Monday, November 23, 2009

My 2009 Reading List

Books read in 2009. Book title, author, and date completed.

1. Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks. edited by David Pimentel, with a chapter by yours truly. 1-10-09

Despite having had this book since last summer, and despite the fact that I wrote one of the chapters in it (you can see a chunk of it here), I just now got around to reading the rest of it. The book is obviously about renewable energy systems, delving into the environmental issues and potential unintended consequences. Because many different people contributed, the material is covered at various levels. There are chapters in there for the laymen, and there are chapters that are written at a much higher level. I personally found some of the material to be a difficult read, and I think most people will most likely pick out some essays they like instead of reading it from cover to cover.

2. Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs by Neal Barnard 1-22-09

I don't have diabetes, but my blood sugar has been trending high in recent years. A doctor told me a couple of years ago if I don't get it under control that I was at risk for developing diabetes. I first became aware of the possibility of reversing diabetes in Ray Kurzweil's Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Kurzweil was a diabetic, but by making changes in his diet he was able to rid himself of all symptoms. I figure if the program can reverse diabetes, it should be able to prevent diabetes from ever developing. After reading the book, I will say that this is one of those life-changing books. I have never had a particularly healthy diet, and the scientific studies in this book really make it clear why I have high blood sugar (and high cholesterol). The gist of the diet is that it is a vegan diet: No animal products of any kind. The studies cited show that animal fats (even fish and chicken) promote insulin resistance by interfering with insulin's ability to break down glucose. This results in an increase in blood sugar. The case studies cited in the book showed that by eliminating animal protein and fats, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycierides all returned to normal levels.

So I decided to give it a shot. Most people who know me could see me as someone who could give up vegetables, but not meat. But I went to the store and picked up soy and rice milk, veggie burgers, hot dogs, and breakfast sausages, and lots of whole wheat breads. It's not that bad, to tell you the truth. The burger was dry, but it tasted pretty much like a regular burger. Once I start adding in things like salsa - which I love - and mix in some Indian food (I spent a week in India last year, and they have some very good vegetarian meals), I think I can pull it off. Giving up seafood will be the hardest part. I plan to do this diet strictly for a month prior to my next physical to see if it works for me.

3. The Lobster Chronicles: Life On a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw 2-01-09

This was not exactly what I expected. I guess I should have been tipped off by the subtitle "Life on a Very Small Island." There was much more about island life and the lives of the people living there than on lobster fishing. I have always been a big fan of Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, and I thought this would be the same, yet for lobster fishing. Not exactly. There is some of that, but it isn't the main focus. The author - who was also portrayed in The Perfect Storm - was concerned about an increase in visitors based on her description in the book; I don't think she has to worry about that. She made it sound pretty miserable.

4. Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs by Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malarte 3-06-09

I love reading about technology. I love thinking about what the future could be, which is why I like science fiction so much. This book delved into a possible future with cyborgs, robots, and artificial intelligence. As the book points out, robots are all around us even now (an example was an automatic pool cleaner), we just don't call them robots. Ditto for cyborgs; by definition people with artificial limbs, or even contact lenses could be classified as cyborgs. But the book goes much deeper than that and seriously explores a topic that has always fascinated me: The emergence of consciousness. Can a machine ever achieve consciousness? Hard to say when we don't even understand it ourselves. The only thing I found slightly annoying about the book is that it often presented this future as inevitable, instead of a possible future.

5. Oil 101 by Morgan Downey 4-19-09

Reviewed in depth on my energy blog: Oil 101 Book Review.

6. Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization by Jeff Rubin 5-24-09

Reviewed in depth on my energy blog: Book Review: Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller

7. Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports And Engineer Sustainable Food And Fuel by Mark Edwards 5-30-09

Reviewed in depth on my energy blog: Book Review: Green Algae Strategy. The author responded, and I published his response as well: Response to Green Algae Strategy Review

8. Planet India: The Turbulent Rise of the Largest Democracy and the Future of Our World by Mira Kamdar 7-6-09

I have been interested in India for a long time, and finally got to visit there last year (my trip was described here, here, and here). This book paints a compelling story of an India that is just starting to flex its muscles on the world stage, and which will be formidable on many fronts as the poor begin to gain purchasing power. The only downside to the book is that she occasionally came across as a bit nationalistic (the author is American of Indian descent) and that made the book feel less than entirely objective. One thing I did not realize was that India had such a long history of having suffered major terrorist actions. I was very familiar with the attacks in late 2008, but there were many serious attacks prior to that. She also described a scene that was all too familiar to me when I was there: Look in one direction, and you see a lush golf course for the very rich. Turn around and you see some of the poorest people on earth living under tarps. You see those kinds of contrasts everywhere in India.

9. Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass 9-21-09

Reviewed in detail on my energy blog: Book Review: Crude World

10. Axis by Robert Charles Wilson 10-8-09

I really enjoyed Wilson's previous book Spin. This was more or less a sequel, but not as mind-bending as I found Spin to be. I have been advised that Wilson's book Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America is a much better read, so I put it on my reading list.

11. Power of the People: America's New Electricity Choices by Carol Sue Tombari 10-10-09

Reviewed in detail on my energy blog: Book Review - Power of the People

12. Outsourcing Energy Management by Steven Fawkes 10-12-09

This book has taken me longer to read than any other book in my life. I started reading it back in April, and I just finished it today. The problem for me is that it is a textbook, and as such it isn't something that you can just sit and read cover to cover. It is a very comprehensive "how-to" guide for managing energy in an organization. The author has a clear grasp of the serious energy issues facing us, and makes a compelling case that by letting professionals manage the energy needs of an organization, savings will be more likely to be achieved. Ultimately, this would be a very important book for someone like an energy coordinator for a company. The book did trigger a number of ideas, but it took a lot to get through it.

13. Oil on the Brain by Lisa Margonelli 10-26-09

Reviewed in detail on my energy blog: Book Review - Oil on the Brain

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