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Review: “The New Evolution Diet” (for a New Year) by Art De Vany

I usually don’t even bother to read most of the "inspirational" emails many people seem to have an irresistible urge to email out to everyone in their address book, but the one I got last night regarding the New Year caught my eye. …So much so that I thought I’d share it as a prelude to this book review. I’m going to omit one paragraph that I think detracts from the message.

Life, I am the new year.
I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.

I am your opportunity to practice
what you have learned about life
during the last twelve months.

All that you sought
and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out
with more determination.

All the good that you tried for
and didn’t achieve
is mine to grant
when you have fewer conflicting desires.

All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do,
all that you hoped but did not will,
all the faith that you claimed but did not have –
these slumber lightly,
waiting to be awakened
by the touch of a strong purpose.

I am the new year.

Given that we all know what happens to people when they finally decide to give evolutionary principles a go in pursuit of leanness, health and well being, I find that inspirational verse quite appropriate for a book review just about such evolutionary principles on the last day of 2010.

Art De Vany’s newly published book, The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging, reads like an epic history of one man’s pursuit of the knowledge and practice of health & well being in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the diagnosis of both his son and late wife with Type I diabetes and the eventual premature death of his wife from a long terminal illness.

At the same time, Art manages to make it a fun read, which I believe was his goal; achieved.

While I was provided an advance hardcopy of the book from his publisher, I decided also to purchase the Kindle version and I’m glad I did because the job they did in hyperlinking references, chapters, the TOC and index is really masterful. This allowed me to jump with ease to every single reference on the fly, read Art’s additional (more in-depth, more "sciency") comments and immediately return to where I was reading in the text. In addition, there’s a notes section at the end of the book with even more references, more commentary from Art and additional sources for investigation.

And so I think the book really becomes three books in one:

  1. The beginner, "fun read," where one just goes through and get the main points.
  2. The old hand (Paleo, Primal, EvFit) read where you do just like I did and get the additional science and commentary.
  3. The Paleo-geek read, where you actually check the references and use the book going forward as largely a library of excellent references.

Where this book excels in my view is in its focus on principles, randomized. Call them the paleo principles, evolutionary principles or whatever you want, but this is not in any way about reenactment; it’s about gene expression. If anything comes through load & clear and a lot does, it’s that you don’t have control. Your genes do. You can’t directly control how your genes express themselves. What you can do is envisage many aspects of the wild human-animal experience and extract principles for eating, moving, going hungry, physically exerting, sleeping, resting, playing — and doing absolutely nothing — to simulate as much of that in-the-wild existence as you can in some semblance of random fashion — or, never doing the same thing the same way all the time — and if you’re lucky, your genes will express themselves in the most optimal way to make of you a pristine human animal specimen for as long as possible.

As many of my regular readers know, Art was my entry into this wonderful world of thinking ancestrally and applying that thought to action (and inaction). This was back in May of 2007, when as a fat and unhealthy political blogger with hyper blood pressure, I hit the gym and worked it out for myself that there was an inverse relationship between intensity and endurance. So I dropped the cardio, shortened the length and frequency of the gym sessions, blogged about it and had a commenter tell me it reminded him of Art De Vany and his Power Law.

After finding Art’s blog and putting many of his ideas into practice, I eventually blogged less about current events and increasingly about my experiences and impressive results. I came to his attention, we exchanged emails from time to time and then one day, I had the great fortune to meet him and his new wife in Las Vegas for his Evolutionary Fitness seminar. Art is truly a striking presence: tall, lean, impeccable, super-model posture (in the best sense of that ideal) and always sporting a smile that’s infectious.

The book is in many ways a greatly expanded version of that seminar with lots of blanks filled in and lots of Art’s personal experiences going back decades. His study and knowledge of human metabolism is formidable but it almost doesn’t matter because the man is 72 years old; clearly lean, strong, and vital. So while the science is quite nice and he’s an academic — a PhD — and has to play it that way — just look at the man. That’s what I did the very first time I found his website and blogged about him. So while Art is to be well recognized for getting to the science and making it available, a picture in his case has always been worth a thousand scientific references for me.

Or, think of it this way: how much more difficult is it for a 72 year old health and fitness blogger & author to have credibility than, say, some 30-somthing? That he looks as he does and does as he does is really the best advertising of credibility his book could ever have.

So…every honest book review ought to be credible in the sense that surely there was something in the book I didn’t love and I ought to say what it was; otherwise, how would people take my overall assessment seriously? OK, so here goes: he doesn’t always eat every egg yolk. While I never saw him ever mention it on his blog, he advocates canola oil in the book. Right; I don’t do either of those.

But here’s my answer to those who’ve focussed on this in other reviews: this is Art’s path. One reason I probably stuck with this deal way back when — long enough to see the results that would propel me forward — was Art’s regular insistence that everyone must find their own way. Note: not can; not should; must.

This is an excellent introduction for beginners: those who yet know nothing; and it’s accessible. It even has a full 30-day meal plan which I found impressive…because if only one were to follow that plan 80-90%, they would see amazing benefits and we all know it.

It’s also the sort of paleo / primal / evfit book I want to see written. This isn’t A diet. It’s potentially 7 billion individual diets and counting, based on the specific path each individual takes for themselves based on a few simple principles learned from observations from Kitavan to Inuit and everything in between. What works best in an environment of self-experimentation is paying attention, above all, to how you look & feel — as any animal naturally would do. This is the story of one of those 7 billion potential paths, 30 years in the making, and pioneering to boot.

Not to your liking? Well, tell us of your path.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This review would not be complete without the story of how that name and presence dovetailed with my whole experience and how it relates to Art De Vany. One of the things that led to my getting fat and having hyper blood pressure was about two years spent trading options for my own account full time. I traded credit spreads on the SPX and initially did quite well. 20-30% gains per month were commonplace. In less than a year I took $60,000 to several hundreds of thousands.

And then I lost over $200,000 in about a week.

In the end, it turned out it wasn’t about the money as much as it was the shock of realizing how fooled I’d been for so long. No, I hadn’t made an error in trading. Trading was the error (for me), in itself. I traded according to the same rules I always had. And then I recalled a radio interview I’d heard several years earlier by an options trader (may have been Taleb, but I don’t recall). He said that many options strategies are such that you win for a long time and then give up everything and more in a very short time.

I began looking for information. And what I found was Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. This book changed my life for the better. I came to realize that what had really happened is that I had begun my options trading at an opportune time for the particular strategy I used — by chance — and that I really wasn’t a super trader after all. So the choice was: back to market timing, or quit. So I quit. I also quit subjecting myself to the quotidian flow of talking-head hyperbole designed to fool me and worst of all, to have me thinking on one side or the other of a two-sided coin instead of independently. Since that time, I have almost never listened to CNBC, CNN, FNC, MSNBC or any other alphabet soup news outlet. As I believe Taleb said in FBR, important news will find its way to you.

And so on that bright spring day in May, 2007 when I discovered Art De Vany and his work, I had no idea that he and Taleb were friends, that Art was a fan of his work, that it so bolstered the principles of Evolutionary Fitness and The New Evolution Diet.

Taleb has a sizable last chapter of the book and it’s classic Taleb if you’ve read FBR or even The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Summary: you fool yourself all the time and it’s the rare events in your life that have the biggest, lasting impact.

And so let’s come full circle because it’s important. What Taleb has identified as a general aspect of epistemology (generally: the quality of your knowledge), Art has distilled physiologically. And so in the end, the book achieves the best triumph of all: a mind/body integration. They both learned from one another: you must be skeptical of what you think you know and you have no control over your genes. You must integrate the role of chance in both. You must not fool your mind and you must respect the expression of your genes.

You still have no guarantee for a fit mind and healthy body, but this is an excellent start for a New Year, if you’ll just…give it a chance.

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Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

43 Comments

  1. Richard Nikoley on December 31, 2010 at 17:32

    OK, but Art is not low fat by any means. Moderate fat. He get’s his from meat & olive oil. I get mine from meat, olive. butter and a few other animal sources and coconut. But I’m going to incorporate more red palm in place of olive. Learned at MovNat. Red palm goes with EVERYTHING.

    • Richard Nikoley on December 31, 2010 at 17:32

      ….Even scrambled eggs.

      • Reid on January 1, 2011 at 07:41

        Richard,

        I’ve read that red palm holds up well to higher temp cooking compared to olive oil. Have you found that to be the case?



      • Richard Nikoley on January 1, 2011 at 10:44

        Reid, haven’t gotten any red palm yet but I don’t plan to cook with it but to use it like I do EVOO, drizzle and dress stuff.



      • Sean on January 1, 2011 at 11:54

        Palm is a sat fat so it is inherently more stable than a mono like EVOO. Olive oil is fine on skin and salads but heat will cause it to break down. That’s assuming the average EVOO is unadulterated which I seriously doubt. Try the frig test.



      • Richard Nikoley on January 1, 2011 at 10:43

        I don’t know where you get your info, v. If you think my food pics describe the entirely of my diet you’re way off. On _average_, I eat low carb, moderate fat, moderate to high protein. Very little dairy.



      • Richard Nikoley on January 2, 2011 at 08:40

        I wouldn’t call it a _major_ difference of opinion. He recommends to moderate fat in general. I don’t. But, I no longer go out of my way to add fat, i.e., lots of coconut milk & such, and I don’t spoon coconut oil as some do.

        That’s not because I think necessarily it would be bad for me in general, it’s merely a recognition that I can get plenty of nutrition just eating food in the normal way and not to concentrate things too much (like fat). My meat sauces, for example, used to be pretty fat laden but I found ways to make it even tastier and it only has maybe a tsp of butter per serving.

        You can see my posts on saturated fat here:



      • Richard Nikoley on January 2, 2011 at 13:03

        If by that, you mean that I really think Art advocates a bad diet that harms people, you’re wrong because I don’t.

        No different whatsoever with Cordain whom I’ve disagreed with on saturated fat on this blog but always defended him in general and acknowledged his stature as a hero.

        You simply lack reasonable discernment. Just because I have a disagreement with someone in the general paleo community doesn’t mean I have to make a big deal about it or do one of my hit pieces. Those are reserved for those dispensing dietary advice that harms people in great numbers.

        Art De Vany is helping people in great numbers and that’s just a fact.

        And, so, your running attempt to get me to go off on Dr De Vany is a big FAIL.



      • Keith Thomas on January 3, 2011 at 02:25

        People who parade their refusal to adopt the ordinary courtesies of punctuation – in this case capitalization – probably have other problems, too, Richard. So, well said.



      • Richard Nikoley on January 3, 2011 at 15:55

        v:

        I have a long standing record of answering questions when they are honest and not irritating.

        You have been irritating and I don’t owe you anything.



      • Richard Nikoley on January 1, 2011 at 10:45

        “What measures of your health did you use”

        How about how I fuckin’ LOOK & FEEL? Or, should I look and feel like crap in hopes I can have a CRP lower than the .5 it is?



  2. Sam on December 31, 2010 at 18:09

    Hey, Richard,

    I know you kick ass and take names 99% of the time, but…this review was heartfelt, beautiful and moving.

    There are formidable minds and brave souls, like De Vany (and Taleb), who advance society. Now that De Vany’s ideas are beginning to infiltrate society to an amazing degree, it is easy to focus on trivia and to miss the gift he gave us by breaking trail and heading off into new country.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Birgit on January 1, 2011 at 02:26

      Agreed on all counts.

      I didn’t know you had that in you, Richard.
      (Mind you, I’ve only been lurking for a couple of months or so.)

      Powerful writing.
      Made me order the book, too :).
      Thanks.

      • Keith Thomas on January 1, 2011 at 17:14

        I agree with Sam, Dex, DrBG and Birgit. Great review, Richard – truly great. It’s the sort of review that demonstrates you “really get it” – not that we were in any doubt, of course. Best wishes for 2011!



  3. Jeff on December 31, 2010 at 18:28

    Interesting post. I bought Art’s book on Kindle and Taleb was mentioned (as you said) and that randomness made me buy Taleb’s book, which I had always wanted to read. Both are excellent books and like you I took the randomness to heart and I try to not do the same thing every day any more.

  4. NomadicNeill on December 31, 2010 at 19:23

    Taleb might have been one of the people that planted the seed for my acceptance of of paleo a couple of years later. Taleb’s idea of building a society robust to black swans is similar to building a body robust to life.

    If you’re interested in the topic of risk / randomness / human heuristics you might want to check out a book called Dance With Chance which has a chapter about modern medicine and healthcare. Basically it talks about how the vast majority of our better health over the past 100 years is down to hygiene and that one of the best things you can do for your health is stay out of the hospital.

    For example the writers advice that with current treatments it is not necessary to get checked for prostate cancer because the treatments are more dangerous than the cancer itself.

  5. Helen on December 31, 2010 at 19:44

    This is really off topic, but I wanted to say how grateful I am to you, Richard, for providing a space where no one has to self-censor, and where we are free to speak our minds.

  6. CPorter on December 31, 2010 at 22:11

    Disagree with the conclusions arrived at in the book,(I think this is more of a shepherd diet than anything) but this was a well written and seemingly heartfelt review!

  7. VW on January 1, 2011 at 04:41

    Maybe he doesn’t want to reply to you, V, but you might consider giving him a reasonable time period within which to get back, it being New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day and all. Just a passing thought from an over-caffeinated browser.

    Happy New Year.

  8. Sean on January 1, 2011 at 05:01

    You know how a friend is like, “Ya gotta see this film, ya gotta see it!’, and with heightened expectations you sit down and they are staring at you waiting for you to grok it, and you are bored out of your skull thinking, ‘anywhere but here’.

    Same film you might grow to love later, but the context sucks.

    That’s Art De Vany for me. I’m not trying to be a contrarian asshole, and I realize he’s had a huge impact on you, but my initial experience with Art on Mark Sissons’s page left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Especially since you hinted a while back about his possibly snobbish attitude to bloggers. And now I’m going to be even more annoying and link to my blog post on the subject .

    http://praguestepchild.blogspot.com/2010/12/is-body-really-chaotic-system.html

    Sorry for that.

    Perhaps the guy is a genius, probably way ahead of his time, and he’s certainly way more knowledgeable than myself. But when you base yourself on credentials and use pseudo-scientific allegories to explain your amazing ideas my bullshit meter goes to 11.

    • Jana on January 1, 2011 at 15:47

      So you’ve had a cursory introduction from another website and the “impression” left you unsatisfied? So now that you weren’t sufficiently inspired, you’re ready to post a denigrating commentary on the web about somebody you’ve barely heard of, regarding his thoughts on nutrition and health which you can’t be bothered to learn about. Good job.

      • Sean on January 3, 2011 at 04:49

        I don’t think my post was denigrating. Did you read it? I’m just pointing out that he is just plain wrong. And when people write stuff that is wrong I’m not going to rush out and buy their book. Especially when there are so many other great books I still haven’t even gotten around to.

        The point of an excerpt is to promote the book, this one had the opposite effect on me.



      • Sean on January 3, 2011 at 05:02

        And which is harder, Jana, writing a rather long blog post, with pictures and links, about (what I perceive as) De Vany’s misconceptions of chaos theory, or dashing off a petulant anonymous comment on Richard’s blog without bothering to read the post?



  9. Paul C on January 1, 2011 at 06:26

    Sometimes I try to distill reasons why others shun primal ideas, not willing to give them a chance. You point out one important one that floats subconciously for a lot of people, I think, and that is the idea of control. Releasing control to genes means challenging several beliefs of different sorts, and for many that just won’t happen.

    A snake oil named Primal Essense would be so much more successful. The instructions would be to take it with meat and butter twice a day. Control would then be back in the comfortable hands of medicine, God, and self.

    • Samantha Moore on January 1, 2011 at 11:36

      Great review. I really liked Art’s book. Looking forward to further debate and understanding as more is learned about what the human mind and body need to be fully human.

      “Releasing control to genes means challenging several beliefs of different sorts, and for many that just won’t happen.”

      Interesting perspective.

  10. Thomas on January 1, 2011 at 07:36

    Art tends to use himself as evidence of the success of his approach (I haven’t read his book yet but did subscribe to his blog for a year). So, it’s interesting to compare Art DeVany to Clarence Bass, who is also 73, lean (dare I say far leaner than Art) lifts weights (is a bodybuilder) and has a very well established diet philosophy (He has altered his approach over the years but is still a grain advocate). While both men are likely outliers, it is interesting to see successful non-paleo approaches out there. Amongst the paleo blogasphere, you tend to get the idea that if one eats grains or other neolithic foods for years on end, sure doom will follow.

  11. Ned Kock on January 1, 2011 at 09:07

    Nice review Richard. Your mentioning the trading experience reminded me of a study by Coates and Herbert (2008) of London traders. Cortisol levels correlated so much with market volatility that one measure could be used as a proxy for the other:

    http://bit.ly/g75Bqg

    • CPorter on January 1, 2011 at 11:22

      Cortisol, man that’s the enemy!!!

      Seems like that would have run very high in a “primitive” man?

  12. rob on January 1, 2011 at 09:23

    I read the book last week. A lot of it was stuff I already knew, some of it was stuff I disagree with, but it was a good read. One thing that caught my attention was when he was discussing his practices at the gym, and he says every time you go to the gym you should try to do something you’ve never done before*, because otherwise you are just spinning your wheels like 90% of the people in the gym … thought that was a good idea and put it into practice yesterday and this morning.

    What I mostly disagree with him on is the brevity of exercise dogma, but then I agree with every paleo person on the planet as far as that goes … if you dudes hate exercising so much, why even bother?

    It would make a great gift for someone who has not already immersed himself in this stuff.

    *Meaning something you haven’t accomplished before, not doing a totally different workout every time, which would be beyond stupid

  13. Sean on January 1, 2011 at 09:36

    Richard didn’t spend his New Years Eve addressing the ‘points’ of an anonymous commenter who can’t figure out how to click ‘reply’ and keep his comments on a single thread?

    Quite the fucking tragedy, that.

  14. Dex on January 1, 2011 at 09:58

    Excellent review, Richard. You should post it to Amazon; their reviews of Art’s book on Amazon are nothing short of baffling.

    Now I have to go find Taleb’s books.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. Art De Vany on January 1, 2011 at 11:10

    Ir is a wise review from someone who has done it.

    I don’t recommend canola and somehow a table in the book lists castor oil as acceptible. It is not.

    I am doing some posts on fat, not the usual stuff.

    • Bill on January 1, 2011 at 12:00

      Castor oil is an excellent cheap effective embrocation for inflammation. Recommended by Dr. Art Ayers. I’ve tried and tested and it works!

  16. CPorter on January 1, 2011 at 11:37

    About 20 years ago I worked in a personal training studio. Their philosophy was extremely heavy weight, using very slow and controlled reps. And lower reps at a higher weight were the order of the day.

    The workout regime was based on work done by Aurthur Jones and we used the Nautilus machines. However, at this specific studio, they pushed the grain based diet. I already knew that wouldn’t work for me because I was hypoglycemic, so I personally ignored all that.

  17. Jim on January 1, 2011 at 11:57

    Great review Richard,
    I especially agree about the benefits of the Kindle addition, and the multiple layers of the book.
    Seth Godin speaks about how bloggers give information away for free, and that when you buy a book from them, it is just sort of a tangible memento to have. That’s how I feel about Art’s book (his site was free for years), I’ve already received the benefits over the previous years.
    One point of interest is that Art has now made several comments (here and on his site) about being surprised about certain things that have made their way into the book without his knowledge. I’m not familiar with the publishing process, but it’s surprising to me that editors were able to add these (few minor) things in without him noticing. I guess it’s just part of the chaos of life.
    –Jim

  18. Dr.BG on January 1, 2011 at 16:13

    Richard,

    Wonderful review and I concur. I just started half of the book this morning 🙂 Great way to being the new R-evolutionary year! I don’t agree with 1% (primitive LDL lab testing and trying to obtain LDL <100 mg/dl which not backed up by scientific evidence in centenarians ; the lack of assessment of free testosterone and SHBG because total T alone is irrelevant and the fat-bashing). NOTWITHSTANDING, Prof De Vany is like the alpha and omega otherwise for me regarding the paleo-stratosphere. His essays and blog were actually where I started my deep reading and acceptance of evolutionary principles. De Vany's thoughts on anthropology, genetics and biochemistry to me are profound and broad reaching, much like his understanding of economics and bringing chaos theories to practical biological systems and our interconnectiveness…

    I didn't realize Type 1 DM was so familiar to him until I started reading the book, and this explains the many shifts that occurred in dietary, lifestyle and thought paradigms (and perhaps even the inception of the book?). I wonder if De Vany has heard of Dr. Richard Bernstein MD who embraces moderate to high amounts of saturated fat which has immune-boosting benefits?

    I cr*cked up a lot…. Seriously I hope the book helps many to learn more about our evolutionary background and targeted use of labs, HIIT/sprints, diet and supplements….

    -G

  19. Adam on January 2, 2011 at 00:38

    Sent a copy of Art’s book to my folks asked them to read it and send it on…this way, they will have to read it, rather than let it sit. Mom is already most of the way through it. After this review, can’t wait to read it myself.

    BTW, Richard glad to see you giving the Dende oil some love. Living in Salvador, Bahia I grew to love food cooked with it…looking forward to pictures of your first Moqueca!

  20. Kamal on January 2, 2011 at 11:35

    Richard, I was there at Art’s Evolutionary Fitness seminar as well. Remember seeing you. It was life changing for me. After meeting Art in person, I realized that we can get better and better as we age, in body and mind. I love living the Paleo lifestyle, knowing that I’m just improving as I get older.

    Next time you’re out in SF, ping me, would be fun meeting up.

  21. Melissa on January 3, 2011 at 13:30

    Recently I had a friend ask me for paleo book. I briefly thought about buying Art’s book and just cutting out the food chapter and replacing it with one from Sisson’s book or something. The exercise and philosophy stuff is great, but for a beginner the food chapter probably wouldn’t lead to much success. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if someone had told me there was no such thing as a good fat or to limit egg yolks and red meat. I think especially for beginners a high-fat approach is warranted. Both you and I seem to have been high fat in the beginning and settled down once our bodies healed more.

    I can’t read Art’s blog, but a certain NYC friend who reads it told me he wants to direct the paleo community away from fat obsession or something. Whatever. I agree that adding lots of butter or coconut oil to everything might be dubiously “paleo,” but there is nothing “paleo” about some of his other advice. Based on his food plan chapters, his diet doesn’t seem bad, but the food advice section preceding it just shows limited understanding of nutritional science.

    Luckily certain other authors who are coming out with paleo books are consulting actual nutritionists, anthropologists, and other experts about food. Eventually we’ll have a paleo book that isn’t riddled with errors, though Neanderthin is still pretty good.

    • Paul on January 3, 2011 at 16:09

      Neanderthin is pretty bad!

      • Melissa on January 3, 2011 at 16:54

        LOL, what was bad about it? I guess it has been awhile since I read it…



      • Keith Thomas on January 3, 2011 at 17:10

        Neanderthin was a wonderful achievement, considering what Ray Audette was battling with – and against – at the time (late 1990s). There are a few idiosyncracies, but I think it’s still the best book on the palaeo way (my copy of Art’s book is still in the mail). Neanderthin is non-prescriptive, but lays out the principles clearly so you can come to your own conclusions as to detail in an informed way. No reader is left wondering if food A or exercise B is “in” or “out”. It’s a great resource – pity it’s out of print. Secondhand copies are available from Amazon where some have sold for over $160.



  22. Contemplationist on January 4, 2011 at 19:21

    I absolutely love Nassim Taleb. Reading the Black Swan was like being hit on the head repeatedly.
    I first saw the denigration of carbohydrates within the black swan. And also saw the name Art De Vany mentioned in the book. Thats how I discovered the paleo way.

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