In the age of Google Maps, A History of the World in 12 Maps shows how map-making has evolved from the ancient Greeks’ uneasy collision of their desire for perfection and the realization that the real world was full of uneven boundaries, through centuries of exploration, printing methods, and the requirements of politics and commerce that shaped how maps have been created, organized, and distributed. There are plenty of personal stories of mapmakers, including the famous Mercator who was persecuted as a Lutheran and also created a comprehensive, graphical chronology (was he the Edward Tufte of his times?) and the travails of the French cartographer Cassini, painstakingly traveling from village to village to survey the land from church towers amongst suspicious villagers.
The book is probably best enjoyed by those who love geography. It was a little long for my taste, but certainly stuffed with interesting information.
I very much enjoyed Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, a deceptively simple memoir of the author’s growing up in the USSR before moving to Philadelphia as a refugee — but laced with alternatively tragic and ironic references to food, whether of starvation under Lenin or forced consumption of caviar when she briefly attended a school for nomenklatura children. And she has plenty of other anecdotes, including her dad’s working at the institute that kept Lenin’s corpse presentable, the soviet’s marriage ritual that included a promise to raid children in he best traditions of Marxism and Leninism, or the dismal in Moscow during the Gorbatchev’s years. A wonderful blend of personal history and geopolitical history.
Breakfast: A History is a delightful, unpretentious compendium of stories about breakfast, breakfast foods, and breakfast references in the arts. The first two are full of fun facts. Who knew that breakfast, now hailed as the most important meal of the day, was once a sin (no thank you, Thomas Aquinas)? That what we call French toast today was once known as German toast, before WWI forced a renaming, echoing the recent Freedom fries? That the unfortunate ancient Greeks dipped their doughnuts in wine, since coffee had not yet been introduced to them? The third section of the book. about breakfast and the arts, is sadly lacking any reproduction of the pieces it discusses, frustrating the reader who may not be familiar with them. Just stop when you are no longer hungry.