Lambert, Anthony J. Victorian and Edwardian Country-House Life from Old Photographs.

NY: Holmes & Meier, 1981.

The thing about “material culture” is, it’s history you can look at and touch. It’s not at all theoretical or intellectual, except as you interpret it. And for obvious reasons, photography is very useful in the study of material history. There’s far more telling detail captured in a carefully examined photo than the man behind the camera ever imagined. Read a couple of Regency or Victorian novels and you’ll hear about aristocratic life in the English countryside, with game parks and sweeping lawns and armies of servants. (more…)

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Published in: on 30 November 2009 at 6:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fabb, John. The Victorian and Edwardian Army from Old Photographs.

London: Batsford, 1975.

As an historian, I’m far more interested in social movements and the evolution of material culture than in grand political strategies and great military confrontations, and to that end I have long been interested in early photography, which captures a moment in time as it really was. Action photos, the equivalent of sports photography, weren’t generally possible in the 1850s, but even people in relatively stiff poses — in this case, men in uniform, often with the tools of their trade — reveal more to us now than they would have expected. (more…)

Published in: on 30 November 2009 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Staccioli, Romolo Augusto. The Roads of the Romans.

Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003.

I was an army brat and I lived for some years in Europe as a kid. It seemed normal to me at the time, of course, but it wasn’t until I was back in the States and in high school that it began to dawn on me just how insular the life experiences of many of my classmates were. This was especially true of history. To most of them, “history” was a theoretical subject, involving the American Revolution, and the Founding Fathers, and the Civil War, and various other iconic national experiences written with capital letters. (more…)

Published in: on 28 November 2009 at 11:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Adams, Richard. The Girl in a Swing.

NY: Knopf, 1980.

Adams is best known, of course, for Watership Down, but this later work of slightly supernatural romance is, I think, a superior piece of work. Alan Desland is in every way an entirely inoffensive young man, the heir to a small but thriving porcelain and ceramics retail business in Berkshire, a talented linguist, an enthusiast in Greek drama and German literature, and a believing member of the Church of England whose best friend is a practical-minded clergyman. He’s content with his life and seems to have pretty much everything he could reasonably want. The one thing he doesn’t have is a love life. (more…)

Published in: on 27 November 2009 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The New Best Recipe. 2d ed.

Brookline, MA: America’s Test Kitchen, 2004.

I’m a fair cook, of the country meat and potatoes and apple pie variety. Well, include Italian dishes in that. And Tex-Mex. And catfish, and a few other things. I was a charter subscriber nearly thirty years ago to Cook’s Illustrated and there’s seldom an issue goes by that I don’t find one or two things I immediately want to fix. And I always enjoy the methodological and sidebar discussions even for dishes that are not to my taste. (more…)

Published in: on 25 November 2009 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Anderson, Poul. The Guardians of Time.

NY: Tor, 1981.

Time travel is a favorite sf theme and certain cause-and-effect problems are built into any time-travel story. “Can you change the past?” is the most obvious one. Anderson, one of the inventors of the “time patrol” story (and they’re still some of the best of the type), (more…)

Published in: on 24 November 2009 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Auchincloss, Louis. The Rector of Justin.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.

Auchincloss writes about the world of upper-class privilege in New England, a world he knows well, having been a Groton and Yale man himself. His stories often are set in the recent past, giving them a somewhat old-fashioned feel. This one, regarded as one of his best works (it’s certainly the one everybody recommends), (more…)

Published in: on 23 November 2009 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Martin, Elizabeth. Classic Pasta Sauces.

NY: Smithmark, 1994.

Recently, the daughter of a friend was about to go out into the world to her first apartment and she was concerned that her rudimentary cooking skills would embarrass her among her friends. I recommended this book to her as a “running start.” (more…)

Published in: on 21 November 2009 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Borer, Mary Cathcart. An Illustrated Guide to London 1800.

NY: St. Martin, 1988.

In 1800, Britain was beginning to realize just how serious the war with France was. London was worrying about the increasing number of cholera outbreaks. Jane Austen had written several novels but hadn’t thought yet about getting them published. The Prince Regent was up to his usual tricks. And no one had any idea that the steam-powered Industrial Revolution, which had already begun, was going to produce such radical and rapid changes in their lives. (more…)

Published in: on 21 November 2009 at 9:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Livingston, A. D. Strictly Chili: Cooking the Best Bowl of Red.

Short Hills, NJ: Burford Books, 2003.

Having grown up in San Antonio and spent all my adult life in Dallas, I’ve been a chilihead for a long, long time. I used to hit most of the old-time chili parlors on Commerce Street and still, three or four times a year, I brew up a big pot of chili to fill the freezer. Several years ago, I even wrote the original article on chili history and culture for Wikipedia. I’ve read a bunch of books about the art of making chili and this is easily one of the best. First, the author is a cook (he’s a food columnist with nearly a dozen previous cookbooks under his belt), not a chef. He’s interested in good taste, not pastel colors and building towers with your food. He’s also willing to go back to basics: “Chili is simply a meat stew defined by chile peppers. . . . Using lots of mild dried chile peppers and plenty of meat is the key to a superior and authentic chili.” The chiles, he points out repeatedly, aren’t just a spice; they’re the vegetable that accompanies the meat. Do that part right and you can experiment with adding a little of this and a pinch of that, and often you’ll come up with a pleasing riff on the original. What bothers Livingston is that most modern chili recipes leave too many things out. To remedy this, he leads the reader through the choice of meats (beef is basic, and venison is good, but even chicken works), the kinds and amounts of chiles (much more easily available these days, even outside the Southwest), the required spices (there’s no such thing as too much camino), and the various major variations (New Mexican chili verde, even that weird stuff from Cincinnati). And he considers the major points of contention: Beans or no beans? (Or beans on the side only?) Better fresh or better the second day? He brings in the historical experts, including Wick Fowler and H. Allen Smith (a distant relation of mine, actually), and he doesn’t hesitate to quote from earlier works. He’s also not “religious” about it; if it sounds interesting, he’ll try it. On the other hand, none of the several score recipes here includes oysters or tofu or lemongrass — all of which I have actually seen in recipes for appalling concoctions purporting to be chili. This one is now on my cookbook shelf, right next to A Bowl of Red.

Published in: on 19 November 2009 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)