Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

March 23, 2013 

Fiction

Breaking Point

C.J. Box, Putnam, 384 pages

In his 13th novel about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, C.J. Box skillfully shows how government can enhance lives and preserve the environment and a legal system run amok. Many people are near breaking point, as Joe learns when he becomes personally and professionally involved in the problems of neighbor and construction company owner Butch Robertson. Butch is the prime suspect in the murder of two armed EPA agents who had come to stop him from building a retirement house on his land. A vindictive EPA director, a former sheriff with a grudge and a former soldier are now after Butch, who has fled to the mountains. Joe agrees to lead a posse, hoping if he finds Butch first he can stop more violence.

Based on a true incident, “Breaking Point” is infused with the frontier spirit of an old-fashioned Western as the good guys try to track down the bad guys – only in “Breaking Point” the sole person without another agenda is Joe. While out-of-control bureaucracy fuels the plot, “Breaking Point” carefully shows how rampant abuse of power can erupt anywhere. Box’s contemporary spin on the Western makes “Breaking Point” an explosive thriller that careens from one unpredictable twist to another.

Sun Sentinel

Nonfiction

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Michael Moss, Random House, 480 pages

A can of Coke contains roughly nine teaspoons of sugar. Lunchables were created to revive a flagging interest in bologna. People like chips that snap with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

Those are just some of the nuggets in Michael Moss’ “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” which shows how processed food makers manipulate their goods to get consumers to buy, often at the expense of their health.

Moss goes the distance in researching the tactics companies use to create craving for their products. What he learns is enough to give readers serious indigestion. Companies often add salt to products rather than fresh herbs, which have the same effect, because it’s cheaper. Coca-Cola says it won’t market to kids under 12, but the company targets them anyway by advertising at amusement parks and sports venues. One ice cream maker cites scientific research that “ice cream makes you happy,” but even the scientist who did the study sheepishly downplays the results.

Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, is at his best when he’s acting like a journalist: talking to people, sifting through and explaining documents, and writing with finger-licking flair. There are places, however, when he can feel like a lecturer repeating his salt, sugar, fat mantra until you want to scream: “I get it!”

Moss doesn’t really offer solutions for getting companies to produce healthier products. In the end, his message is about personal responsibility. We’re the ones who decide what we put in our shopping carts – and in our mouths.

Associated Press

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