I usually don’t even bother to read most of the "inspirational" emails many people seem to have an irresistible urge to email out to everyone in their address book, but the one I got last night regarding the New Year caught my eye. …So much so that I thought I’d share it as a prelude to this book review. I’m going to omit one paragraph that I think detracts from the message.
Life, I am the new year.
I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.
I am your opportunity to practice
what you have learned about life
during the last twelve months.
All that you sought
and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out
with more determination.
All the good that you tried for
and didn’t achieve
is mine to grant
when you have fewer conflicting desires.
All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do,
all that you hoped but did not will,
all the faith that you claimed but did not have –
these slumber lightly,
waiting to be awakened
by the touch of a strong purpose.
I am the new year.
Given that we all know what happens to people when they finally decide to give evolutionary principles a go in pursuit of leanness, health and well being, I find that inspirational verse quite appropriate for a book review just about such evolutionary principles on the last day of 2010.
Art De Vany’s newly published book, The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging, reads like an epic history of one man’s pursuit of the knowledge and practice of health & well being in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the diagnosis of both his son and late wife with Type I diabetes and the eventual premature death of his wife from a long terminal illness.
At the same time, Art manages to make it a fun read, which I believe was his goal; achieved.
While I was provided an advance hardcopy of the book from his publisher, I decided also to purchase the Kindle version and I’m glad I did because the job they did in hyperlinking references, chapters, the TOC and index is really masterful. This allowed me to jump with ease to every single reference on the fly, read Art’s additional (more in-depth, more "sciency") comments and immediately return to where I was reading in the text. In addition, there’s a notes section at the end of the book with even more references, more commentary from Art and additional sources for investigation.
And so I think the book really becomes three books in one:
- The beginner, "fun read," where one just goes through and get the main points.
- The old hand (Paleo, Primal, EvFit) read where you do just like I did and get the additional science and commentary.
- The Paleo-geek read, where you actually check the references and use the book going forward as largely a library of excellent references.
Where this book excels in my view is in its focus on principles, randomized. Call them the Paleo principles, evolutionary principles or whatever you want, but this is not in any way about reenactment; it’s about gene expression. If anything comes through load & clear and a lot does, it’s that you don’t have control. Your genes do. You can’t directly control how your genes express themselves. What you can do is envisage many aspects of the wild human-animal experience and extract principles for eating, moving, going hungry, physically exerting, sleeping, resting, playing — and doing absolutely nothing — to simulate as much of that in-the-wild existence as you can in some semblance of random fashion — or, never doing the same thing the same way all the time — and if you’re lucky, your genes will express themselves in the most optimal way to make of you a pristine human animal specimen for as long as possible.
As many of my regular readers know, Art was my entry into this wonderful world of thinking ancestrally and applying that thought to action (and inaction). This was back in May of 2007, when as a fat and unhealthy political blogger with hyper blood pressure, I hit the gym and worked it out for myself that there was an inverse relationship between intensity and endurance. So I dropped the cardio, shortened the length and frequency of the gym sessions, blogged about it and had a commenter tell me it reminded him of Art De Vany and his Power Law.
After finding Art’s blog and putting many of his ideas into practice, I eventually blogged less about current events and increasingly about my experiences and impressive results. I came to his attention, we exchanged emails from time to time and then one day, I had the great fortune to meet him and his new wife in Las Vegas for his Evolutionary Fitness seminar. Art is truly a striking presence: tall, lean, impeccable, super-model posture (in the best sense of that ideal) and always sporting a smile that’s infectious.
The book is in many ways a greatly expanded version of that seminar with lots of blanks filled in and lots of Art’s personal experiences going back decades. His study and knowledge of human metabolism is formidable but it almost doesn’t matter because the man is 72 years old; clearly lean, strong, and vital. So while the science is quite nice and he’s an academic — a PhD — and has to play it that way — just look at the man. That’s what I did the very first time I found his website and blogged about him. So while Art is to be well recognized for getting to the science and making it available, a picture in his case has always been worth a thousand scientific references for me.
Or, think of it this way: how much more difficult is it for a 72 year old health and fitness blogger & author to have credibility than, say, some 30-somthing? That he looks as he does and does as he does is really the best advertising of credibility his book could ever have.
So…every honest book review ought to be credible in the sense that surely there was something in the book I didn’t love and I ought to say what it was; otherwise, how would people take my overall assessment seriously? OK, so here goes: he doesn’t always eat every egg yolk. While I never saw him ever mention it on his blog, he advocates canola oil in the book. Right; I don’t do either of those.
But here’s my answer to those who’ve focussed on this in other reviews: this is Art’s path. One reason I probably stuck with this deal way back when — long enough to see the results that would propel me forward — was Art’s regular insistence that everyone must find their own way. Note: not can; not should; must.
This is an excellent introduction for beginners: those who yet know nothing; and it’s accessible. It even has a full 30-day meal plan which I found impressive…because if only one were to follow that plan 80-90%, they would see amazing benefits and we all know it.
It’s also the sort of paleo / primal / evfit book I want to see written. This isn’t A diet. It’s potentially 7 billion individual diets and counting, based on the specific path each individual takes for themselves based on a few simple principles learned from observations from Kitavan to Inuit and everything in between. What works best in an environment of self-experimentation is paying attention, above all, to how you look & feel — as any animal naturally would do. This is the story of one of those 7 billion potential paths, 30 years in the making, and pioneering to boot.
Not to your liking? Well, tell us of your path.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This review would not be complete without the story of how that name and presence dovetailed with my whole experience and how it relates to Art De Vany. One of the things that led to my getting fat and having hyper blood pressure was about two years spent trading options for my own account full time. I traded credit spreads on the SPX and initially did quite well. 20-30% gains per month were commonplace. In less than a year I took $60,000 to several hundreds of thousands.
And then I lost over $200,000 in about a week.
In the end, it turned out it wasn’t about the money as much as it was the shock of realizing how fooled I’d been for so long. No, I hadn’t made an error in trading. Trading was the error (for me), in itself. I traded according to the same rules I always had. And then I recalled a radio interview I’d heard several years earlier by an options trader (may have been Taleb, but I don’t recall). He said that many options strategies are such that you win for a long time and then give up everything and more in a very short time.
I began looking for information. And what I found was Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. This book changed my life for the better. I came to realize that what had really happened is that I had begun my options trading at an opportune time for the particular strategy I used — by chance — and that I really wasn’t a super trader after all. So the choice was: back to market timing, or quit. So I quit. I also quit subjecting myself to the quotidian flow of talking-head hyperbole designed to fool me and worst of all, to have me thinking on one side or the other of a two-sided coin instead of independently. Since that time, I have almost never listened to CNBC, CNN, FNC, MSNBC or any other alphabet soup news outlet. As I believe Taleb said in FBR, important news will find its way to you.
And so on that bright spring day in May, 2007 when I discovered Art De Vany and his work, I had no idea that he and Taleb were friends, that Art was a fan of his work, that it so bolstered the principles of Evolutionary Fitness and The New Evolution Diet.
Taleb has a sizable last chapter of the book and it’s classic Taleb if you’ve read FBR or even The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Summary: you fool yourself all the time and it’s the rare events in your life that have the biggest, lasting impact.
And so let’s come full circle because it’s important. What Taleb has identified as a general aspect of epistemology (generally: the quality of your knowledge), Art has distilled physiologically. And so in the end, the book achieves the best triumph of all: a mind/body integration. They both learned from one another: you must be skeptical of what you think you know and you have no control over your genes. You must integrate the role of chance in both. You must not fool your mind and you must respect the expression of your genes.
You still have no guarantee for a fit mind and healthy body, but this is an excellent start for a New Year, if you’ll just…give it a chance.
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