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Nonfiction roundup! - Tell Me What To Read Next

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August 25th, 2006

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01:05 pm - Nonfiction roundup!
I think I'm lacking the emotional chops for fiction lately, since everything makes me cry, including uber-cheesy romance novels. This seems normal when caring for a young infant, but nevertheless, I need more balance. You guys have humored my reviews of nonfiction for a while anyhow.

First up is The Kitchen Detective. skate97, you must get this one. Disclaimer: I have not tested any of the recipes. But I don't really care if they all suck. It's about cooking the way that The Joy of Cooking is about cooking, except with simpler recipes and more talking. Very good. It's also current (2003) and local (he's a New Englander and the test kitchen is America's Test Kitchen in Brookline), and the recipes have been tested on sub-age-10 kids (his).

Pursuant to my recent math wonkery, I bought a book that I figured would be fairly congenial: The Secret Life of Numbers. The title also doesn't mention that the "50 easy essays" are also very short, like, bathroom-reading short. But that's okay. They do leave you wanting more. The author does a very good, but perhaps somewhat less than excellent, job of making the most interesting and exciting things about contemporary mathematics accessible and enjoyable for the lay reader. Some of it is a little more technical than I would expect for a book geared toward non-mathematicians. If I didn't remember at least some of what I learned in school, it would be difficult. It's also quite theoretical in the sense that it isn't focused on why a lot of things would be important. For instance, there is a chapter devoted to the Collatz conjecture. A conjecture is (this is my interpretation) a math problem that is not proven, but more of an extrapolation of probable results from a certain amount of known confirmation. Proof can make a conjecture into a rule, but disproof can collapse it altogether. The Collatz conjecture states that if you take any positive integer and treat it as follows: (if even, divide by 2; if odd, multiply by 3, add 1, and divide by 2, in that order; repeat with each resulting number until you reach 1), it will always eventually reach 1 (and the numbers that result along the way are called a Hailstone sequence, like a Fibonacci sequence). So far, this has been tested up to 27 quadrillion, at the time of this book's publication, and it's still not even close to a proof. And that's really interesting and all, but as far as I can tell, it has no practical application whatsoever and is only being worked on because it's there. I don't normally object to this, and in fact am beginning to wonder why people look down on literature types such as myself for doing supposedly "useless" work. This is evidence that they have one hell of a nerve. At any rate, the book's greatest strength is that it illuminates theoretical math for those of us who just didn't get what was going on with Algebra II in high school and more or less gave up on the whole enterprise after fulfilling the requirements for college admission. No word on whether it'll help the hopefully smaller number of us who flunked statistics (twice) in college.

Last item: Liza Picard's Elizabeth's London. I have read other of her books and enjoyed them, and this is just the sort of thing I like anyhow: an exhaustive account of how real people really lived in a specific time and place. I'm a bit of a Tudor-Stuart buff anyhow, and I have Carolly Erickson's Bloody Mary on my table to read soon (I already read hers and several other biographies of Elizabeth I, and Jane Dunn's joint bio Elizabeth and Mary), but those tend to leave out the middle class and poor. As far as this book is concerned, the key word is exhaustive, and you may want to have maps available to follow her walking tour through the major parts of Elizabethan London. It's hard to follow just the text of that portion unless you know London well (imagine explaining Boston to someone who has never visited). I can't speak to its absolute accuracy, but so far, nothing I've read has really surprised me, and it's quite fascinating.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 25th, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC)
i've put the cookbook on my wishlist! i'll definitely be getting it. yay!
[User Picture]
Date:October 3rd, 2006 12:57 pm (UTC)
I'll be picking up The Kitchen Detective, thanks for suggesting it!

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