On March 30th, Livemint newspaper published a review of All About Bacteria, my health book. Here is a link to that review.
I took exception to some of the comments by the reviewer, and wrote an open letter to him. The letter is below. I am trying to post my comments on the Livemint site as a comment to the review, but the Livemint moderators are not allowing me to do so.
Dear Jacob P. Koshy,
I am Ravi Mantha, the author of “All About Bacteria”. First of all I would like to thank you for reviewing my book and for the generally positive comments with which you start off the review. I have Googled your work and see that you are highly intelligent and articulate and I am so happy to have this author-critic relationship with you. I truly wish you the very best and look forward to your achieving greater heights as a critic in the future, and I have enjoyed reading some of your other posts.
I do have a few bones to pick about the substance of your review, and I hope you won’t take it personally. I know that this is the age of tight deadlines where you get maybe ten minutes to look through a book and then half hour to crank out a review. If you are going to give my book this kind of a treatment, that’s fine, but then you should then stick only to positive comments that are less likely to put the spotlight on your research. If you are going to write negative comments and generally show off your critical thinking skills and blast my three years of research saying it was “breezily written”, then I have to hold you as a critic to a higher standard, and I expect you to actually read the book fully, refer to my blog and understand my work properly.
I am afraid that your review falls flat because you actually “breezily read” my book, and you have clearly not looked at my blog. Let’s go through your comments one by one.
For instance, I spoke of oral/dental health as the easiest things one can do to get on the road to preventing heart disease, because all it takes is regular visits to the dentist. At no point did I say that if you have clean teeth then that’s all you need to do to prevent heart disease; good oral health is just the low hanging fruit which we can all achieve. The main point of that section is that the stress hormone cortisol is the culprit, and one of the many reasons people have elevated cortisol is because they have gum disease. The biggest cause of heart disease is actually sugar inflammation, which is diet-related.
It is amazing that you say “iffy syllogisms without attribution or any reference to proven studies”. If you actually read the book to the end, you would find that there are nearly a hundred citations to scientific studies in the book, which are carefully indexed in the back. Did you really miss this part, or was it not essential in the review to mention this crucial piece of information?
You then talk about “egregious errors of perfunctory research” when quoting me on the carb-based diet in many parts of Asia, and you quote the Journal of Obesity on a study conducted in India. This is what we call a straw man attack, where you create an imaginary argument and debunk it.
Jacob, anyone who has read my blog www.ravionhealth.com or has heard me speak, or who is following my diet, knows that I am a big enemy of fast-carbs and sugar. As an anti-diabetes crusader, I am a huge advocate of reducing carbohydrates in the Indian diet! The main point of my quote there is that Asia is not just India. When I mention in that section that “large parts of Asia eating carbs without any problem”, I am talking about the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans who share our vast continent, not Indians. If you read my book, you will know that the longest lived people in the world are inhabitants of Okinawa in Japan, who eat a predominantly carb-based diet. Northern Asians have evolved to eat more carbs than South Asians, so their rates of diabetes are much lower on a rice-based diet. I will let the audience judge whether it is you or I who is guilty of “egregious errors of perfunctory research”.
You mention “Mantha’s breezily-written, well-structured book degenerates into pop advocacy rather than what could have been a classy science book about the mysterious and intriguing world of bacteria”. Thank you! I take this as a huge compliment because I did not set out to write a classy science book. The whole point was to make microbiology accessible to a broad audience. If I have pissed off a professional critic and science reporter like you because the book is “pop advocacy”, then I have surely succeeded in reaching my real audience, which is not you but the large numbers of people out there who need information on preventive health.
Let me close by quoting Professor Eugene Rosenberg of Israel, the worlds’ leading authority on microbiology, and the author of over a 100 papers and books on the topic over five decades. Professor Rosenberg really knows what he is talking about in microbiology, plus he has an added advantage over you; he actually read the whole book.
“What a joy- a book that explains modern microbiology in simple terms, full of helpful advice that can help you lead a healthy life. ” Professor Eugene Rosenberg