Book book book... b'gawk!

Village Life in England, 1860-1940: A Photographic Record by Johnathan Brown and Sadie B. Ward is a collection of early photographs of life in rural England. The book includes hundreds of pictures accompanied by descriptions, and divided into categories: school, work, domestic matters... It was just there on the shelf, it looked neat so I picked it up. Lots of interesting pictures, if you like this sort of thing, and the text taught me a lot about the fate of village life as more and more people moved to the cities: basically the villages became either bedroom communities, or theme parks for town folk looking to get away on the weekend. My favourite picture was the one of two village lads wearing their work clothes, with their sleeves too short, tiny pockets up high on their waistcoats, exactly like the hobbit costumes in Lord of the Rings. (I guess those costume people know what they're doing.)

You Know What They Say: The Truth About Popular Beliefs by Alfie Kohn. Debunking and Alfie Kohn, two of my favourite things together in the same book! Kohn takes on dozens of common misbeliefs and aphorisms: do birds of a feather flock together or do opposites attract? Is it never to late to learn, or can you not in fact teach an old dog new tricks? Are no two snowflakes alike?

The book is pretty old, which means on the one hand it hasn't worked because most people still believe the stuff he tries to clear up, and on the other hand a couple of the beliefs he discusses have been further researched and the latest research actually supports the belief. Specifically, there has been more research on whether being cold causes you to catch cold, and it seems that being cold, or at least having cold feet, can increase your susceptibility to cold viruses. That's the great thing about science, you never know what's gonna be true tomorrow.

A couple of the chapters I just didn't believe, like the one about PMS which scientists apparently don't (or didn't) have any evidence for. I'm pretty sure the misery I feel before my period comes is materially different from the misery I feel the rest of the month. It's the difference between soul crushing depression and, say, the disappointment I feel when they're out of sour cream glazed at Timmy's. It just feels different. Hopefully they've done some better research since the book was published, but I expect the pharma companies just decided to declare PMS an official disease so they could sell us crap to cure it.

That apart, I really enjoyed reading the book, because I love to get the story straight on everything, and also because I like Alfie Kohn so very much. He's smart, he's funny, he's a skeptic and a thinker and a humanist. I might even send him some fan mail, I like him so much.

Oh, and I think it's kind of funny that two of the popular beliefs were "Rewarding people makes them do better work" and "Competition builds character", both of which he then expanded into entire books of their own.

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