I’m a bookworm. And ever since having kids, I hate investing time in duds. Therefore, I always appreciate a good recommendation and thought you might as well.
I only recommend what I like, so if your sensibilities overlap with mine, you might like the following books.*
They are organized according to type, so I’ve got you covered whether you want esoteric details about your muscles or insight into Mindy Kaling’s forays.
Anatomy and Fitness
A really good read that illuminates exercise science through a series of questions and answers. I read everything straight through, but the book is formatted so you can peruse according to your interests. If you want to know more about the science of exercise, this is a good first stop. Oh, and Alex Hutchinson has a PhD in physics, so he’s smart, which helps make the book even more readable.
I’m not a regular yogi, but I can appreciate yoga’s benefit for relaxation and mobility. Therefore, I incorporate yoga into my workouts. However, I also love a good debunking, so this book hit the right note for me (critical of myths, but not critical of yoga). If anything, it probably errs on the side of too much adoration, but the history lesson is very cool.
Epstein looks at the genetic science behind athletic performance to determine if nature or nurture causes sports success. He dismantles Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule early in the book and moves on to discuss elite athletes from around the world. As a nonscientist nonprofessional athlete, I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the book, but it turned out to be one of the most engaging nonfiction books I’ve read.
Physical therapist Blandine Calais-Germain’s series of movement books have been invaluable in teaching me about movement mechanics and anatomy. She goes deep into topics and made me think about the body in new ways. I don’t treat the books, or any books, as the final word on movement, but No Risk Abs is great to have on your bookshelf.
If you like textbooks and information overload, this is the book for you. I’ve noticed that Kari Bo’s name isn’t tossed around as much as that of other physical therapists, but her research is awesome. She also does a great job of analyzing the evidence base for pelvic floor rehab. Indeed, this book is my #1 go-to source for all things pelvic floor.
Diane Lee’s work is not without controversy, and I’m not sure where I stand. However, this textbook is essential reading for anyone who wants to participate in conversations about pelvic floor rehabilitation techniques. If you work with women who have pelvic floors (as in all women), consider this book.
Timothy Caulfield works in public health policy and looks at topics I’ve thought about at length — exercise, nutrition, alternative medicine, big pharma — but in a fresh and concise way. The book is myth-busting at its finest. I also welcome Caulfield’s admonition that we must define fitness as an actual physical state that enhances one’s health, not just as the appearance of a physical state that enhances health. Yes, let’s do that!
In a nutshell, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff argues that diets are dumb because they make life miserable and don’t keep weight off. He explains it better in the book. His advice is do-able, reasonable, and evidence-based. That’s a great combination. His mantra is sustainable change that you can maintain over a lifetime. This is what separates good advice from bad advice.
Brian Wansink directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He’s done loads of social science experiments looking at why we eat how much we eat. His conclusions reveal that we all eat mindlessly (hence the title) and are influenced by food cues. If you think you aren’t a mindless eater, you’re wrong. This is why looking at our food environment is more important than forcing willpower.
The name sums it up. This book put into words so many of my feelings about diet camps. Humans can eat in lots of different ways and there is no One True Way of eating, as he calls it. Overall, this book made me remember that food obsession about the minutiae of what you eat is a #firstworldproblem.
Psychology and/or Body Image
I tried reading Stoicism’s original texts, but after a few hundred pages of Seneca and Aurelius, I had to admit I wasn’t enjoying it all that much. In his introduction, Irvine promises, “I will act as a conduit for the advice offered by Stoic philosophers 2,000 years ago.” He is a wonderful and relevant conduit.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has resonated with me, perhaps because I am more cerebral than meditative. Although weight is not my particular struggle, you could replace “weight” with any other body part you may have trouble accepting.
Honestly, I couldn’t find many comprehensive body image programs (unlike the zillion belly programs). This book is decent, but the emphasis on positive affirmations and blanket self-esteem aren’t my style (but maybe that is your particular style). Still, it’s a good start and I would recommend it.
This is a reference book that you can easily browse based on interest, although I read it straight through. I have a strong interest in critical thinking as a skill. Therefore, I appreciated Levy’s inclusion of actual exercises for practicing this skill, and I particularly liked his chapters on the “Reification Error” and “The Barnum Effect.”
I adore Oliver Burkeman’s dry and decidedly British dry wit. His sorta self-help book is a refreshing approach to pop psychology, a bit acerbic, but not cynical. His basic premise = let’s stop the undying pursuit of being happy all the time. Ironically, this is more optimistic than it sounds.
Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner in the Economic Sciences (among like a zillion other awards). This book is heralded as one of the best explanations for laypeople on how our minds actually work. We are by nature lazy thinkers, opting for heuristics rather than engaging our more deliberate “System 2” brain. Reading Kahneman is like reading a more evidence based and nuanced Malcolm Gladwell (sorry Malcolm, but it’s true).
History and Miscellaneous
This is a book about the American dust bowl in the 1930s. It gobsmacked me. If you don’t think you like history books, then you haven’t read the right ones. I admire Egan’s storytelling method, his ability to weave history and anecdote, his recognition that the big picture should never obscure the individual. I’ve read a lot of history books, but only a handful have stayed with me like this one.
This book changed my worldview. That sounds like hyperbole, but I don’t say that often about a book, even about very good books. It caught me at the right time I suppose. Gawande writes about aging and what matters in the end, about how we treat the elderly, and about how we come to terms with our bodies’ finitude. Superficial concerns about the body don’t matter in the end.
I have an odd penchant for celebrity memoir, especially during stressful times. I’ve read some real duds. However, Mindy Kaling’s most recent memoir literally made me laugh out loud. And I read it in some public places (e.g. waiting to pick up my daughter from kindergarten), so I looked a little crazy. I liked it so much I even offered it up for my Guam bookclub to make up for getting everyone to read The Road (majorly depressing).
Recently, I revisited the first book in L.M. Montgomery’s beloved series. I love Anne’s quirks, her sense of adventure, her can-do attitude, and Montgomery’s funny, yet tender portrayal of her heroine (it feels very progressive for a book published in 1908). This is why I highly recommend reading or re-reading it. It’s a much better salve for the soul than browsing gossip magazines.
This book has stuck with me because it was one of the first that taught me how to evaluate evidence and how to put media stories in context. As one of the reviewers said, it is “science for non-science people.” I actually think those with scientific backgrounds would learn a lot as well.
Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who died from lung cancer at age 37. His wife Lucy completed the epilogue after he became too ill to finish the book. I listened to the book on Audible, and I’m sure I looked like a crazy person walking the neighborhood and crying to myself while wearing headphones. It’s the type of book that puts life’s worries and hopes and external achievements into perspective.
My 6 year old daughter became obsessed with this book, and it turned into a wonderful way to talk about history and cultural constructions of beauty. She learned that little boys used to wear dresses in the 18th century. She learned about neck stretching in Africa, and she marveled at the strange and huge crinolines of the 19th century. Oh, and if you have a coffee table, this book would be an amazing conversation starter.
* Amazon Associates Link. Books purchased through these links help support the blog.