New narrative nonfiction delves into the history and science of health and well-being.

The Expectation Effect

David Robson. Holt, Feb. 2022

Science journalist Robson (The Intelligence Trap), who has been an editor at BBC Future, draws on neuroscience to explore how what we think influences our experience of the world. “Your mind alone cannot perform miracles,” he writes. “You cannot simply imagine piles of money and think yourself rich, or cure yourself of a terminal illness through positive visualizations. But your expectations and beliefs can influence—indeed are already influencing—your life in many other surprising and powerful ways.

Let’s Get Physical

Danielle Friedman. Putnam, Jan. 2022

Friedman’s feminist history of exercise (an “astute and entertaining debut,” per PW’s review) surveys various figures who directly or indirectly influenced the women’s fitness industry. They include Mary Quant, whose miniskirt design motivated women to tone their thighs; Bonnie Prudden, an early fitness guru who later created a system to treat muscle aches; and Lotte Berk, the originator of the barre-style workout. (See our q&a with Friedman, “The Barre Truth,”)


Recipe for Survival

Dana Ellis Hunnes. Cambridge Univ., Jan. 2022

Proposing small-scale solutions to mitigate the interconnected climate and health crises, Hunnes, a clinical inpatient dietitian at RR-UCLA Medical Center and part-time faculty at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, makes the case for replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives. This will “eliminate up to 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from foods and reduce water use by up to 75 percent,” she writes, and is one of the most “meaningful, effective, and proactive things we can do to benefit our health and the environment simultaneously.”


Bill Hayes. Bloomsbury, Jan. 2022

Photographer Hayes (How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic), who was the partner of the late Oliver Sacks, traces the history of exercise from descriptions written in the fifth century BCE through modern yoga, bodybuilding, and his own cold plunges. In this “candid study,” according to PW’s review, “he finds a kindred spirit in Renaissance physician Girolamo Mercuriale, who, in a time when ‘cathedrals replaced gymnasiums as sacred sites’ was fascinated by the reverence the ancient Greeks and Romans held for the human body, viewing it not just as a means for movement but as its own form of art.”


Why Calories Don’t Count

Giles Yeo. Pegasus, Dec.

In what PW’s review called an “informative and entertaining guide,” geneticist and Gene Eating author Yeo turns his focus to society’s collective worship at the altar of calorie counting. Tracing the rise of the calorie as the ultimate food-measuring unit from the early 20th century to today, Yeo offers an alternative metric for making healthy choices—“focusing on the nutritional content in food, getting enough protein and fiber, and avoiding sugar and meat,” the review explained—making for a plan that’s “straightforward, encouraging, and easy to implement.”


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