Sunday, September 13, 2009

Living Green by Nancy Conner (book review)

Living Green: The Missing Manual
by Nancy Conner
Published by O'Reilly Media
August 2009
ISBN: 9780596801724
Paperback, 312 pages, $ 19.99
Ebook (Mobi, PDF, ePub), $15.99
Book preview:

This morning I read an article about the Greek island of Icaria. It stated that one of every three persons on the island reaches the age of 90. (That is more than three times as much as the American rate for reaching nine decades.) Furthermore — and this should astound you — senior citizens on Icaria are healthy and vigorous, and almost never develop Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

What's the secret? ... A cynic might say that mental degeneration is caused by a ceaseless barrage of mind-numbing commercial messages. But more likely, these Greek islanders are healthy and alert because they are living — with a Mediterranean accent — a green lifestyle.

The green lifestyle not only helps our planet live long and prosper, it vastly improves our personal lives. Living greenly increases our health, longevity, mental powers, and happiness.

Living Green: The Missing Manual is an outstanding hands-on guide about the environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

"Nature," wrote Leonardo da Vinci, "is beautiful, simple and direct — for in her, nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous." Living Green contains 300 pages of useful ideas — there is no waste and not a page of fluff. At first glance, this book appears to be a departure from the Missing Manual series, which usually produces how-to books about popular software and hardware. Fortunately, the same clarity and thoughtful information design that characterizes this line of tech books also permeates Living Green.

The eleven chapters provide a treasure of information, a veritable encyclopedia of smart living. You'll find chapters about the green home; saving energy; recycling; raising your family; shopping; transportation; and renewable energy.

The chapter about Green Building — a hot topic these days — explains the LEED Green Building Rating System; the principles of green building design; remodeling problems; and how to finance green construction. Everything you need to know about how to begin dreaming about your dream house.

I was especially interested in the chapter about eating, because the typical American diet — so far removed from the longevitous diet in Icaria — is such a tremendous force defining the American quality of life. Conner's chapter begins with a section titled "What's In That Cheeseburger?" When you read this list of fatal ingredients — that contaminate your beef, cheese, lettuce-tomato, and buns — you will either give up fast-food eating, or give up reading.

See for yourself:

Beef. The antibiotics and hormones used on cattle (page 177) can get into the meat you consume. According to the Center for Food Safety, several of these hormones likely have bad effects on people ...

There follows some fact-filled pages about hormones in hamburgers, and the perils of factory-farmed food. After some words about GM (genetically modified) foods, the chapter concludes more optimistically with an explanation of the benefits of food that is organic.

The passionate vegetarian in me wishes that the book would have taken the final leap and fully endorse vegetarianism, since meat-eating (even organic meat) is still — as the book acknowledges — an enormous drain on the planet's resources. (And since animals don't deserve to be eaten.) Nevertheless, there is enough food for thought in this chapter, and sensible warnings, to hint that a vegetarian lifestyle is a viable choice.

The book concludes with a brief chapter titled "Getting Involved", which explores environmental activism towards the goal of greening your neighborhood and community. The personal actions in the first ten chapters are essential but not quite enough; this participation is another necessary element for transforming America into a sustainable society.

Living Green: The Missing Manual is an information-rich, factually-accurate and friendly guide to a greener, healthier, and better life. The paperback is made of 100% recycled paper, but you might consider buying an ebook version and help the environment even more.

— Michael Pastore, author
50 Benefits of Ebooks