Contrary to Popular Belief, by Joey Green (Softcover, 2012)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book was a fun read, but falls short of its potential. The author's method
is to posit a commonly-held belief and then present something to show the
idea is either flatly false or isn't exactly true 100% of the time. This is
where the failed potential starts becoming clear.
In (I think) about half of the cases, he counters a wrong belief with the
correct fact(s). These are "false facts" that are actually false and his
explanations are correct. For example, he says penguins do not live only in
freezing climates (page 109). That's fine, and how it should be. The reader
can learn something.
But in the other half, his "counterargument" reminds me of those groaner
brainteaser questions that rely on word games, irrelevancies, or slightly
twisted logic for the answer. Those brainteasers are designed not to test
your knowledge but to test your ability to come up with "off the wall"
answers that are true if you really take license with language and logic.
Mr. Green does the same thing through much of this book.
What I'm saying here is many of the facts he presents as false are actually
true. For example, he says it's false that British prisoners settled
Australia (page 37). But, indeed, they did. His counterargument is all about
who arrived there first. Arriving and settling are two different things, so
his counterargument is irrelevant and the original fact remains as
What I found in going through these was I already knew nearly all of the
"actually false" items and their explanations. I can tell you that most
people don't know these things. And if he'd written the book confined to
only these things, he'd have had an honest work that is both interesting and
By inflating the book out with the "not actually false" items and really
stretching both logic and our language to "prove" they were false, he did
the book and the reader a disservice. If he revised this book for a second
edition with those items removed (even if not replaced), it would be a much
Those (removed) items belong in a different book with different title. Maybe
something like, "Groaners for Parties." If you want to be able to whip out
some semantic groaners at a dinner party, you can memorize a few of the "not
actually false" items and then laugh uproariously at the silliness of what
you just said.
While writing this review, I paged through this book to see if all of the
items were trivia or of some were of a more serious nature. It seems they're all
trivia. Many popular notions are harmful and could have been included.
For example, in the USA our disease-fetish culture includes an atrocious
diet (grain-based, highly processed foods, calorie-dense, nutrient-sparse)
and an aversion to hard physical exercise such as weight training on a
systematic basis. One excuse people have for not having an exercise program
is "that muscle just turns to fat when you get old." But muscle does not
turn into fat or vice-versa. This myth helps people stay unhealthy.
Another example is the myth that letting the air out of your tires in
winter gives you better traction on the snow and ice. Anyone who knows
anything about tires and the physics involved will tell you this notion gets
people killed--and not just the folks driving around on low tires but also
the people whose cars they smash into. For best traction, regardless of the
weather or what you're driving on, you want your tires properly inflated to
their rated PSI.
Or what about the common "remedy" of putting hydrogen peroxide on a cut
or other small wound? People believe this helps, but actually it destroys
healthy tissue and causes healing to take longer.
Mr. Green could have addressed a dozen common health and safety myths in
place of a dozen of his "not actually false" items, thereby not only making
the book more accurate but also actually useful.
It's not that I'm disappointed or disgusted with this book. It's that it
easily could have been much better.