Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson. History/botany.
There are a couple of ways you could go here. You could talk about (1) the science behind the workings of seeds; (2) how they fit into ecosystems; (3) their importance to human culture and development; (4) their nutritive value; (5) the importance of, and methodology for, saving unusual seed varieties in viable form; or (6) their future in the face of changing agricultural patterns and genetic modification.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova. History/food.
This is one of those books to which you should apply a simple test: does the topic sound at all intriguing? If it does, you will like this book. The world history of butter is a fascinating thing, and Khosrova does all aspects of it justice—from dairying itself, to the science behind it, to the changing interactions of gender and butter production throughout the ages, to the sordid and weird evolution of margarine.… >> Read more
Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song by Frank M. Young, illustrated by David Lasky. Biography/music.
I met the illustrator at a dinner party. I adore his work. In fact, I have some on my wall. However, unless you are truly interested in the Carter Family (which you might be, who knows, but I am not) you can probably skip this.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton. Comics.
I did not laugh quite as uproariously as I did when reading the first Hark! A Vagrant book, but that is setting a very high bar indeed. Check out the webcomic, and if you dig it, you’ll find that the print collections are well-worth adding to your shelf.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. Medicine/history.
Somewhat uneven—or perhaps it’s just that I found the development of the rabies vaccine a far more riveting story than the section on the folklore of vampires and werewolves, which even the authors acknowledge have only a pretty vague connection with rabies.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua. Graphic novel/historical fiction.
So Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage were real people, back in The Day, and Babbage designed the first computer but didn’t build it, and Lovelace wrote imaginary programs for it, and they were BFFs until Lovelace died way too early.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges. Philosophy.
A beautifully-written book about a horrible subject, by someone who has seen it from a very short distance indeed. Hedges explores what war does to humanity (both in the sense of the human race, and our humane-ness), using stories from his own experience to provide context and structure for his philosophy.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years by Tom Standage. History.
This is not, of course, really the history of what we think of when we say “social media” – MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and so on: as the sub-subtitle hints. More accurately it’s the history of all pre-centralized media. Here you will find out about the postal system of the Romans; how Luther made it big; secret messages passed via poetry at the court of Henry VIII; the political rhymes of the French revolution; how early coffeehouses were pretty much like the Internet; and what exactly was the importance of the Stamp Tax.… >> Read more