Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Title Four: Never Shower In A Thunderstorm (Surprising Facts and Misleading Myths About Our Health and the World We Live In) by Anahad O'Connor

Anahad O'Connor is a columnist for the New York Times, where he takes questions from readers in his "Really?" column on topics ranging from the veracity of old wives' tales to whether or not identical twins have identical fingerprints and older siblings are smarter. He has gathered over a hundred of these questions and gathered them into this funny, insightful and informative book giving you answers as to whether or not all that stuff your mother told you really is true or not.

O'Connor debunks such myths as the idea that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis and that you have to wait 45 minutes after a meal to go swimming, and makes the case that chicken soup is, in fact, good for a cold; you also can develop alopecia from wearing hats and tight ponytails. The book runs the gamut from topics such as sex, heredity, fitness, health, sleep, technology, and nature and is chock full of great questions:

"Will having sex before sports hinder your performance?"

"Does celery really have negative calories?"

"Does stepping on something rusty give you tetanus?"

"Can cold weather really give you a cold?"

And of course, one of the most ubiquitous questions of all:

"Do you risk electrocution if you shower during a thunderstorm?"

The answer to that one, incidentally, is yes. Not only does O'Connor describe the how (lightning that hits a building can travel through the plumbing, along metal pipes, and directly into a metal tap or faucet; additionally, tap water makes an excellent conductor because of impurities and minerals) but he also backs it up with expert confirmation from a former meterologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The fun of this book is that it has a great balance of science and banter, facts and jokes. O'Connor cites dozens of studies as he works his way through a mountain of questions but keeps a light-hearted tone. He also distills the information into neat bites so that it is easy to both understand the explanations and reasoning, and put the book down for days or weeks at a time and pick it up again when you're looking for something breezy to pass the time, but still want to feed your head. For a trivia savant like me, this is a fantastic addition to my (many) bookshelves.

Oh, and by the way - identical twins do NOT have identical fingerprints, so you don't need to Google that from your mobile.

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