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.

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.

Wildflowers of Maine – Kate Furbish

1608936554-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_This book was an incredibly thoughtful gift from my manager for Christmas this year. She knew I loved wildflowers, but what she didn’t know is that Melissa Cullina, who wrote the forward for this book, is who I took a class with this summer. She told us about Furbish’s work during the course of the class, and I got to see the larger editions that have her complete paintings. (Available for a mere $350! This will probably be the pinnacle purchase if I get really serious about this collection I’ve started.) This was the nicest gift I’ve ever gotten from a manager.

Kate Furbish lived from 1834 to 1941, and during her lifetime, traveled all over the state of Maine to paint the flora. She even found a new species (Furbish’s Lousewort – Pedicularis furbishiae), in her travels in northern Maine. When you think about the fact that she was a woman, in that timeframe, her accomplishments are even more enormous.

She donated her work to Bowdoin College, to be used to educate future botany students, but it’s really only being published now. This book is a quick survey – the art is lovely, though I can tell you the full size versions are even better.

A Book of Wayside Fruit – Margaret McKenny and Edith F. Johnston

5861f54a0720a86596a73757067434f414f4141I seem to have unintentionally started a collection of older botanical illustration of New England flora. I suppose it was inevitable, as I decided to make all the wildflower pictures I was taking into more of a thing, and we do frequent a fair number of used bookstores, where I will generally look for subjects that are on my mind.

This book is fruit specific, and seasonally oriented. It’s a little less scientifically minded than the last book I picked up, so the labeling has held up over time better. (The originally purchaser of the book added a dedication dated 1/11/47 to the person they gifted it to.) I did enjoy seeing some of the different common names for familiar plants – like black elder for winterberry.

Gulp – Mary Roach

3c5c4a93caee67559736c566767434f414f4141This book is about the entire alimentary canal – mouth to end. If you’re the kind of person that’s squeamish about any part of this, this book is not for you. However, if you want a whole lot of interesting things about the process of eating and digestion thrown at you, this is the book to read.

The author has a great voice – I’d definitely be interested in reading more of her books. She easily made this material approachable, and let’s face it, some of this gets a little gross. Anyone that can make digestion interesting definitely deserves to be read widely.

The Secrets of Wildflowers – Jack Sanders

26353c2debdb73659724e576f67434f414f4141I picked this book up at the Kancamagus Trail visitor’s center at the start of our Northern New England/Montreal trip. Originally published in 2003, it’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with my wildflower blog – write ups of various flowers he’s run into, but with less pictures than I would have gone with.

He has gone with a heck of a lot more text, which is interesting reading – lots of historical detail, details of relatives, and how you might be able to bring plants into your garden (assuming they make a good fit). It’s a nice addition to my wildflower reference collection.

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder – Marta McDowell

b06xppyh47-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I distinctly remember my mother reading the Little House books to my sister and me before bed, over a longish period of time, as we got them from the library. It was before fourth grade, because it was in our original Portland house. There are only a few books I remember from that bedtime reading series- they had to have something fairly special about them to stick in my mind.

This book talks about Wilder’s connection to the natural world, and how she’d portrayed it in her books. I’d never thought very much about it, but that was definitely one of the things I loved so much about those books – the incredible sense of place she conveys throughout them. I’ve never been to a prairie – but I feel like I’ve experienced it through her eyes in her books.

McDowell breaks down the different landscapes covered by the books, and even certain intervals in the real Ingalls family life that didn’t make it into the more fictionalized version of their life in the book series. (If you want to see the difference – I highly recommend the annotated Pioneer Girl.) She talks about the actual plants and animals Wilder may have encountered, and gives ideas for doing a modern day pilgrimage to those sites. (You can visit the historic sites, but accurate representations of the landscapes are harder to find.) It’s a great book – very interesting for fans of the Little House series, but also an interesting tracing of the natural landscape over the life of a single person, and the wide variety of places she saw, and how much has changed since then. The book ships out at the end of August – I definitely recommend it.

A Sampler of Wayside Herbs – Barbara Pond

d031e9ef1d0afbf59374a616151434f414f4141This book was published out of Connecticut in 1974. I tend not to go for reference books that old, but when I saw this in a used bookstore on Cape Cod, I had to pick it up, since the name of my wildflower blog is Wayside Flowers. The serendipity was a little bit too much in evidence for me not to snag it.

The book has lovely plates of a number of flowers I’m constantly running into, that we now consider weeds, but were by and large brought over by the original New England colonists because they were useful. It’s a nice to see those old uses acknowledged.

It’s also somewhat of a hoot to see easy evidence of how much plant classifications change – probably half of the family names listed here are completely obsolete. (Actually, the general conventions are obsolete – family names now end in –aceae. In the book, they’re using the –itae format for a number of the families, though there are some –aceae’s.) I do get a kick out of seeing how much things are constantly changing.

The Elements – Theodore Gray

This is a neat little book – it’s got pictures of all the known stable elements.    (Well, he’s stretching a bit for a few at the far end of stability, but there are also little write ups with each element to tell you why.)

So I’ve really been enjoying having the Kindle app on my Ipad.   It makes packing for trips soooo much easier.   (I mean, I used to have to figure in a book allowance into my luggage space.    Seriously. )     And I’m up over 50 ebooks in my collection now.     On deals, they’re cheaper than most used books.     But, they’re definitely not a perfect book replacement.     The formatting of this book is a perfect example.    I suspect, in real life, the elements are in one or two page spreads, and all the photos are next to each other.   In the Kindle version, you get the write up, and then separate pages for each picture.    The result is a little disjointed.   Not enough to take away the general interest of the book, but enough to remind me of why I’ll always love physical books.

The Universe Below – William J. Broad

For the first book I actually started reading in the new year, I decided I really needed to pull the oldest book out of the Tote (er, Bookcase) of Shame – made very easy by the sorting ability of LibraryThing in the Collections view.

I picked this book up in my used book store travels because it dealt with deep sea exploration – if you didn’t know, I have a Zoology undergrad degree that concentrated in marine ecology – I even did an internship in the benthic studies department of a marine lab in Florida.   I really liked this stuff, once upon a time.

This book was published in 1997, so I’m sure (heck, I know) there are lots more interesting things in the field that have happened since then, but it does have an interesting overview of what had happened in deep sea exploration up until that point.   The author wrote (maybe still does – I’m too lazy to Google) for the New York Times, and was looking into the subject after doing some stories about the deep sea submarines.   Naturally, the finding of the Titanic figures into the story (I was in college during this time frame, and actually got to see Robert Ballard speak – you could tell he was beginning to regret finding it at that point).

What I didn’t realize (but probably should have), was how much of a role the Navy played in the early days of deep sea exploration.     Once again, the Cold War certainly did do wonders for technology advancement.    (I had a few morbid moments trying to figure out what kind of “advancements” would come out of the current war on terror – definitely a depressing train of thought.)

This really is a fascinating realm, and so very open for study.     It’s been a few years since the book was written, and I know we do know more, and have seen more in the deeps, but there’s still so much out there to find.   Definitely science at its best.    Because the author is a journalist, it’s written very understandably.   If you’d like a good overview of the field, it’s worth a read, even if the book is a little old.