Monday, June 21, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday Review: Short: Walking Tall when You're Not Tall at All by John Schwartz

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/5

I'll be upfront here: I'm a short woman. Always have been. In middle school when the girls were getting their growth spurts and suddenly towering over the boys, I was still shorter than a lot of those boys. Hence my obsession with high heels shoes - I bought my first pair of heels (combat-style boots with three inch chunky heels) in sixth grade. To the right you'll see my favorite pair of heels today - I don't care that they're 4 inch micro-stilettos, they're the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned (though mine are black patent, not bubble gum pink).

So all of that is just to say that I have a vested interest in Schwartz's topic. Schwartz is just barely taller than I am, standing five feet, three inches tall. He's heard all the jokes and teasing all of his life and read all the doom and gloom studies about how hard life is for short people. But being a science writer for the New York Times, he was curious about the reality behind these studies, as obviously he's turned out pretty well. The result of his research is a thorough debunking of the best known studies about how terrible life is for short people. Or more accurately, he debunks the popular myths about the studies - he interviewed several doctors for the book who worked on these studies and they all point out the media grabbed the sexiest sound bites rather than digging into the meat of the studies and noting that correlation does not equal causation.

Even for kids who aren't short, this book provides great examples of why critical thinking is necessary. Schwartz explains the different biases that appear in studies, or in the media reporting on studies. There's also explanations of the bell curve and standard deviations, complete with illustrative charts. Schwartz also does an excellent job of not talking down to the reader, and includes a bibliography of many of his sources, all of which are adult non-fiction titles and actual scientific surveys. He notes that they're written at an adult level, but you won't know what's too hard for you unless you give it a try!

My one complaint about this book? Schwartz focuses almost exclusively on short boys and men. Women and girls really only get mentioned when talking about breasts and the effects of early onset puberty. I would have loved it if Schwartz had taken the time to talk to some women who had experienced being short growing up, and how being a short adult has affected them - maybe even a comment on how so many of us use those awesome (but admittedly impractical) high heels as compensation.

Nonfiction Monday

Thanks to Simply Science for hosting this week's Nonfiction Monday! Next week, I'm going to be the host - so excited!


bibliophiliac said...

I might have to take a look at this book: I'm a short woman married to a short man. At just barely 5' I have to say my height doesn't bother me at all, unless I have to reach something high! But some people (like my students) might say my personality is large in proportion to my physical size. A student once told me my Indian name would be "short but powerful"!;)

Samantha said...

Interesting topic/book. I'm short as well, but I forget how short I am (also, 5'3") until someone makes a comment about it!

Story - I was at a friend's house one time hanging out with her and her sister. When I got up to leave, her sister said - "Oh! I always forget how short you are, you just act like you're taller than you are!" I took this as a compliment thinking that I just carry myself well (kinda like bibliophiliac's comment about short but powerful). :)

Angela Craft said...

Yay for short women! I definitely think we sometimes end up building personalities that defy expectations - something Schwartz also mentions in the book (people who are short often have better coping skills for the hardships in life because we've been underestimated so often).

Of course, I also psych everyone out by living so much time in high heels. When I have to take my shoes off, or wear flats, lots of people are surprised. I've lived in heels for years, but when I moved to NYC I suddenly found myself in flats much more often as I adjusted to walking so much. My husband was suddenly towering a full foot over me, which took some getting used to for both of us (he's 6'1", whereas I'm just barely 5'1")

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