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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Or not hot...
This book lies at the intersection of several fields, including but not limited to nutrition, history, evolutionary biology, agriculture, biochemistry and genetics. The author's premise can be stated as follow: the members of any ethnic group have evolved to adapt to the edible materials present in their environment to maximize their survival chances. At first, this...
Published on June 25, 2007 by Newton Ooi

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic, confusing book
I really feel torn about this book. I was drawn to it because I do NOT "like it hot" and wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. I did - I'm a supertaster & I am forever grateful to this book for bringing this concept to my attention. Nabhan has also gotten me even more excited about ethnobotany, and it's always fun to get excited about something...
Published on June 15, 2007 by History Girl


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Or not hot..., June 25, 2007
By 
Newton Ooi (Phoenix, Arizona United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity (Paperback)
This book lies at the intersection of several fields, including but not limited to nutrition, history, evolutionary biology, agriculture, biochemistry and genetics. The author's premise can be stated as follow: the members of any ethnic group have evolved to adapt to the edible materials present in their environment to maximize their survival chances. At first, this premise does not seem like much, as the author admits early in the book. But he proceeds to examine several vary different ethnic cuisines, and the environment and culture they arose in, and then shows us how different ethnic groups can require vastly different diets in order to lead healthy and long lives. The ramifications then become huge. For instance, the Atkins diet and Mediterranean-based diets are really not that appropriate for all types of people; but only for those of specific ethnic backgrounds.

Some of science cited in this book is quite important. First, the author explains how the use of spices is related to food preservation. Specifically, food like meat spoils quicker in tropical areas than temperate areas. Many spices kill microbes that spoil meats, hence early humans in tropical areas learned by trial and error to add spices to their foods to preserve them longer. Second, the author demonstrates the links between diet and environment. For example, diet of fava beans is useless vis-a-vis other types of beans in arid environments. But in a climate full of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, ingesting fava beans changes the blood chemistry to reduce the likelihood of a malarial infection.

The book is written as a combination of personal narrative and scientific text. The author provides examples from his own life of how diet and environment interact with a person's genetic makeup to affect health. The amount of science in the text probably requires a college education to understand, though not a medical degree. The text is smooth-flowing and easy to follow, and overall quite interesting.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic, confusing book, June 15, 2007
This review is from: Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity (Paperback)
I really feel torn about this book. I was drawn to it because I do NOT "like it hot" and wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. I did - I'm a supertaster & I am forever grateful to this book for bringing this concept to my attention. Nabhan has also gotten me even more excited about ethnobotany, and it's always fun to get excited about something.
However, I had a hard time getting through this book. I found myself thinking, "it'll get better" and "he'll get to the point" more than I like to. I think Nabhan was really trying to be accessible but I generally found it annoying; I wish he'd given more general ideas of conversations instead of dialogs.
I agree this book could use some reorganization and a better editor. The middle was the worst - with repeated words, misspellings and parts just didn't make sense. I read the part about fava beans at least 3 times and I'm still not sure I fully understand everything that he was obviously very excited about.
I was also confused about the point of this book - at some points it seems he wrote it as a response to fad diets such as the "caveman diet." I agree with his stance on these diets, but I was never interested in them and don't care to read about them. Other times the book seems to be more about what he's seen and done and what he thought about it. Other parts are about what I was interested in - how your genetics, life experience, food availability and family/community traditions shape what and how you eat. I was expecting a book solely about this and felt these parts were much too short.
I would love to see a revised edition (I know it only came out a few years ago). I think Nabhan has a lot of interesting things to write about. I am very glad I read this book & will recommend it to others, but I would tell them to skim large parts of it. I think it could be broken into at least 3 focused books that would be much more interesting.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting material but poorly written and edited, August 21, 2006
By 
K G R "K G R" (Alexandria, VA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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This book presents an interesting hypothesis, i.e. that our genetics have been affected by the food we and our ancestors ate, and vice-versa. What could have been a fascinating read turned into a boring series of anecdotes and random statistics. Seemingly random ethnic groups (apparently the ones the author is familiar with or chose for whatever reason to investigate) are discussed and shown to have unusual consequences from food consumption. This book needed to be edited and material reorganized.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Connections between human health & what is eaten and drunk, November 11, 2004
Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, And Cultural Diversity by ethnobiologist and nutritional ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan is a personal and scientific survey focused upon the connections between human health, what is eaten and drunk, and how health and diet are impacted by cultural and genetic heritages. Why Some Like It Hot is replete with stories of how native foods and cultures have co-evolved in some fairly fascinated ways. Nabhan takes the reader to the cliffs of Sardinia, where fava beans help ward off malaria due to a genetic trait in the ethnic population; the highlights of Crete where the native's olive-oil-soaked diets are healthy for their bodies, but not for western visitors; as well as the American Southwest and neotropical Mexico where fiery chile peppers help kill meat-spoiling microbes so prevalent in desert and tropical climates. Why Some Like It Hot also reveals the dire consequences to human health represented by homogenous diets and the lost of traditional foods with such effects as the rampant onset of adult diabetes among 100 million indigenous peoples and the historic rise in heart disease in peoples of European decent. Indeed, Nabhan's attention to this phenomena was initiated by the lost of a Native American friend to a combination of diabetes and alcoholism. Strongly recommended for both academic library reference shelves as well as community library collections, Why Some Like It Hot is that rare combination of academic excellence and non-specialist general reader accessibility.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not well-presented material, December 28, 2005
By 
Peggy Stone (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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I found myself reading and then skimming this book, as my interest in what could have been a fascinating theory waned in the face of the author's inability to do more than cob together personal anecdotes and impersonal statistics. The book's layout added to the problem: narrow margins, double-wide line spacing and few paragraph breaks (about one per page) conspired to make it feel like a semi-scholarly article drawn out to book length. Also, Nabhan's focus on Malaysia, Crete and the Pima tribe left me wondering: what about us Northern Europeans? There was exactly a page and a half on British cuisine, and it amounted to an anecdote about how the author once spent a week in England, the food was terrible (no leafy green veg), and how a "British friend" suggested that possibly his compatriots traveled so much to find better sources of food. (Incidentally, the sloppy editing shows up in a sentence where Nabhan talks about "the Irish, the Scotch, the British, the Norwegians, the Scandinavians," or something like that, which made me want to scream "The Scots ARE British! The Norwegians ARE Scandinavians!") It was interesting, at first, to read about the benefits of lactose tolerance among herding populations, or the disastrous consequences to desert Indians of dairy, sugar and alcohol, but I was left none the wiser about how I, as a person with exclusively North Sea ancestors, was supposed to come up with a diet suited to my genetic code. Or, for that matter, how anyone could be expected to work out their body's needs and live in a largely urban, multi-cultural world. In sum, the theory is interesting, and I'd love to know more, but from a more graceful writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Information, Fair Presentation, July 23, 2014
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This review is from: Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity (Paperback)
There was a lot to love about this book - concepts not commonly discussed elsewhere, personal stories that set the information in context, and solid take-aways. (Key among them being that there is no single "perfect" diet - each of us has different genes and lives in a different environment, and that genuinely makes a difference.) I enjoyed reading about the interaction of food, genes, behavior, and place from the author's unique perspective, and appreciated that the material was entirely unique. When you read a lot of food books, they can start to overlap significantly; this book was entirely on its own course, which was refreshing.

I must concede, however, that some other reviewers have made very valid points. The book could have used a little more clear intentionality in moving between topics and examples. It was very much written to be accessible and not a difficult read, and in some places that priority made it come across as less well researched or hard-hitting than it might have been. I also wish a little more time/attention had been spent on the reality (and its implications) that so many Americans are "mutts" - we don't have a distinct cultural heritage to look to for clues about our gene/food interactions.

All things considered, I definitely recommend this book. It isn't long, or difficult to get through, but it will definitely provide readers with a fresh perspective on the intersection of a variety of fascinating fields and provide some beneficial insight on why specialty diets are almost never going to work for you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars At last, a refutation of one size fits all diets, September 15, 2014
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All I can say is that the people who gave this a low rating must have had some issue they were pushing. Obviously, this info is a nail in the coffin of the "this diet works for everyone" groups. This is not a book knocking down straw men at all, though he does that as well. The author is knowledgeable and presents the information in a readable format. Unless you are the proponent of a particular diet or have the IQ of a rock, this book ought to appeal to you if you are interested in how and why foods and even medicines interact in certain ways with your body. It is readable, and well edited despite reviews to the contrary. I seriously wonder if some of the reviews were written by competitors who have written diet books! I am also seriously tired of people giving ones and twos to great books like this because they don't agree with evolution or can't understand the science involved. If you have an objection like that, then obviously the book was not your cup of tea. Please go review something that is. This is a great breakthrough in the way we look at food and it deserves a fair hearing
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended as a source for factual information, October 30, 2008
This review is from: Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity (Paperback)
As a biological anthropologist, I found this book readable, but far too full of straw-man type arguments. Nabhan mischaracterizes various hypotheses in biological anthropology, then cuts down the straw men with his own arguments. Rather than coming across as factually inaccurate, he could have and should have simply presented his own perspectives.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, April 26, 2010
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This review is from: Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity (Paperback)
Gary Nabhan explains why no one diet is going to work for everyone. This Norwegian-Cuban reviewer now understands her near addiction to milk, butter and cheese, as well as her love for hot, spicy, flavorful food. (Married to a super-taster, she also recommends "food" as an extremely important topic to include in premarital counseling. Or, reading this book for those who've already wed their food opposites.)
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why some like it light, May 31, 2005
By 
Calochortus "aroid" (San Luis Obispo, CA) - See all my reviews
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The book is worth getting and reading, but it's hardly a book. It's really a bloated long article in the New Yorker of old, filled out to a small book with large margins. Even so, I did enjoy it.
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Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity
Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity by Gary Paul Nabhan (Paperback - June 7, 2006)
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