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review 2017-08-17 20:32
How to be a Victorian
How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life - Ruth Goodman

How to be a Victorian, like Ruth Goodman's How to be a Tudor, which I read in January, is a fine study of a foreign country - in this case the Britain of roughly 150 years ago.


It is filled with strange, often horrifying or amusing details. For example, that genteel ladies might want to take exercise, but were deathly afraid of being caught at it.  (Their solution was to either take long walks, with a package under their arm, to suggest *really* being out on a charitable - and thus socially acceptable - errand, or to perform calisthenics, which would not disturb their movable wombs, in fashionable suits in the privacy of their own bedrooms.)  That doctors were not against corsets, but only "tight lacing," which some particularly fashion-obsessed ladies used to reduce their waists to as little as 13 inches.  That a large proportion of the population, most or some of the time, were hungry, and their nutrition was actually made worse by the rise of the Temperance movement.  (The lure of the cities, even of their slums, was that you might eat better than poor in the countryside.  Even if that "better" wasn't very good.)


It is also an excellent study of why regulations are a necessary part of society, for the protection of all of us.  We want laws saying we can't be forced by our employers to work 12 or more hours a day.  We want laws mandating safety equipment in factories.  We want laws saying the makers of food and drugs can't lie in advertisements about what's in their products, and sell us watered chalk as milk, and opium as a safe and gentle herbal baby care treatment.  We want laws preventing industrialists from hiring six-year-olds as coal miners.  Because the Victorians had to fight for each and every one of those protections.


Let's not forget them, or their achievements.

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text 2017-07-13 04:39
Science Buddy Read Book Club coming soon!
Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind - Richard Fortey
Atoms Under the Floorboards: The Surprising Science Hidden in Your Home - Chris Woodford
Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World - Mark Miodownik
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett
The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science - Sandra Hempel
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat - Oliver Sacks
What Really Happens If You're Swallowed by a Whale, Get Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara...and Then You're Dead - Cody Cassidy,Paul Doherty
Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani,Liz Kalaugher
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs - Brian Switek

Our current buddy read of The Invention of Nature is going well enough that when it's finished, we're going to convert the book club into a general science buddy read club.


We definitely need a snappier name for it.


In the meantime, the current members are going through their shelves and coming up with possible titles for future reads; we'll likely read one book every two months, as non-fiction is generally a more time consuming read and we don't want to burn anyone out with too much of a good thing.  


I've gone through my Planning to Read shelf and shelved all the science books onto the science shelf (something I generally don't do until I've read the book - more out of laziness than anything else) and I've included a few here to see if any of them look interesting to anyone else, or are maybe already on their shelves.  


I have 16 all up; if anyone has any interest in seeing them all, I have confirmed that if you go to my shelves (or anyone else's for that matter) and click on Planning to Read, and then click on my Science shelf, you'll only see the Science books I have that I haven't yet read.  BookLikes has a bit of boolean searching power it's been keeping under its hat.


I've stuck with hard sciences (left out philosophy for example), but as a member of the group I'm open to interpretations.  

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review 2017-01-28 20:13
How to be a Tudor
How To Be A Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life - Ruth Goodman

How to be a Tudor is exactly what it is labeled as - a "dawn to dusk guide" to the Tudor era.  It covers some of the same ground as Ian Mortimer's Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England, but discusses much that book does not, and covers a wider timespan, from 1485 to the start of the 17th century.


And it is excellent.  We start with getting up in the morning, at cock's crow, which in summer would be about 4 AM, and a discussion about beds, and why Shakespeare leaving his wife the second best bed wasn't an insult.  (Beds were among the most valuable things people owned, probably second only to land, if they owned any.)


We then go through the Tudor day, dealing with everything from prayers to meal times (aristocrats were very sniffy about the lower orders starting to eat breakfast), and what people ate.


What did people eat?  They ate bread, and they spent far more (proportionally) on food than we do.  Consider what you eat today.  How much of it is made of items not grown in Tudor England (basically anything from the New World, from chocolate to corn)?  Substitute bread.  How much of it is available to you this time of year, in a world without refrigeration?  Substitute bread.


That's a lot of bread.


As with anything, some of the subjects covered are of more interest to me than others - but a truly comprehensive and fascinating book.  Recommended to anyone interested in the period.

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text 2016-09-19 23:36
Well, you've got to support your local independent bookstore
The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe - Michael Pye
Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland - Dave Barry

"Fort Lauderdale is sometimes called The Venice of America by people who have clearly never been to Venice."


Picked up the Dave Barry book for my husband, and somehow the Michael Pye book just fell into my basket. Don't you hate it when that happens?



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review 2016-07-03 12:01
Rain: A Natural & Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

Cynthia Barnett's Rain begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans, and builds to the storms of climate change. It weaves together science—the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains—with the human story of our ambition to control rain, from ancient rain dances to the 2,203 miles of levees that attempt to straitjacket the Mississippi River. It offers a glimpse of our "founding forecaster," Thomas Jefferson, who measured every drizzle long before modern meteorology. Two centuries later, rainy skies would help inspire Morrissey’s mopes and Kurt Cobain’s grunge. Rain is also a travelogue, taking readers to Scotland to tell the surprising story of the mackintosh raincoat, and to India, where villagers extract the scent of rain from the monsoon-drenched earth and turn it into perfume. Now, after thousands of years spent praying for rain or worshiping it; burning witches at the stake to stop rain or sacrificing small children to bring it; mocking rain with irrigated agriculture and cities built in floodplains; even trying to blast rain out of the sky with mortars meant for war, humanity has finally managed to change the rain. Only not in ways we intended. As climate change upends rainfall patterns and unleashes increasingly severe storms and drought, Barnett shows rain to be a unifying force in a fractured world. Too much and not nearly enough, rain is a conversation we share, and this is a book for everyone who has ever experienced it.





Though this pluvial microhistory is not all that long -- just under 300 pages -- there is certainly a wealth of history and social commentary packed into this book. There's so much info packed into the prologue alone! Barnett starts pretty much from the birth of our planet and takes us right up to modern times. The fact that she satisfactorily covers this much history in so few pages is quite the feat! 


Much of the early part of this book focuses on the historical significance of rain (or lack of it). Barnett examines events such as Waterloo, hypothesizing how the outcome might have differed had there been less rain on those pivotal days. She also speculates at the correlation between the end of major civilizations such as Mesopotamia, the Mayans, and the Sumerians and how their departure lines up with times of an extreme drought that spanned 300 years. In the 1300s, too much rain ushered in the Great Famine and the Black Death that ended up taking the lives of millions people across Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. Then that period was followed by yet another period of extreme drought. Barnett also suggests that a period of strong rains might have helped push through the first Homestead Act (1862).


Rain's temperament can mean the difference between food and famine, health and plague, social unrest and national content.


It's not just the rain itself Barnett investigates though. She also looks into the development and history of waterproof clothing and accessories, with a special focus on umbrellas of course :-) I especially enjoyed the look at Jonas Hanway, an 18th century British social reformer who tried to get Brits to quit drinking so much tea. Clearly that idea didn't really take, but Hanway also became known for being pivotal in popularizing the use of an umbrella, not only for function but also fashion. Prior to Hanway consistently rockin' one with his outfit every day, most men of the era found the idea of having to hold their own umbrella too effeminate to even consider. Hanway's influence was bolstered by the publication of Daniel Defoe's novel, Robinson Crusoe, where the main character, stranded on an island, crafts an umbrella to protect him from the sun and claims it as the most important tool he has next to his gun. Guess put next to a gun, it didn't strike men as quite so girly and therefore okay to openly embrace the use of the umbrella. :-P


Barnett also gets into the somewhat controversial topic of the government experimenting with developing technology -- known as "seeding" -- to control and even create weather, some of these tests carried out by brothers Bernard and Kurt Vonnegut (yes, that Kurt Vonnegut) at GE's research lab in Schenectady, NY. It's not only the US who's experimented though, seeding has also gained popularity in Thailand, China and Indonesia. Even though many of the test results of seeding (in general) have proven largely inconclusive, the Indonesian government is still using the technology to try to get the worst of monsoon storms to fall over the ocean, to avoid the death and millions of dollars of destruction that can often follow a monsoon season.


Probably no surprise, but my favorite unit in this book was "Writers On The Storm" which looks at how rain has been featured in music, movies and literature throughout history. It was interesting to learn that both actress Raquel Welch and tv journalist Diane Sawyer both started out as weather girls -- Welch in San Diego, CA, Sawyer in Louisville, KY.


Being quite the pluviophile myself, this was one of my most anticipated reads this year and I was SO wanting this to be a solid 5 star read for me. Alas, it was not, BUT! it was a 4 star read for me! I couldn't quite make it a 5 as there were a few sections that did drag for me a bit, mainly the bit on the development of meteorological technology and some of the sections on drought periods vs flood periods in the American West. The reading of these sections just seemed more slow-going for me than much of the rest of the book. Though with the section on the American West, I was moved by the story of Uriah and Mattie, their story of struggle.


Since author Cynthia Barnett is an environmental journalist by profession, one could possibly argue that there is a slight agenda to this book, as she often mentions "cringing" or "wincing" whenever she hears someone say they don't believe in climate change / global warming. I'd say though, whatever your stance on that topic is, there is still, as I said earlier, a wealth of entertaining and thought-provoking history to be found in this book. If you happen to be a fan of the books of Mary Roach, you may want to try Barnett's work out. I could see similarities between her writing style and Roach's, as far as the easy, conversational way of sharing a topic. That said, though Barnett does have a subtle humor to her work that had me grinning from time to time, I do tend to get stronger laughs from the works of Roach. Laughs or no, read this and you're bound to come away infinitely more informed on an important topic. 


FTC Disclaimer: BloggingForBooks.com and Broadway Books kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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