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review 2018-10-20 14:21
Mushrooms by Nicholas P. Money
Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History - Nicholas P. Money

TITLE:  Mushrooms:  A Natural and Cutural History

 

AUTHOR:  Nicholas P. Money

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781780237435

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DESCRIPTION:

"Mushrooms hold a peculiar place in our culture: we love them and despise them, fear them and misunderstand them. They can be downright delicious or deadly poisonous, cute as buttons or utterly grotesque. These strange organisms hold great symbolism in our myths and legends. In this book, Nicholas P. Money tells the utterly fascinating story of mushrooms and the ways we have interacted with these fungi throughout history. Whether they have populated the landscapes of fairytales, lent splendid umami to our dishes, or steered us into deep hallucinations, mushrooms have affected humanity from the earliest beginnings of our species.  
           
As Money explains, mushrooms are not self-contained organisms like animals and plants. Rather, they are the fruiting bodies of large—sometimes extremely large—colonies of mycelial threads that spread underground and permeate rotting vegetation. Because these colonies decompose organic matter, they are of extraordinary ecological value and have a huge effect on the health of the environment. From sustaining plant growth and spinning the carbon cycle to causing hay fever and affecting the weather, mushrooms affect just about everything we do. Money tells the stories of the eccentric pioneers of mycology, delights in culinary powerhouses like porcini and morels, and considers the value of medicinal mushrooms. This book takes us on a tour of the cultural and scientific importance of mushrooms, from the enchanted forests of folklore to the role of these fungi in sustaining life on earth."

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Mushrooms:  A Natural and Culturla History provides a lovely introduction to the world of mushrooms.  This book is about mushrooms in particular, not fungi in general.  This book is also not a field guide.  Each chapter covers a muchroom theme; from mushroom superstition, science, function, evolution, experts, parasites, growing, cooking, poisons, hallucinogens, and mushroom conservation etc.  The science is meticulous but not overwhelming and the anecdotes are relevant to the topic.   The book includes numerous colour photographs and other illustrations.  This was an enjoyable and interesting book about the various aspects of mushrooms.

 

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review 2018-06-25 11:45
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a history, not a science, text.  But as a history of rain, it's 100% more interesting than a book on rain would generally sound.  Filled with anecdotes that bring the history to life, and raise it a notch above a dry (ha!) academic narrative, once I got past the parts of history I always find slow (ie, any part we have to speculate about) I found it hard to put the book down.

 

The author tries tackle the subject globally, but generally, it's US-centric (which, if I remember right, she disclaims at the start).  There's a certain amount of doom and gloom when she gets to present day human vs. rain (spoiler: rain always wins), but I was incredibly please and very inspired by the stories she told about how certain cities are learning from their mistakes.  In a global culture that is so, I'm sorry, collectively stupid about climate change, it often feels like we're being beat about the head with it; we haven't yet figured out that, just as this tactic doesn't work on children, it doesn't work on humanity in general.  But a story about people learning from the past and taking steps to remediate the problems - that's what, in my opinion - is going to inspire the long-term change we so desperately need.

 

She ends the book with the most telling irony - her trip the the rainiest place on the planet, Mawsynram, where she experiences 5 cloud free, sunny days, while back home in Florida her family lives through the rainiest weather in the state's recorded history.

 

A pleasant, informative and well-written read.

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text 2018-06-05 02:36
Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 368 pages.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

It might be the power of suggestion (rain is a soothing, calming concept to me, even if it's a thunderstorm), but so far this book is both informative and relaxing.  I like the author's writing so far; there are hints of journalism, but so far, they're very brief and so far, we're sticking to the facts.  An excellent start.

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text 2018-05-28 11:08
Reading progress update: I've read 11 out of 368 pages.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

"Amid the worst drought in California history, the enormous concrete storm gutters of Los Angeles still shunt an estimated 520,000 acre-feet of rainfall to the Pacific Ocean each year–enough to supply water to half a million families."

 

Just when I think I've got a handle on all the ways we shaft ourselves, something like this comes across my reading radar.  I've never thought about it before, but city storm water sewers, while serving a valuable service, also waste enormous amounts of water, by simply throwing it all away.  

 

Taking nothing from the space programs, but why can we find the money to put people in space, and on the moon, and send rovers to Mars, but we can't find the funds to build thoughtful, efficient, environmentally sustaining infrastructure?

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review 2018-04-02 15:50
An excellent study of Ireland during the Emergency
That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War - Clair Wills

As an event, the Second World War was impossible to escape.  Though many countries sought to distance themselves from the fighting, nearly all were affected to one degree or another by the global conflagration.  One of those was Eire, the nation that had only recently wrested itself from the British empire but now found itself facing the conflict by its proximity to Great Britain.  Though the politics and the policies of Ireland during the war have been the subject of numerous books, Clair Wills has written something different, a “cultural history” which examines the impact of the “Emergency” (the name the Irish government gave to the situation) upon Irish life.

 

Wills begins by setting the scene with a portrait of Ireland in the 1930s.  With it, she underscores just how rural and primitive much of Ireland was, and the growing contrast between the “traditional” Ireland of poor farms and the “modern” Ireland of towns and cities.  It was in this context that Ireland was grappling with modernity on its own terms, with much of the resistance dictated by the influence of the Catholic church and attitudes of its adherents.  Ireland was also only just beginning to emerge from the shadow of British rule, developing its own identity as a nation and dealing with such legacies as the remnants of the Irish Republican Army.

 

All of this underscores just how unprepared Ireland was to deal with the emerging war on the European continent.  Wills reminds readers that Ireland’s stance was no different from that of other small European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, none of whom had the resources (let alone the desire) to be drawn into a large-scale conflict.  Yet unlike these other countries, Ireland enjoyed the luxury of geography afforded them as an island nation and the indirect protection of British arms.  Such protection could not shield them completely from the war, however.  Bodies of sailors from sunken ships washed up along the southern coast, the result of fighting in the Atlantic which curtailed Ireland’s trade with the outside world and forced the rationing of numerous commodities.  Propaganda filled the airwaves, as both sides sought to nudge Ireland to their side, counteracting the government’s strenuous effort for “balance” that belied any moral judgment of the conflict.

 

Throughout this account, Wills uses the lives and stories of writers to shine a light on how individuals reacted to the conflict.  What emerges is a country in the conflict but not of it, a haven for many people (including soldiers who would head south from wartime Northern Ireland for relaxation without the fear of the nightly blitz) and a land encased in a cocoon of denial to others.  She also looks at the motivations of the thousands of Irishmen and Irishwomen who crossed over to join the conflict, and the concerns of the thousands who were caught up in it against their will.  While somewhat repetitive in the later chapters, Wills describes all of this with great insight into the effects of the Emergency upon both the Irish people and their efforts to define themselves as a new nation in the world, making it a book well worth reading.

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