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Search tags: Anthropology
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review 2017-02-27 17:19
Seven Skeltons / Lydia Pyne
Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World's Most Famous Human Fossils - Lydia V. Pyne

An interesting exploration of the reasons that certain paleo-human fossils achieve the status of icons in popular culture. What makes a fossil catch the interest of everyday people? Firsts are always attention grabbing, as are remains which include skulls or very complete skeletons. A good nickname or discover story helps too (see Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis). And you can’t beat good old-fashioned controversy either!

When controversy is one of the requirements, it becomes obvious why the author chose Piltdown Man, the English fake, as one of her iconic fossils! Talk about controversial—and people continue to speculate today about who all was in on the hoax and who got fooled. Humans are attracted to good stories, especially mysteries, so I guess Piltdown deserves this position.

Also interesting was the choice of Peking Man, where the actual fossils were lost in the swirling turmoil of WW2 in China. Only casts of the major fossils remain, but once again there is a very noir mystery surrounding the fate of the real McCoy. The mystery is like catnip to puzzle-solving people and the search for the original fossils continues.

I was most interested in the final two chapters, concerning the Flores Island “Hobbit” and Australopithecus sediba. The first I was only familiar with through the original news announcements and the second was unknown to me. I’m not sure that we could label either of them “iconic” just yet, but there is certainly potential.

Interestingly absent were any of the Leakey family’s discoveries, as was any discussion of the personal rivalries between Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson (Lucy’s discoverer). Hearteningly present was the open attitude of the paleoanthropologists who are sharing their data on Australopithecus sediba—instead of hoarding the fossil and the data, they are opening the doors to any researcher with an interest and showing a new, inclusive way of doing paleoanthropological research which gives me great hope for the future.

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review 2017-02-25 09:07
Cats in Books
Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration through the Ages - Rodney Dale

Another library sale find; one I'd never seen before, but really it's a book about cats.  In books.  How bad could it possibly be?

 

It's a gem!  The only reason I didn't rate it a bit higher is because it's a rather too concise overview of cats in literary history.  It's a slim volume; easy to read in one sitting.  Rather than looking at cats as subjects in literature, it sticks to an illustrative perspective: cats in illuminated manuscripts, fables, short stories and, of course, children's literature.  It's fully illustrated itself, of course, with examples for each entry.  A nice edition from the British Library.

 

As I said, a gem of a find; one of those karmic gifts that make library sales even better. 

 

 

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review 2017-02-25 08:52
Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations
Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations - Olivier Le Carrer

I saw this book in the bookshop and it was the perfect storm of "buy me":  Gorgeous cover, a title with Cursed in it, and content focused on the unusual. 

 

The cover is still gorgeous.  Cursed didn't mean exactly what I thought it meant, though it was still very interesting.  I flashed on the simplest definition: a hex conjured by really pissed off people.  The author used the word in the broader context: places that seem eternally destined for strife, challenges or difficulties; an area prone to high death rates, but because of geography as opposed to the wrath of an individual or group.  Still great stuff, just not quite as edgy.

 

The writing is good, but the editing was disappointing; in a book that was obviously so carefully put together, these word-order errors were jarring.  The author, La Carrer is unapologetically sarcastic at times, and not for humorous effect; I got my edginess, but not in the way I was expecting.  There are small touches of humor here and there, and the entry for Point Cook, Australia is hilarious; he makes it sound like the mecca for animals who are only here to kill you.

 

It's a quick, easy read and I learned a lot; I didn't feel like he chose run of the mill places on the map.  Amityville and Gaza aren't going to be new to anyone but for me at least, most of these were almost or completely new.  Kibera has almost completely squashed my desire to see the Maldives, but I'm now incredibly interested in seeing the Kasanka National Park (spoiler alert: it involves bats).

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review 2017-02-09 09:50
Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk
Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse , and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide - Josh Katz

Peregrinations mentioned this book in one of her posts and of course I had to immediately get it.  I live in a place where I am daily questioned on how I talk, and this has fostered a fascination with the English language and accents in particular.

 

This is a larger format book, not quite coffee table sized, but it could definitely hold its own with the art and architecture tomes.  Each page features large full color heat maps, showing the prevalence for one word over another (or one pronunciation over another) in each part of the country.  Some maps are mostly homogeneous ("roundabout"); some look as though someone drew a line through the country (usually an east/west line dividing north and south, of course) ("pyjamas").

 

MT and I had a great time comparing words and pronunciations, and laughing at the differences (and sometimes even similarities).  We had fun trying to figure out his spirit state, and while it became clear that I've picked up words and pronunciations from around the country (mostly Minnesota), I was happy to see that my language still places me firmly in my home state of Florida.

 

An interesting look at the differences between us that are fun rather than confronting and a great conversation starter.

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review 2017-01-31 05:25
Butter: A Rich History
Butter: A Rich History - Elaine Khosrova

I hesitated for while over this one; I mean, how much can really be said about butter?  It seemed like a stretch.

 

It would have been too, if the entire 344 pages had just been about the story of butter.  But, in fact, only about half the book is dedicated the butter's rich history and present day revival.  And wow, what a rich history is was too; I had no idea that butter carving is a thing or that it is so intricately tied to so many ceremonies of worship around the world.  The prologue about Yak milking in the mountains of Bhutan caught my attention and the rest of the 10 or so chapters held it firmly, especially chapter 8, which not only discusses all the reversals in diet advice happening today, but inadvertently serves as an indictment of sorts on modern journalism.  Chapter 8 left me with a lot to think about.

 

The second half of the book is used to share recipes that without butter would not exist: pound cake, buttercream frosting, pie crusts, etc.  I'm definitely trying the scones and the pull apart biscuits sooner rather than later.  

 

The best part, for me, though is at the end, when she gives step by step instructions for making your own fresh butter, cultured butter, ghee, clarified and compound butters.  I almost bought the book just for these pages and I'm not disappointed.  I can't wait to try making my own butter (as soon as I figure out the Aussie translation of "heavy" cream).  As she says, you'll almost never save any money making your own, but I think it would be fun to be able to say "I made my own butter!".

 

Recommended for history and food lovers - or people deeply interested in where their food comes from.

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