to take direct control of their own health and conduct their own research to come to their own conclusions.  It’s worth a read for this knowledge, but if you are not interested in the politics of science and health and simply want the information, then I suggest you go with the more reader-friendly Diet for a New America.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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