Book review: “We have met the Enemy”

Posted on | January 17, 2011 | No Comments

Daniel Akst borrowed his new book’s title from “Pogo” creator Walt Kelly, whose “We have met the enemy and he is us” became a slogan marking the first Earth Day in 1970. However, in “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess,” Akst isn’t interested in saving the planet, at least as a first line of business. He’s intrigued by impulse control in America, what is eroding it and what that means.

The book opens much like a tract on obesity from the Morbidity and Mortality Report if it had been written by a social commentator and not clinicians from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An anecdote about a corpse too fat to fit in a morgue freezer is followed in short order by the unsparing observation that an obese bariatric nurse at a Texas conference helped herself to a second plate of waffles smeared with cream cheese.

Akst, a former Times editor and writer who proclaims himself to be slender and pretty much addiction-free, is not sold on the nurse’s argument that obesity is genetic or the fault of the food offerings around us. Obesity, in the nurse’s eyes, is certainly not about self-control. And therein lies the problem. Akst here aims “to reinflate the narrowed arena of the elective, reclaiming most excessive behaviors from the realm of disease.”

Click here to keep reading my review in the Los Angeles Times of Daniel Akst’s book on self-control.


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