A craving for cod, potatoes and salt - biographies of things

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I am in a non-fiction reading mood, and have been looking for books from that odd category that I can only call 'biographies of things', such as 'Guns, Germs and Steel', 'Salt', 'Cod', 'The Potato', 'Zero', and 'One Good Turn' - the last being a biography of the screwdriver.

Have you read any of these and did you like them? Would you have any other suggestions for me? Are there biographies of coffee or tea?

Edited to add subtitle and correct spelling error (Guns, Germs and SteAl - biography of a dirty thief?)


I liked The Devil's Cup by Stewart Allen Lee - all about coffee. It traces the rise in popularity of the coffee bean from its origins in Yemen to Starbucks and its many flavours, and how the author thinks it has affected the world we live in.

I have Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton on my TBR, I've read mixed reviews of it, but it might be worth a look. I think it is all about Nutmeg and the spice trade in the eighteeth/nineteenth century.


...varies tremendously from author to author. I really enjoyed Cod ( http://www.bookcrossing.com/---/1127488 ), and want to read more of Mark Kurlansky's work (including Salt), but I didn't enjoy Nathaniel's Nutmeg nearly as much. The Arcanum ( http://www.bookcrossing.com/---/1726775 ) was very interesting - I had had no idea that the porcelain industry was so dramatic!


I was tempted to buy this last week as a pressie for my Mum who always swears by it. (Of course this really means that I wanted to be given it :-)

Is it any good, can anyone tell me?


I've read "Salt", and found it interesting, but dense, and a bit of a struggle.

I *loved* Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf.


Not exactly a "thing", but Krakatoa by Simon Winchester is a kaleidoscopic view of Indonesia, the Dutch East India Company, early navigation and maps, geology, and natural history all centered around that one event.


A book called "Candyfreak." I loved it. Not only did it provide a history of candies that we've all loved, but it also gave great background on candy factories and companies. It was impossible not to chew on candies while I read it, and I don't even have much of a sweet-tooth!


The Map the Changed the World about William Smith's geological strata map of England. I have never really thought of this as a genre, but I see what you man - I like those books too.


I would ever imagine enjoying a book after finishing up so many grad classes. But all those wonderful facts and delightful prose made it a treat. And I agree, I love your new title for this genre.


A history of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage



I saw a lecture by the author on TV -- it looked really fascinating.

I loved "The Devil's Picnic" by Taras Grescoe, which describes the different prohibited substances in different places. From absynthe to raw-milk cheese and from San Francisco to Singapore, Grescoe travels the world looking at the forbidden.


Henry Petroski, The Pencil
Henry Petroski, The Evolution of Useful Things [shopping carts, zippers, etc.]
author's name escapes me, Coal
Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet [the telegraph]
Henry Hobhouse, Seeds of Change [cotton, tea, opium, the potato]


The pencil fellow writes very well on the objects he examines. I haven't seen a mention of his "The Book on the Bookshelf" (a great topic *and* a great cover!):


So I can check back on it and start picking these books up. They sound great!
Thanks for the ideas!


It's a history of how the map of the world developed from ancient times to the present as new information became available. Fascinating.




you probably won't believe this, but there really is a biography on ......shit.

It's called "Merde, excursions into scientific, cultural and socio-historical coprology" The ultimate toilet book. By Ralph A. Lewin.

I've got it on my available shelf as I ordered it by mistake because there is a different book with the same title. Anyone want to trade?


> you probably won't believe this, but there
> really is a biography on ......shit.

> It's called "Merde, excursions into
> scientific, cultural and socio-historical
> coprology" The ultimate toilet book. By
> Ralph A. Lewin.

> I've got it on my available shelf as I
> ordered it by mistake because there is a
> different book with the same title. Anyone
> want to trade?

I do. Please check out my available shelf and my tbr shelf.


> > I've got it on my available shelf as I
> > ordered it by mistake because there is a
> > different book with the same title. Anyone
> > want to trade?
> I do. Please check out my available shelf
> and my tbr shelf.

PM-ing you!


Edited to remove offending(?) words.!



one that's circulating on the bookring: "What's Your Poo Telling You?"



Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down
by Nicey (Author), Wifey (Author)
There is also a website http://www.nicecupofteaandasitdown.com/ A book dedicated to the humble cup of tea and the biscuits (cookies) to have with it.


I definitely have to get that title! So I just ordered it online. It has a beautiful cover...


There are 2 I have in mind, one is "The Rituals of Dinner" and the other is "Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal", in which she discusses the histories of everyday foods, such as rice, corn, sugar etc.


"recipes" to try. I want to read Cod down the road. There is also a history of curry I'm aching to get.


The dish, the spice or the leaf? Just curious. :-)


> "recipes" to try. I want to read Cod down
> the road. There is also a history of curry
> I'm aching to get.

Has anyone read 'NATHANIEL'S NUTMEG' - a really gripping history of nutmeg (sounds really boring doesn't it, but it ain't, it's all about pirates)...



Is this it?

Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

Curry serves up a delectable history of Indian cuisine, ranging from the imperial kitchen of the Mughal invader Babur to the smoky cookhouse of the British Raj. In this fascinating volume, the first authoritative history of Indian food, Lizzie Collingham reveals that almost every well-known Indian dish is the product of a long history of invasion and the fusion of different food traditions. We see how, with the arrival of Portuguese explorers and the Mughal horde, the cooking styles and ingredients of central Asia, Persia and Europe came to the subcontinent, where over the next four centuries they mixed with traditional Indian food to produce the popular cuisine that we know today. Portuguese spice merchants, for example, introduced vinegar marinades and the British contributed their passion for roast meat. When these new ingredients were mixed with native spices such as cardamom and black pepper, they gave birth to such popular dishes as biryani, jalfrezi, and vindaloo. In fact, vindaloo is an adaptation of the Portuguese dish carne de vinho e alhos—the name "vindaloo" a garbled pronunciation of vinho e alhos—and even "curry" comes from the Portuguese pronunciation of an Indian word. Finally, Collingham describes how Indian food has spread around the world, from the curry houses of London to the railway stands of Tokyo, where karee raisu (curry rice) is a favorite Japanese comfort food. We even visit Madras Mahal, the first Kosher Indian restaurant, in Manhattan. Richly spiced with colorful anecdotes and curious historical facts, and attractively designed with 34 illustrations, 5 maps, and numerous recipes, Curry is vivid, entertaining, and delicious—a feast forfood lovers everywhere.



Or this one...

Star of India: The Spicy Adventures of Curry

In Britain today, 8000 curry restaurants serve 2.5 million meals a week and make £2 billion a year. But just how did the curry get here and how did the Brits, a nation famed for a love of bland food, end up with Chicken Tikka Masala as their favourite dish? It is a history that took curry, via the British Empire, from its Eastern origins, around the globe.
This book talks to the men and women who gambled everything to make a living, who endured indifference and racism to secure an income and those who got their relatives to pack the cardamom when they visited as there was no other way of obtaining the ingredients. From the man who became a millionaire by hawking Kingfisher beer door to door to the waiter who was working as a fisherman in Bangladesh two weeks ago, this book looks at how the British love affair with curry has changed lives, not just in Britain but around the globe



I have both The Pencil and Krakatoa on Mt. TBR, and am looking forward to them. I read Winchester's The Map that Changed the World and really enjoyed it. He has several other books in the same genre - The Professor and the Madman (US title), The Meaning of Everything, and others. Also, how about Word Freak (Stefan Fatsis), about the world of competitive Scrabble play?


stuff like this though it is old a short story on Oranges was really good. I also like Botany of Desire for this new view of old things.


I have a copy of Oranges AVL if anyone is interested. I'll RABCK it to ya! Just PM me. :)


wingmaryzeewing 13 yrs ago
PMing you


It's all yours my dear! I'm curious about the titles going into your box...???



I just order several more titles from BookCloseouts.com, and will add them to that thread when I receive them.


WHY OH WHY did I come to this thread...the last thing I need is more books to read!!! sigh.

Seriously tho, thanks to everyone for the great suggestions :-)


It can get even worse, just look here: http://www.bookcrossing.com/---/3525066/


Hmmm, maybe we can each buy one, and agree to pass it along, via my nonfiction virtual bookbox!! :) Yep, this thread killed me more than any other!



Sorry to add to your wish lists, but I enjoyed "Vanilla : The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance," by Patricia Rain. I found this one really interesting. I had no idea what was involved in the production of vanilla.


Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen



this flower. Sounds dry, but it's not - the tulip was once the most valuable plant on the Earth, and almost brought about the collapse of the Dutch economy.

There is also a book called *Spice* but I can't recall the author. Came out about 8-9 years ago. Very interesting history of spices all over the world.


I also finished this book about 2 months ago as it was recommend from one of the writers at http://www.tulipworld.com. Great book and look forward to more.


Time Lord : Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time - by Clark Blaise


and since I haven't had much response from my Bookbox forum post - http://www.bookcrossing.com/---/4

I thought I'd come back here to tempt everyone. Please let me know if you're interested. So far, I've only had 1 response - AwakeAgain.


A wonderful book viewing the historic effects of international trade in plant commodities.

The first edition traced the history of five commercial plants - sugar, tea, cotton, potatoes and quinine. But there is now a revised edition adding a chapter on coca (as distinct from cocoa).

Interestingly, while Hobhouse doubtless regards coca as a drug, he also took that stance on sugar, to which in his view the Western world is hopelessly addicted! The arguments are persuasive.


And my list gets longer... :)


Funny that this thread would come up today as I was thinking about doing a public radio commentary on pencils; those humble, low-tech, proletarian instuments of writing.


I'd be happy to send you "Oranges" by John McPhee if you are interested. PM me.


Last year Nancy Pearl did a story for Morning Edition about "micro-histories." Several from the original post are one this list of eight, but there are a few others. I've read five of the eight and enjoyed them all. I especially love Kurlansky's books (Cod and Salt) and have gotten my father addicted to him as well. [The Big Oyster was Dad's Father's Day gift and his birthday gift this August will be 1968, both by Kurlansky.]



Teawise, I have a little book that’s beautifully written and printed and bound/slipcased: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0804800693/qid=1153008577/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/103-2575173-0773435?s=books&v=glance&n=283155.

Given its Japanese origins, it’s understandably long on the tea ceremony, but the other historical details are fascinating as well.


Afternoon Teas: Recipes, History, Menus
This full-color gift book illustrated in glowing watercolors serves as the perfect guide to the joys of serving afternoon tea. Information about the history and varieties of tea, background on the different tea ceremonies, and more than 50 recipes are lovingly presented. Recipes for teas and beverages, breads and spreads, light servings and--of course--sweets. Includes four suggested menus using the recipes in the book.


Found it while looking at some of the books previously mentioned and seeing what "People who bought this book also bought" on B&N.


Something about coffee: Glass, Paper, Beans by Leah Hager Cohen



Yes, would definitely agree with the Botany of Desire, Tulip Fever, Orchid Fever.

Also The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean, whose story the film Adaptation with Nick Cage, Meryl Streep is based. Recommended.

Another tea one: The Gunpowder Gardens: Travels through India and China in search of Tea, Jason Goodwin, is highly recommended. He's good on how tea has seeped (sorry!) into many corners of our lives, eg tea cases being used for moving house until recently.

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram, Iain Banks, is a journey through Scotland & the past for the elusive perfect whisky. I found Banks and his entourage a bit irritating, but if whisky floats your boat this might be worth a look.

Finally, two on colo(u)r: Colour: A Natural History of the Palette, Victoria Finlay; and Mauve: How One Man invented a Colour that Changed the World, Simon Garfield. Both very well written; Colour with great pics and Mauve with an interesting sidelight on Tyrrian purple. My sister, keen needleworker, loves both of these.


"In this immensely learned and attractive book, Visser gives a chapter to each of the nine ingredients of a simple dinner: corn with salt and butter, chicken with rice, lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice, ice cream. Each of these foods has a "weird, passionate, often savage history of its own," which she relates in spirited prose, rich in surprising facts, unexpected connections, and a well-documented outrage at what modern technology and agribusiness have done to purity and quality. This presents a remarkable amount of information seamlessly and entertainingly."


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