Book review: “We have met the Enemy”

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

“At Home” by Bill Bryson

“At Home: A Short History of Private Life” begins on the roof of the Victorian rectory that Bill Bryson and his family occupy in flattest Eastern England. Surveying the surrounding countryside, the American-born author invokes a local archaeologist who once explained to him that the region’s stone churches aren’t sinking. No, they are slightly below ground because the sheer numbers of bodies buried around them over the centuries have caused the earth to rise.

Having imparted this grisly delicacy, Bryson retreats from his roof but not his house. The author best known in the U.S. for his travel writing uses home to anchor his new book; every room in it is a departure point to discuss how those generations of bodies once lived, how their homes functioned and, surprisingly only recently, began to provide a certain level of comfort.

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