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review 2017-07-24 17:58
Surprised at the love for this one.
Butter: A Rich History - Elaine Khosrova

I was surprised when learning the news that margarine was now considered MORE unhealthy than butter. I grew up eating it whenever I had bread/toast because supposedly butter was BAD for you. It never really bothered me but at the same time I really didn't mind when butter for bread was available at a restaurant or at someone else's house, etc.

 

So enter this book about butter. The history and origins, how it's made today and how that has changed, its uses (which aren't always for consumption/cooking/baking/etc. purposes!), and its place in society. The book also includes recipes and a few pictures of stuff ranging from tools to Tibetan butter carvings (!). Some of it was quite interesting to read about.

 

But I agree with lots of people who found the writing not so great. It's dull and while the author clearly has enthusiasm for her subject, I can't say it really transferred into making the writing more interesting for the reader. I thought my interest in the subject would sustain me but I guess my enthusiasm for the topic wore off, as quirky as it is to write about as an entire book.

 

It might have been better as a magazine long read. There are a bunch of recipes that take up a third of the book if you're interested. I'd skip this one or borrow from the library if you're *that* passionate about it.

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review 2017-07-24 09:27
Please, Mr. Einstein
Please Mr. Einstein - Jean-Claude Carrière

I feel like I hit the book lottery.  I hate hyperbole, and perhaps after the book hangover has faded I'll find myself backtracking or offering qualifications, but as of right now, this last minute impulse buy, at a used book sale for $1, might be the best book I've ever read.  

 

Ever.

 

I didn't think so when I started it, because the back-cover had me expecting an historical fiction; a what-if look back. I was not pleased to start that first chapter and find myself confronted with a speculative fantasy told in first person omnipresent POV.  I found the narrative voice a bit condescending and supercilious and I didn't see how this was possibly going to be anything other than a pretentious attempt at literary fiction.

 

Thankfully that only lasted for 4 pages or so, before it became obvious what the author was setting up, and I suddenly found myself totally hooked.

 

Imagine the chance to step outside of time and place to have to opportunity to speak with one person in history; not only about themselves and their work, but about their entire field as it spans time and events; to be able to learn and explore ideas with a hero of the discipline, someone who changed the world.

 

This is the setup for the book.  A nameless young woman 'finds' Einstein in a place that transcends time and she is gained admittance to his study for an 'interview'.  What follows is a conversation to which we are invisible observers.  This conversation spans all of Einstein's theories, what his work started; its repercussions; the emotional fall-out and the consequences of his overnight celebrity and the cost of his Jewish background.

 

What can I say?  It's beautiful, this odd what-if of a book.  The science isn't for those disinterested in physics but it isn't incomprehensible either.  The personal element is ... the author made you feel like you were there and made you feel Einstein's wonder, amazement, melancholy, regret, betrayal and pensiveness; the 'doors' were an incredibly vivid way to bring the times and events to life, and a drop-in visit by Newton was both funny and heart-wrenching.

 

I loved this book, I loved it so much.  It's so good I'm overlooking the times the author tried to argue against concepts by using the very same assumptions that he claims makes those concepts false.  Everything else was so overwhelmingly good that the fallacy isn't worth a 1/2 star demerit.  I closed the book wanting to hug it.

 

It's obviously a work of fiction but only in its construct; 85% of this book is factual representation of Einstein's and his contemporaries' theories, so if you're partial to science, philosophy, and think Einstein is a legend, definitely check this book out.  I honestly just wanted to stay in that room with him forever.

 

(This is a English translation of the book Einstein, s'il vous plait.)

 

 

 

 

 

Pages:  185

$$:  $6.00  (location multiplier)

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url 2017-07-22 19:10
Arguing History #2: Did the Protestant Reformation have to happen?

My second Arguing History podcast is up! In it, I host historians Peter Marshall and Alec Ryrie in a discussion of the question, "Did the Protestant Reformation have to happen?" Enjoy!

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review 2017-07-21 10:42
An excellent naval history of the Civil War
War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 - James M. McPherson

A few years ago I decided I wanted to read a naval history of the Civil War. To my surprise, I learned that, for all that has been written about the conflict, there are relatively few books about its naval aspects and the ones I found proved disappointing. Had I waited a little longer I would have discovered that this book was a perfect fit for my needs, as James McPherson brings his expertise as the nation's foremost Civil War historian to the study of its naval aspects. Drawing upon both primary sources and secondary studies he surveys the various components of the naval war, from the Union blockade that was a critical dimension of the conflict to the revolutionary development of steam-powered ironclads, all of which he describes in his clear and assured prose. If there is a complaint to be made about this book it is that the apparent parameters of the Littlefield series for which he wrote it limited the amount of depth in which he can explore his subject, yet within its confines he has provided the best single-volume history of the Civil War at sea there is or is likely to be for some time to come.

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review 2017-07-20 22:43
Podcast #59 is up!
The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta, and the Struggle for Ancient Greece - Jennifer T. Roberts

My fifty-ninth podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Jennifer Roberts about her new history of the Peloponnesian War (which I just reviewed here). Enjoy!

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