The Great Divide – Peter Watson

4ce0750fcd14bc1597367796f67433041414141_v5In this book, the author compares the rise of civilization in the Old and New Worlds – looking at which factors drove them in different directions. It’s an interesting book, but also incredibly dense. It took me a while to get through it.

If you’ve read up on ancient history, there’s probably nothing truly new here, but it’s interesting to see how the author brings it together. For instance, I had never really thought about how the weather of the Americas is so much more extreme in a lot of ways than Europe and Asia. I live with tornados and hurricanes being a possibility (even though remote where I am), and it just didn’t occur to me to think about what that would mean for ancient people that didn’t understand why those things were happening (volcanoes can be included with the extreme weather events for this train of thought).

Another interesting point was a distinction in the uses of writing. One of the scholars quoted makes the case that the Maya in Central America were not a literate people. They had writing, but it was used for propaganda – not in the ways it was used in the Old World that gave rise to the great writings that we continue to refer back to. Again, something I realistically knew about, but just hadn’t thought about.

One thing I didn’t like – where’s Africa? I’m assuming it wasn’t as rich in the literature he was reviewing, but it should be addressed – it is the cradle of humanity after all.

The Iambics of Newfoundland – Robert Finch

158243154x.01._sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I added this book to my Amazon wishlist many years ago – not sure where I happened upon it, but I’ve long found the idea of Newfoundland interesting – it’s just so far away.

The book is a series of vignettes of the author’s trips to Newfoundland in the late 1980s to 1990s, so the source material, which aged quite a bit over the course of the time the book covers, is even more aged now. But it’s still a worthy read – it’s capturing a very traditional land’s changes as it moves into the more modern world. I can certainly see the parallels with the changes here in my home state of Maine – but they’re amplified there by Newfoundland’s distance. It’s an interesting portrait of a bygone age in a fascinating place.

Corsets and Codpieces – Karen Bowman

8cfd3ab30d5d8505970572b6f77434f414f4141This is a nice survey of costumes through quite a bit of history, with a lot of period illustration. However, if you’ve read up on the subject before (which I have), you’re probably not going to run into anything substantially new.

Not that this is a bad thing, but let’s just say I’m glad I got it at a bargain price, with a gift certificate.

Seeing Further – ed. Bill Bryson

306401bf972265959697a596a51434f414f4141This is a book of essays written for the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society (back in 2010 – there are some political leaning statements in certain areas that are depressingly dated).

There is a real mix of topics – some are very science oriented, some more concerned with the history of the Society and its fellows, and some that are more critiques (of a variety of things). It’s definitely got variety – I think most people could find something to enjoy and something to hate in this book.

Flowers and Herbs in Early America – Lawrence D. Griffith

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This is an interesting book, based on the author’s trials at Colonial Williamsburg of various plants that were thought to be available for Colonial era gardeners. He talks about where they were found in sources, reasons that they might have been brought over, and even why some of those plants are probably problematic if you’re trying for absolute authenticity. He also includes tips from his trials and what he grew them with.

I did really enjoy the book, but if you want to put it into practical application, you definitely want to live closer to the Mason-Dixon line – there are some lovely plants in here that my zone 5 garden would eat for dinner over the winter.

Periodic Tales – Hugh Aldersey-Williams

02b0c3ea9d9b0345979736f6141434f414f4141This book came out of the author’s attempt to collect examples of all of the elements – not easy to do, by the way. What he writes about isn’t so the chemical or physical properties of those elements, though that is covered, where it’s important to their discovery. What he does cover is the stories of who discovered them or why, or other interesting tidbits, like why a whole bunch of elements have names based on one Swedish mine. This is a cultural history of these elements, which it make it way more readable than you might expect from a quick synopsis.

At Day’s Close – A. Roger Ekirch

9b396c0dbd7b9a3593534465a41434f414f4141You wouldn’t think that the concept of night could be that different over time – most of us do sleep through it, after all. But this book explores how things were indeed different in the days before modern lighting (concentrating on the West).

Not only was it considered a separate “season”, but there are many subtle differences to the way night behaviors were perceived before modern lighting changed things entirely. Reading about the activities that went on was interesting enough, but I was fascinated to see that our sleep patterns have changed since that time. Most people slept for two distinct periods of time, with a good hour in between those times that could be used for anything from quiet contemplation in bed to actual home activity. We’ve only been sleeping through the night (assuming you’re in a position to do so), in modern times.

Interesting book with a window on a part of the old world you may never have thought about, but turns out to be fascinating.

In a Unicorn’s Garden – Judyth McLeod

1921208570-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_This is theoretically a book about medieval gardens, and while it does talk about a few specific gardens, and has some interesting plant lists, it’s really more of a historical wrap up of the kinds of gardens that would have existed in that time, with a somewhat modern garden plan to go with each idea. The plans are fairly basic – I’ll admit I was hoping for something a little more substantial. However, the plant listing in several chapters, as well as some specific plant highlights, are very useful.

I think this would also be interesting for anyone wanting an overview of history that happens to potentially touch gardening. The author goes out on some tangents that may only seem peripherally related to gardening, but they are interesting. It’s a pleasant book, just a little hard to classify.

The Shakespearean Botanical – Margaret Willes

1851244379-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I picked this up for myself as a souvenir from the Bodleian Library. I don’t normally buy books in England (it’s one thing where the prices are usually far better in the US), but this was unique, and actually published by the Bodleian Library press, so I jumped on it.

It’s a cool little book, using illustrations from John Gerard’s Herball of 1597, which Shakespeare would probably have known, and tying them in with passages from his plays and the longer narrative poems. It’s a nice addition to my gardening book collection.

 

Queen Victoria’s Cousins – Christina Croft

1533353794-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I was familiar with the fact that most of Europe’s royalty is descended from Queen Victoria and her numerous children. And I knew she came from a background that linked her to other royalty (her uncle became the King of Belgium, and her consort, her own first cousin, was a German prince), but I had not realized how extensive that network was. And that’s just her maternal relatives. It’s easy to forget that there were several other royal uncles, sons of George III, still kicking around, and that they had children of their own

This book charts those relationships. Each chapter covers a particular theme (usually relating to a certain smaller family within the family), and they’re roughly chronological. It’s an interesting survey of 19th century history, and how a few extended families influenced quite a bit of it. Probably be fun for anyone that’s recently watched Victoria on Masterpiece.