Relax, Dammit!

A User’s Guide

by Timothy Caulfield Allen Lane 2020/$32.00/320 pp.

Wake up. Wipe your eyes. What next? If you are like 64 per cent of people, your next step is to reach for your phone. You probably still have the device in hand by the time you visit the loo, since 75 per cent of people admit to checking emails on the toilet. “Think about that,” says University of Alberta health law professor Timothy Caulfield, “the next time your co-worker sends you an early-a.m. message.”

In Relax, Dammit!, Caulfield, who is also the host of the popular documentary series A User’s Guide to Cheating Death, takes readers on a tour of 48 decisions most people make over the course of a 24-hour day. This includes what time to wake, when to email colleagues to maximize the odds of a response and how much time to spend with the kids. “The goal is to provide a useful summary of what the evidence says about a particular decision,” explains Caulfield, “but also to give insight into how cultural, historical and scientific forces take hold of and shape our thinking on a wide range of issues relevant to our day-to-day lives.”

Caulfield weaves personal anecdotes (“Is it time for another coffee? For me, the answer is almost always yes, because, well, coffee”) with data and science (“Coffee is a carcinogen in the same way mineral oils are—probably not, unless you are a mouse and you’ve been force-fed massive quantities. And, even then, probably not”) and reflects on what the choices we make reveal about our culture and society.

The author’s two previous national bestselling books—The Cure for Everything and Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?—celebrated Caulfield’s Canadian context. Relax, Dammit! continues this tradition, featuring Canadian scientists such as Winnipeg-born gynecologist Jennifer Gunter, who provides advice on underwear choice. It also uses Canadian data (“in jurisdictions where fluoride has been removed, such as Calgary, the rate of tooth decay has increased significantly”) and refers to Canadian policies (“the use of growth hormones in the milk production process is illegal in Canada”).

Caulfield observes “We live in a society that is now engineered to create confusion, stir anxiety and spread misinformation.” His book attempts to cut through the noise by providing clear, evidence-based data. While he acknowledges that we evaluate decisions through multiple lenses, his book’s dedication—“To science. Hang in there”—declares his hopes for a more rational society. Relax, Dammit! provides a range of recommendations and advice, but Caulfield’s overall prescription for peaceful living is captured in the book’s concluding words: “Relax. And turn off your damn phone.”

—Annie Prud’homme-Généreux is a science writer and educator

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