Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Two Book Recommendations

In a recent library trip, I chanced upon a couple of books I wouldn't have thought from the titles I would be interested in, but which I got because of the blurbs on the back. Both turned out to be excellent.

7 Tools to Beat Addiction by Stanton Peele. I got this book because there's a blurb on the back saying it provides an alternative to twelve-step programs and the disease model of addiction. I've long been ambivalent toward twelve-step programs; although they help some people and although I think the step about "making a searching and fearless moral inventory of your life" is a great idea for everyone, I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of people who already live in a victimhood culture being urged to admit they are powerless over certain substances or behaviors, I once read a former AA member saying there is a strong anti-intellectualism in AA, and I don't think judges in the US should ever order anyone to join twelve-step programs because of the religious basis, vague though it may be. See Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode that deals with twelve-step programs for more information and opinion; my opinions do not always match theirs, but they give some food for thought. 7 Tools to Beat Addiction discusses problems with twelve-step and conventional treatment programs and also gives reasons why it is neither accurate nor helpful to think of addiction in terms of disease.

Because there is so much talk about addiction in our society and because some of your tax dollars may be going to questionable anti-addiction programs, you don't actually have to have an addiction to find Peele's book interesting reading. The introduction and first several chapters I found fascinating, completely aside from any practical use they might offer. But I think people with addictions and, to a lesser extent, people whose loved ones have addictions, can benefit from this book's discussions of what kind of treatment is really effective and what isn't and how best to think about your addiction and yourself. There is a lot of common-sense (when you think about it) stuff here, that you aren't going to hear in AA or a high school drug prevention program or an article in a woman's magazine.

The other book is Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple. I knew Dalrymple sometimes writes for NRO, but I'd never much noticed him. Still, the blurbs were good--I was especially intrigued by Peggy Noonan saying he's "the best doctor-writer since William Carlos Williams"--so I decided to give it a try. I was well rewarded.

Mr. Dalrymple has a good, clear prose style, which is something to celebrate in and of itself, but his insight is the real treasure here. The book is subtitled "The Worldview That Makes the Underclass" and is a collection of essays on that theme. Dalrymple, who is a British psychiatrist who works in a slum hospital and a prison (he also spent some years working as a doctor in Africa), paints vivid and disturbing pictures of underclass life in England and offers great insight into the causes of these problems. (In the interest of keeping this short, I'll just say that Mr. Dalrymple, like our new Holy Father, is no fan of relativism.) The American reader can not help drawing parallels between the situation described in this book and conditions in the US. People willing to risk discomfort may ask themselves if their lives, though they are not in the underclass themselves, may have started to mirror some of the attitudes or behaviors Dalrymple writes about. Forget food for thought--there's a feast here.

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