Book Reviews – February 2010

The Winter Olympics: An Insider’s Guide To The Legends, Lore And Events Of The Games
By Ron C. Judd
Mountaineers Books 252 pages

Ron Judd, a self-titled Ring Head and writer for the The Seattle Times, understands the relationship where knowledge of the Winter Olympics amplifies appreciation for the Winter Olympics. Not just hockey, skating and skiing, but points, timing, difficulty and even international legends and scandals.

The Winter Olympics: An Insider’s Guide to the Legends, Lore and Events of the Games easily exceeds the basics and underscores all of the more significant or more memorable moments, while avoiding the trap of reading like a dull encyclopedia. Whether you plan to watch history unfold on TV or perhaps later on YouTube, there’s so many fun facts and rich history in the pages of this book that you can’t help be infected.

For example, consider the profile of skier Janica Kostelic; when will they make a movie about the obstacles she had to overcome? We all know about Michael Phelps, but what if you learned speed skater Eric Heiden’s accomplishment was even greater? The Bobsled event is easily understood, but any idea how many people have died on those crazy-fast courses? Vladislav Tretiak is likely the greatest hockey player of the Olympics, and dominates with three gold medals, yet never played in the NHL. Can you guess his one silver medal?

Every four years a blizzard of Winter Olympic media blankets the world, but this guide is a real treasure because it systematically groups the sports, provides worthy overviews, and answers all the general spectator questions—how many jumps does a ski jumper take during the Nordic combined?—that we all have. Lastly, the highlights about dominating medalists should be mandatory reading for even modest Olympic enthusiasts.

Speaking about the Olympic experience, Judd writes, “Watch, read, listen, enjoy. Soak it up from home. The Olympics are a grand excuse for broadening ourselves, standing back and dropping the stock report and glimpsing, just for a moment, how we relate to, and fit in with, the rest of the world. If you can find that moment, and drink in that view, the Olympics will have been a success.”

Jon Jonckers

Eating Animals
By Jonathan Foer
Little Brown, 2009, 331 pages

If you eat animals, then according to Jonathan Foer and his latest work, Eating Animals, you cause much pain and suffering. That free-range hen you eat? It may not be confined to the eight-by-eleven inch cage typical of commercial laying hens, but it was likely crowded into a shed with tens of thousands of chickens, many that died from dehydration, starvation, and the pecking order (literally). The closest these birds may get to the fresh air of the range, the image consumers are sold, is an opening in the shed that lets in limited light and air.

Foer argues that inflicting pain and death on any “food” animal is inherently immoral, done because we would rather get protein from familiar meats than unfamiliar plant products. Previously an on-again, off-again vegetarian and author of the novel Everything is Illuminated, Foer turned his sites on what eating animals entails following the birth of his first child, seeking to protect his child from an unethical diet. What he found isn’t pretty.

Eating Animals focuses on how more than 90 percent of the meat in America comes from factory farms and how meats from the local, somewhat humane, providers can’t even feed the people of Manhattan, never mind the rest of the nation. Forget that image of cattle in the pasture, grazing contentedly. Replace that with throngs of cattle in a feedlot, gorging on grains that so upset their health that antibiotics are required to keep them alive for slaughter, often just barely. If antibiotic infused meats aren’t concern enough, there are the accompanying waste lagoons, many containing more waste than a city such as Spokane produces, all untreated and often unregulated, regularly flooding drinking water systems.

Everyone who eats animal products should read this book. But its readers will probably be limited to those who already don’t eat animal products. The problem is Foer preaches to the choir. Few on the vegan or vegetarian fence, fewer meat eaters still, are going to read Eating Animals, much less change their eating habits because of it. Most meat eaters would rather not know.

Bradley Bleck