Yet another carrier bag of books designated for the charity shop memorialised in brief snark form. Only five this time, but they’re all pretty hefty volumes.
The Vegetarian Book Of Microwave Cookery
It’s kind of hard to convey to someone who didn’t live through it quite what an effect the advent of the microwave in the mid-eighties had on people’s lives. Prior to this, methods of cookery had been simple. Boil, grill, fry or roast. Direct application of heat – easy to understand. Now there was this strange box that bombarded the food and made it heat itself – very odd. One of the first things most people discovered was simple – “don’t boil eggs in it”, unless you like picking fragments of eggshell out of vents. But beyond that it was a mystery, and thus fertile ground for the cookbook industry. (One advert featured a woman eating nothing but reheated pizza until the magical cookbook showed her that microwave could actually do more. Presumably she had thrown out her oven when she got the microwave.
This cookbook is pretty typical of the trend. It mostly consists of previously existing recipes, modified to include “microwave” rather than “boil”. There’s an entire page on how to cook vegetable in the microwave (which essentially boils down to “cut up, add a bit of water, microwave”). There’s also a lot of things (like baking in the microwave) that tended to work better in practice than in theory. Overall though, this book is better than the average one of the era.
Faults and Fixes, by David Leadbetter
Golf is a funny game. “A good walk ruined,” say some. “A small white ball balanced on a gigantic green one, where you try to hit the white one,” say others. GK Chesterton described it as “an expensive way of playing marbles”. I golfed in my teenage years, very badly as most people do. I managed to avoid getting the bug as badly as some of my family members though, one of whom purchased this book. A note they have left inside it reads “Swing two clubs”, which at first sounds like cheating a bit, but which turns out to be a strengthening exercise for the shoulders, which is a tad disappointing.
The author of this book, David Leadbetter, is a man famous for having coached multiple world-class golfers, and this book contains some of his wisdom. For example, Fix #25, “Clang the knees for an improved leg action”, asks you to imagine that you have two cymbals strapped to the inside of your knees, and to clang them together as you strike the ball. Fault #35, “Poor footwork”, is illustrated by a golfer toppling backwards off a cliff on his backswing. The cure for this is to brace your knees apart, which does seem to conflict with the last fix. Fault #66, “Sidehill problems”, decides that the best way to illustrate that you don’t want to send your ball near a water hazard is to show an alligator lurking in the reeds, which is possibly a bit overdramatic.
Collins Encyclopedia of Music
This is an imposing volume, featuring an awful lot of information delivered in a fairly poor format and nigh-unreadable typeface. Which is a shame – it’s important to know the “Bladder and string” is an English folk instrument that consists of a bladder on a stick with a string over it. It reminds you of why you shouldn’t trust Morris dancers. It’s not that great as a reference though – it describe Duke Ellington, for example, as the greatest musical “colourist” in jazz history but does not include an entry to explain what a “colourist” is. (And Google doesn’t know either, so we’re sunk.)
So overall not a great book, but it did lead me to Duke Ellington’s “Such Sweet Thunder”, jazz music inspired by Shakespeare, so that’s pretty good.
Plus it lists an alternative instrument beginning with X to sylophones – the xylorimba! (Okay, it’s technically just “a longer than usual xylophone”, but it’s still good to have alternatives.)
The no-nonsense tile of this textbook sets out clearly the subject matter. The introduction includes an interesting line “The unifying theme of the book is evolution, which is of course a unifying concept of all biology”. Which is true. As is, for example, a core underlying concept of geology the fact that the Earth is billions of years old, and a core underlying concept of astronomy is that the Earth is not in any way an important part of the universe. These are such central concepts to these scientific disciplines that it’s impossible to work within them and deny their existence, yet for some these are or were highly controversial statements.
The book itself is a good textbook, a little dated but not horrendously so. It’s got some interesting random facts (such as Darwin having nearly been rejected from the journey of The Beagle because the captain was a student of physiognomy, and thought that the shape of Darwin’s nose denoted weakness), which is a pretty good way of keeping students engaged. The book progresses naturally from basic biochemistry, through to cell life, plant life, animal life and then human physiology. Overall a good grounding in the subject, which is what it was intended for, as an introduction for students who were new to science in general.
The Ascent Of Man, by J Bronowski
This is the book of a 1970s TV series, with each chapter based on an episode, which give it an oddly disjointed feeling. The first half is a potted and slightly Eurocentric history from the origin of man through the dawn of civilisation, the development of science and culminating in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The second half then goes back and first looks at the evolution of various scientific aspects of civilisation – specifically industrialisation, evolution and atomic physics (the classic selection, I’m sure you’ll agree). There’s a very 1970s chapter on quantum theory (that would seem very dated to a modern physicist, no doubt) which appears to draw the conclusion that since science cannot predict the behaviour of a single particle, thus “science is human”. A chapter on genetics and DNA follows (odd that it was not paired with the evolution one), and finally a chapter on the evolution of human thinking about thinking, and what that really means.
And it’s that last chapter which once again steers me into the pitfall of these summaries, in that this book is one I’m keeping. So it goes. (Mental note – buy new house, need more bookshelf space.)