Review: Woodward and Bernstein’s All The Presidents Men

All the President’s Men
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

I’m as surprised as you are that I never read this book before. Sure, I’ve seen the movie, and know the story, but reading this play by play of how Woodward and Bernstein uncovered the levels of deceit and criminality in the Nixon White House is fascinating, and sobering.

Especially in days like these.

Much of it is eerily prescient. The initial impression that the crimes were by underlings or those only tangentially related to the campaign, followed by more and more revelations of how high up it went, and all the while with the White House disparaging the press and claiming, essentially, “fake news” every time Woodward and Bernstein dropped another bombshell.

Sound familiar?

There’s more here as well, the deep concerns the Washington Post had about not going farther than the facts substantiated. The times they got it wrong, and the way those errors hurt innocent people. The courage of Katherine Graham to stick with the story, and the cowardice of many in Nixon’s white house who tried to silence whistle blowers and lied to the public. It’s a fascinating read, told in a staccato reportage style I love. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to read it.


Review: Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us

What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Enviromental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength.

Scott Carney

Ok, the title is awful. But this might still be worth your time.

An exploration of the philosophy of weirdo fitness guru of the moment Wim Hof as well as the latest science on breath holding, cold immersion, and other bodily stressors which are very much in vogue in the fitness community these days.

So, basically catnip for someone like me.

Carney is an investigative journalist who previously wrote an expose on the cult of personality surrounding Buddhist teacher Michael Roche, and he came to Hof with a heavy dose of skepticism. He left a convert, incorporating Hof’s breath exercises and cold exposure philosophy into his daily life (with measurable improvements in his health) and eventually accompanying Hof and a group who attempt to set the record for group speed assault of Kilimanjaro… shirtless.

If, like me, you’re fascinated with the outliers of the health and fitness world, it’s a great read. Hof is probably the most scientifically tested fitness guru of the modern age, and many of his ideas seem to be panning out. Science appears to be showing that his breath holding exercises and advocacy for exposure to cold work on a variety of auto-immune issues. Of course, as with all things fitness, its impossible to say whether these results are placebo effect or real. But who cares right? Either way, its changing people’s lives.

Still, despite the good work, Hof isn’t without his flaws of ego and hubris, which Carney points out. That Hof knows these things about himself is a bit of a consolation, but suffice to say, I won’t be putting myself in his hands anytime soon. All in all he’s an incredible guy and this is an interesting story for the fitness enthusiasts among you.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Lopez’s Story of Buddhism

The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History and Teachings
Donald Lopez

I thought I wanted a history of the central tenets of Buddhism, and that’s exactly what I got. It turns out though, that I think I wanted something a bit different.
This history of Buddhism is a serious (if at times academic) look at the development of the core principles of Buddhism across the first 1000 years or so of its development. From the conception of “enlightenment” and “karma” to the evolving role of the clergy and lay people, Lopez does an admirable job of attempting to explain these concepts to those (like me) relatively new to the idea.

Still, the book smacks of the problems many academics have when they try to write for a popular audience. Even when attempting to be approachable, Lopez assumes knowledge, or he assumes that by mentioning a complex abstract concept, or historical once, you’ll remember it when it’s used again 100 pages hence.
All of which is to say, this isn’t a bad book. It does what it says it will do, but I needed something a bit more popular, a bit more journalistic. I wanted to learn more about what we know of the Buddha himself and his immediate followers. There’s little of that. Much more time is spent on the important (but less interesting to me) nuances of the changes overtime in the doctrine enlightenment and other theological matters. I don’t regret reading it, its interesting stuff as far it goes, but I wish I’d chosen a different text, more focused on the real world history and less on the intellectual history for my introduction to the movement.

Recommended for the enthusiast.