George Zaidan
2020 | 320 pp | £19.99
ISBN 9781524744274

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An image showing the book cover of Ingredients

The worlds of food and personal care are where we are most relentlessly bombarded with ‘scientific’ claims from both the media and marketeers about the impacts of various products on our health and wellbeing. Understanding where those claims come from and how much heed we should pay to them can be something of a minefield. George Zaidan’s first book aims to provide the reader with some insight into how to go about disentangling the confusing – and often conflicting – advice surrounding everyday items from processed food to sunscreen and beyond.

Ingredients is written in a fast-paced, informal, conversational style, somewhat reminiscent of the script of a YouTube video – not entirely surprising given Zaidan’s extensive experience producing popular science clips for a variety of channels. It’s engaging and easy to read, but by its nature makes heavy use of US-centric slang and cultural references. Most of these don’t really impact on the overall message and clarity of Zaidan’s explanation, but they will perhaps lessen the power of the comparisons for some readers.

Nevertheless, the real power of the book is its charming and humorous approach to arming the general reader with knowledge about how to interpret newspaper articles that make seemingly scientific claims about whether coffee cures or causes cancer, for example. Zaidan takes us on a journey through the different ways scientists try to separate out the complex and interconnected effects of different ingredients, while at the same time discussing how various pieces of evidence combine to form what he calls a Bridge of Truth (since the battle for the scientific meaning of the word ‘theory’ has long been lost).

If this book helps more of us feel empowered to don our ‘asshole hats’ and start looking more critically at the evidence behind breathlessly reported studies, or even helps people to be a bit less worried by the onslaught of contradictory headlines, then it will have achieved a worthy goal.

This book features in our book club podcast, which you can listen to here.