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Four Great Books I Read in 2018

Every year, I usually write a list of the best books I read this year in the health or personal development. And this year, the list is back, but it’s different!

What’s different? I’m finding that most health and personal development books are a bore. And in fact, they are starting to annoy me. It may be cynicism or just plain old experience that has made me realize that, for the most part, most of what you find on the health/self-help section of the bookstore is either wrong or counter-productive.

For example, one of the top books this year in the “health” category is the Plant Paradox, by a Dr. Gundry, which claims that plant foods containing lectins are at the root of many of our health problems. Without a shred of solid evidence, he recommends avoiding fruit (because “sugar makes you fat), and scares readers from eating many plant foods.

A book like the Plant Paradox is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with most health and personal development books. (I plan to review this book in more details in the future). 

They come up with an outrageous claim, in this case: that lectins are the real culprits of most of the diseases that plague us. There’s a controversial angle: Lectins are found in most foods we think of are healthy.

The proof is dubious. If you take time to read the studies he quotes, you’ll find that most of them have nothing to do with the claims made in the book.

And then, the solution is an old recycled idea we’ve heard a thousand times. In this case: Eating a sort of paleo-ish diet of sweet potatoes, eggs, chicken, veggies, fish, and nuts.

You can apply this formula to most popular books, including those in the self-help department.

  • A controversial or “spiritual” angle.
  • Dubious proof.
  • A recycled solution that does not work (or works for reasons that have nothing to do with the theory).

So, I’m on the hunt for books that are different and have original ideas to offer.

And… since I find so few books like this in health and self-help, I tend to read mostly novels.

Here’s a quote from a great novel:

“Philosophy appears to concern itself only with the truth, but perhaps expresses only fantasies, while literature appears to concern itself only with fantasies, but perhaps it expresses the truth.” (In Pereira Maintains, by Antonio Tabucchi)

So this year’s reading list will contain ANY book I read and found valuable, including novels.

Stand Firm – Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, by Svend Brinkmann

This is a book that is the opposite of a self-help book! It’s a solution to self-help books. But to keep things humoristic, it’s written in the same format as a self-help book, giving a list of “seven steps…”

So if you’re tired of hearing the same information over and over again and feel there’s something wrong with the culture of “constant and never-ending improvement” (Tony Robbins) you might want to read this thin book, which made a sensation in Denmark. I found it refreshing and useful.

The World of Yesterday – Stefan Zweig

There was a time, somewhere in the 1920s and 30s, that Stefan Zweig was the most popular author in the world. And he wrote this book, not quite an autobiography, but more a testimonial of the times in which he lived, in exile in Brazil, towards the end of World War 2, before committing suicide.

It sounds grim, but the book is lovely. I’ve rarely read a book that so vividly described this period of history, but most importantly, with observations that feel so relevant today. There’s, in fact, an uncanny sense of deja-vu in this book, written by a man who has witnessed how the most civilized nation on earth can go down a road of the most gruesome barbarism.

It’s also a beautiful book. The description of Viennese society before the war is a treasure! I’ve enjoyed the book so much that I read it twice. Once as an audiobook and once in a paper book. And I’ll probably go back to it again sometime in the future.

Christian Kracht – Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas

This novel is totally verrückt (crazy), and perfect for you, my dear reader!

Where else can you read tellsthe story of  a “cocovore” (a person convinced that the coconut is the divine form of nourishment) set on moving to the South Seas to start a “cocovore colony,” and along the way meets other strange characters, including a fake breatharian in Fiji?

The book is filled with references to fruitarianism, vegetarianism and other diet philosophies. And the theme of the story is how this extremism can go terribly wrong. It takes place in the German “Imperium” – the colonial empire Germany had before the first war, and is based on a true story.

What’s incredible is that I knew about this coconut colony for years… there’s a reference for it in one of Mosseri’s books!

I have no idea where the author found out about it and decided to write a novel on the topic, but Kracht is a master. I have read all of his novels, and he’s one of my favorite living authors. If you love dark humor and have any interest in the destiny of a cocovore colony, you will love this book…

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, by Daniel L. Everett

This is a fantastic book about how culture shapes our way of thinking and even our perception of reality. The title of the book from the fact that this is one way to say “good night” in the language of the Pirahas.

Indeed, the author is a linguist and missionary who lived with this isolated tribe in the Amazonian jungle. He was the first person to learn their language, and his book is a tale of his adventures in the jungle and his discoveries. But more importantly, beyond the stories, the message of the book is that the culture in which we live influences a lot more than we think. We may believe that our personality is ours, but most of it is shaped by society.

Daniel Everett’s initial task was to translate the New Testament into the language of the Piraha. After learning this incredibly difficult language, he was unable to offer a translation because of those profound cultural differences.

This book was a recommendation by a friend who’s a professor of psychology, and it turned out to be one of the most exciting and fascinating books I have read in years. It’s also easy to follow. But I because the author reads the audio version himself, and is a very engaging narrator, I would recommend that.

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.