Like Holden Caulfield, Timothy Caulfield has a hate-on for phonies. The difference between the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye and the writer of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? is that the latter is an actual human being who teaches health science at the University of Alberta – and who takes his particular experiences living in the real world as the departure point for a volume of wry, skeptical dissent. Inveighing against a celebrity culture he believes has warped the general public’s ideas about healthy living – in body and mind – Caulfield puts famous-person-approved juice cleanses and beauty routines under the microscope of scientific observation. What he sees isn’t pretty.
There is something a little studied about the author’s everyman-expert pose; writing in the first-person and including humour-columnist style domestic-living details amid a steady stream of self-deprecation, Caulfield constructs a self-portrait of the scientist as an altruistic Samaritan/debunker, an ordinary dude who also happens to be a full professor. Gamely trying out Ms. Paltrow’s much-ballyhooed Clean Cleanse – cutting out coffee and alcohol and moaning about it – he’s also a bit like Morgan Spurlock, except that there’s substance behind the stunt. It may seem at times as if Caulfield is taking potshots at easy targets – he name-checks pseudo lifestyle mavens from Katy Perry to Kim Kardashian – but he’s dead on about the idea that fame oddly confers a sense of authority about nutrition and fitness on people whose lack of knowledge is often in inverse proportion to their eagerness to pontificate.
It’s not just People magazine mainstays who come under fire; Caulfield also dismantles Malcolm Gladwell’s celebrated “10,000 hours” theory of practiced mastery in any given field, and looks askance at the “you can achieve anything” rhetoric infecting youth athletics. Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything is an ambitious, rangy book. Caulfield’s attempts to appear like less of a scold by laying out his cool-dad bona fides (he really loves Joe Strummer) occasionally rankle, but like Salinger’s hero before him, he does a good job taking down the phonies.