Briefly Noted: Books, Movies, Magazines, and More

Refuting Morgan Spurlock, Garden & Gun, the Lionel train legacy, and Godfather diplomacy


Downsize Me

"I don't like what you're proving here," Tom Naughton's doctor tells him toward the end of Fat Head, his sharp, funny rejoinder to Morgan Spurlock's 2004 fast food exposé Super Size Me. Naughton has just spent a month eating nothing but fast food, mostly at McDonald's, and emerged 12 pounds slimmer, with his cholesterol counts essentially unchanged.

Spurlock's month-long McDonald's diet, by contrast, left him with 25 extra pounds and alarming blood test results. Naughton did not skimp on the sausages, cheeseburgers, or fried chicken, but he eschewed sugary beverages, consumed about 2,000 calories a day (compared to Spurlock's 5,000), and started walking for exercise six days a week instead of three.

Naughton refutes the thesis that fast food per se, rather than people's choices, is responsible for the "obesity epidemic." He interviews several critics of the government-led War on Fat (including me) and highlights the weaknesses in the theory that saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to heart disease.—Jacob Sullum

The Southern Lifestyle Will Rise Again

Garden & Gun is not a practical, down-home magazine with ads for handguns and advice columns on coaxing that stubborn rhododendron to bloom. The Charleston-based magazine, founded in 2007 by a former publisher of The New Yorker, is a chic Southern lifestyle magazine devoted to seeking out the best handcrafted boots, skillet cornbread, and quail lodges.

Inside, you'll find stories like the tale of a displaced Southerner so homesick for sweet tea that she got a tattoo devoted to "the real hillbilly heroin." But because this story is in Garden & Gun, the tattoo is understated and done in a hip letterpress font. "Now that I have moved home," she writes, "it serves less as a touchstone and more as a drink order." The narrative tone blends self-conscious folksiness with a Southern patrician drawl and meshes surprisingly well with the slick photography and layout. With a little luck, Garden & Gun will do for hillbilly what Wired did for geek.—Katherine Mangu-Ward

We Often Dream of Trains

Although its text is thin (and, according to some aficionados, error-prone), Robert S. Schleicher's coffee table history The Lionel Legend: An American Icon (Voyageur Press) suggests why industries grow more politically potent as they become less important to the economy. The rapturous color photos reveal an enchanting world that a generation of man-children yearned to enter during the postwar period—the very time when cars permanently displaced trains as the real world's ground transportation.

As a style, a sentiment, and an idea of how small-town America ought to look, railroad culture is hard to top—something worth remembering as the tentacles of Vice President Joe Biden's high-speed colossus enfold an unwilling nation. Mostly bypassing Lionel's century-long corporate history, Schleicher gives voice to the romance of rail—a romance that depends on those limitations that make trains suboptimal in reality.—Tim Cavanaugh

A Foreign Policy They Can't Refuse

Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 film The Godfather has become a cultural landmark, referenced in everything from The Simpsons to The Sopranos. With The Godfather Doctrine (Princeton), John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell have applied the differing views of mob boss Don Corleone's three sons (excluding the hapless Fredo) to differing schools of American foreign policy. The hotheaded Sonny is a neocon, while adopted son and family consigliere Tom Hagen represents what the authors call "liberal institutionalism." Michael Corleone represents the authors' preferred model of realism, since he senses that a shift is under way on the streets toward a more diffuse power arrangement.

The analogy works up to a point, especially with Sonny, for whom violence is always the first option. But the authors stretch the idea beyond its limits. America's alliances and enmities around the globe are too complex to be successfully squeezed into the template of three fictional gangsters dealing with Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo.—Clark Stooksbury