Nathan Myhrvold On The Splendid Table

When we posted on his book a few weeks ago the title of our post suggested that it was a frivolous offering. Not so. Surprisingly we have not posted about Nathan Myhrvold before, but the best profile on him was written before this platform launched. Then his dinosaur obsession and invention workshop were his primary talking points. In recent years those have made room for food.

And in case you do not have time for his book, you can get a sense of those talking points on this episode of The Splendid Table podcast:

Episode 741: Pizza: Origin, Culture and Making It with Nathan Myhrvold

This week, we take a deep dive into pizza with the co-author of the voluminous Modernist Pizza, Nathan Myhrvold. We get into the history, culture, and techniques behind great pizza. We hear stories from his worldwide travels and deep dives into pizza cultures and traditions. Plus, we hear about the culinary lab research devoted to making the best pizza ever, and he sticks around to answer your pizza-making questions. He is the founder of the Modernist Cuisine Lab…

Bewilderment & Richard Powers In Conversation

When I first linked to the work of Richard Powers it was when his previous book was being reviewed. Now he has a new book out, and from the conversation that follows it sounds like this one is a very good bookend to that one:

Richard Powers on What We Can Learn from Trees

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author asks whether we can reimagine our relationship with the natural world before it’s too late.

There are certain conversations I fear trying to fit into a description.

Continue reading

Richard Prum In Conversation With Tyler Cowen

We linked to one of Richard Prum’s books more than four years ago, then he was mentioned in a couple posts, each with small quotes based on his expertise. Here he is in conversation with someone who clearly appreciates his work and who knows how to ask good questions:

Richard Prum really cares about birds. Growing up in rural Vermont, he didn’t know anyone else interested in birding his own age. The experience taught him to rely on his own sense of curiosity and importance when deciding what questions and interests are worth studying. As a result, he has pursued many different paths of research in avian biology — such as behavioral evolution, where feathers come from, sexual selection and mate choice — many of which have led to deep implications in the field. In 2017, Tyler agreed with several prominent outlets that Prum’s book The Evolution of Beauty was one of the best books of the year, writing that it “offers an excellent and clearly written treatment of the particulars of avian evolution, signaling theory, and aesthetics, bringing together some disparate areas very effectively.” Continue reading

An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts


At 384 pages, with over 300 color illustrations, this illustrated catalog looks like the coffee table book of the year for any agriwonk, especially those who have been planting fruit and nut trees in the last year or so:

The United States Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection encompasses over 7.500 botanical watercolor paintings of evolving fruit and nut varieties, alongside specimens introduced by USDA plant explorers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Assembled between 1886 and 1942, the collection’s remarkable, botanically accurate watercolors were executed by some 21 professional artists (including nine women). Authored largely before the widespread application of photography, the watercolors were intended to aid accurate identification and examination of fruit varietals, for the nation’s fruit growers. Continue reading

Jane Goodall & The Book Of Hope

Click above to go to the publisher’s blurb about the book, and click below for the article Anna Russell, a wonderful writer in her own right, offers about the book and its subject:

Jane Goodall’s Survival Guide

The eighty-seven-year-old naturalist knocks around her home on the south coast of England and explains why, despite the floods and fires and melting ice caps, she’s still optimistic about planet Earth.

Jane Goodall Illustration by João Fazenda

Before the pandemic, Jane Goodall travelled three hundred days a year to speak to audiences about the climate crisis. “I used to do, like, three days in the Netherlands, three days in Belgium, three days in France,” Goodall, who is eighty-seven, recalled recently. In China or Australia, “it would be, like, two weeks, where they’d spread me through their country.” Everywhere she went, she met young people who were “angry, depressed, or just apathetic, because, they’ve told me, we have compromised their future and they feel there is nothing they can do about it,” she writes in her twenty-first and most recent work, “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.” Amid flooding and wildfires, impassivity and eco-grief, the question she was asked most often was “Do you honestly believe there is hope for our world?” Continue reading

Fuzz, Author Interview

Macaques check out a camera in Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India. Monkeys have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even the halls of India’s Parliament. One attorney told author Mary Roach about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling out patient IVs. Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This conversation with the author Mary Roach is plentiful with surprises about the human-animal interface, occasionally unfortunate and sometimes hilarious:

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach. Penguin Random House

Animals living among us often ignore the rules we try to impose on them. Science writer Mary Roach experienced this firsthand when a group of macaque monkeys accosted her in India.

“I was kind of asking for it,” Roach admits. “I walked up this trail where I knew there were a lot of macaques, and I walked up holding a bag of bananas.”

At first, nothing happened. Then Roach saw a monkey pop its head up from behind a boulder, “kind of like the bandits waiting for the stagecoach.” Continue reading

It’s Monday, So Pizza

A pizza in a wood-fired oven. All photographs by Nathan Myhrvold / The Cooking Lab, LLC.

Phaidon‘s books frequently allow us to offer a fun alternative to our heavier fare. Today is one of those days to go for the fun:

The surprising history of pizza

Modernist Pizza might apply the latest science to the pizzaiolos’ role, but it also dishes up deep history too

Pizza Margherita.

Modernist Pizza certainly applies a little science to the task of making a great slice. In this huge, comprehensive, three-volume publication, authors Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya share innumerable practical tips and innovative techniques to create great pizzas. Myhrvold is Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer and studied under Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge, and so almost all of those tips and techniques aren’t simple repetitions of old hunches and dogma, but the product of numerous test-kitchen experiments. Want to know the precise effects of ageing on mozzarella? Or which parts of your oven really cook your pie? Then get this set of books. Continue reading

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Message For All Of Us

When The Ministry for the Future came to my attention late last year, it was the first I had heard of this author (I am buried deep under a big rock when it comes to science fiction). Now I wonder how I could have missed such an important thinker on the most important topics of our time (not science fiction):

Kim Stanley Robinson on “Utopian” Science Fiction

One of the premier writers of thinky sci-fi, Kim Stanley Robinson opened his book “The Ministry for the Future” with an all too plausible scenario: a lethal heat wave descends on India, with vast, horrifying consequences. It’s a sobering read, especially after July, 2021, was declared the hottest month on record. And yet Robinson tells Bill McKibben that his work is not dystopian; his central concern is how the globe could respond to such a disaster and begin to halt the momentum of global warming. Continue reading

A Taste Of Matthew Raiford’s Heritage

The last food book we featured was not a cookbook, but had plenty of food for thought. Thanks to the Kim Severson (again, after a couple years of our not seeing her work) for bringing Matthew Raiford, his family heritage, his farm and his cookbook to our attention in her article: A High-Summer Feast to Forge Connections in the Deep South. And if time is short, click through just for the exceptional photography:

Rinne Allen for The New York Times

Matthew Raiford swore he’d never return to his family farm in coastal Georgia. But in breaking that vow, he found a sense of community worth celebrating with a lavish spread.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — It’s not a stretch to say there may have never been a party for a cookbook like the one Matthew Raiford threw on his family farm a few weeks ago.

Rinne Allen for The New York Times

The book’s title is “Bress ‘n’ Nyam” — “bless and eat” in the English-based Creole spoken by the Gullah Geechee people who live along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida. Their ancestors were captured in West Africa and enslaved. Nowhere else in America has the cultural line from Africa been better preserved. (Mr. Raiford’s people call themselves freshwater Geechee, which means they are from the mainland of coastal Georgia. Saltwater Geechees are from the barrier islands.) Continue reading

Books About Below The Deepest Most Of Us Will Ever Go

Chloe Niclas

Thanks to Robert Moor for these reviews:

The Wonders That Live at the Very Bottom of the Sea

Two new books, Edith Widder’s “Below the Edge of Darkness” and Helen Scales’s “The Brilliant Abyss,” explore the darkest reaches and all that glows there.

In the deep sea, it is always night and it is always snowing. A shower of so-called marine snow — made up of pale flecks of dead flesh, plants, sand, soot, dust and excreta — sifts down from the world above. When it strikes the seafloor, or when it is disturbed, it will sometimes light up, a phenomenon known, wonderfully, as “snow shine.” Vampire squids, umbrella-shaped beings with skin the color of persimmons, float around collecting this luminous substance into tiny snowballs, which they calmly eat. They are not alone in this habit. Most deep-sea creatures eat snow, or they eat the snow eaters.

Until fairly recently, it was widely believed that the deep seas were mostly devoid of life. For centuries, fishermen hauled in deep-sea trawling nets filled with slime, not knowing that these were carcasses. Some animals, adapted to the pressure of the deep, are so delicate that in lighter waters a mere wave of your hand could reduce them to shreds. The myth of the dead deep sea, known as the Abyssus Theory, was disproved by a series of dredging and trawling expeditions in the 19th century, including a German scientific expedition in 1898 that pulled up the first known vampire squid. But the misconception nevertheless lingered. In 1977, a geologist piloting a submersible near the mouth of a hydrothermal vent, and finding it swarming with creatures, asked the research crew up above, “Isn’t the deep ocean supposed to be like a desert?” Continue reading

The Arbornaut

The author has been featured in these pages multiple times over the years. The publisher makes it easy to find an option that suits your shopping preferences (our preference is obvious). Her new book has received plenty of praise, according to an email she sent us:

Readers everywhere will be fascinated and inspired to learn more about nature, and especially about how we need to conserve the world’s forests.” ―Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and United Nations Messenger of Peace Continue reading

Art Of The National Parks

Click the image above if this is your kind of coffee table book. It is of course available elsewhere but please, support the publisher instead of the elsewhere option. We feature stories related to the national parks of the USA about as frequently as any other topic; here is a unique way to support the idea and the actions that flow from the idea.

Thanks to the Guardian’s feature on the book for bringing it to our attention:

The art director JP Boneyard ’s favourite park is Montana’s Glacier national park. “It’s breathtaking, I’m smiling just thinking about it ,” he says. For his screen-print project Fifty-Nine Parks, now collected in a book, he asked modern artists to reinterpret America’s classic national park posters, commissioned by the government in the 1900s.

“I hope they inspire people to visit the parks and connect with nature, but, heck, it’d be awesome if the book inspired folks to pick up a squeegee and start printing too,” he says.

The National Parks Conservation Association has been mentioned in our pages a couple times before, but only in passing. Finding out more about this book led me to their website for the first time, and I already see a post on that topic is needed, but on another day.

If You Happen To Be In Berlin

The phased opening of Humboldt Forum, a museum in Berlin, includes this exhibit, and of course a beautiful book to boot.

An interesting feature, in the form of an editorial on the museum’s website can help put this exhibit in context. The goal of this museum is anti-colonial, among other things, according to the museum’s editorial:

According to the people behind the project, the partial reconstruction of Berlin’s historic palace was an expression of the power to mend, to repair the urban fabric and the historical associations enshrined in the space it occupies.

Which is unusual for a well-funded museum in a wealthy country to say. So, this book looks interesting from multiple angles, and the text describing the book is a hint at that:

The elephant is an admired but also endangered animal. In all times and cultures, the ivory of its tusks has been sought after. What kind of material is it, how is it used in history and the present, and what can be done today to protect the largest land mammals from poaching? This richly illustrated volume undertakes a cultural-historical journey and a current positioning. Ivory fascinates  and polarises. Continue reading

Appleseed, For Your Consideration

If your summer reading does not include some dystopian fiction and you want to consider adding some, for your consideration this review bhas a strong recommendation of the above book:

A Novel Charts Earth’s Path From Lush Eden to Barren Hellscape

Climate is everywhere in fiction these days. Omar El Akkad’s “American War,” Lydia Millet’s “A Children’s Bible,” N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Carys Bray’s “When the Lights Go Out” and Selah Saterstrom’s “Slab” are just a few of the many recent novels to highlight global warming and related extreme weather. Continue reading

The Soul Of An Octopus

I missed this book when it was first published, but thankfully its author was invited onto a podcast I listen to regularly.

On the author’s own website she links an independent bookseller of her choice as the favored place to buy the book. Bravo.

Klein’s introduction to the conversation:

How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves

I’ve spent the past few months on an octopus kick. In that, I don’t seem to be alone. Octopuses (it’s incorrect to say “octopi,” to my despair) are having a moment: There are award-winning books, documentaries and even science fiction about them. I suspect it’s the same hunger that leaves many of us yearning to know aliens: How do radically different minds work? Continue reading

Healing Earth & Avoiding Amazon

Longleaf pines once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to east Texas but today only about 5 percent of historic range remains intact. Marion Clifton Davis was a modern conservationist who bought tens of thousands of acres in the Florida sandhills and turned them into a private reserve, a project aimed at restoring back the Longleaf pine forest. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr, CC BY ND 2.0)

When you have 12 minutes to spare, listen to Tony Hiss talk about his new book on this excellent episode of Living On Earth, and if you decide to buy the book and want to avoid Amazon click the image of the book below:

The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and is a carbon sink. It’s estimated that if global warming exceeds the 3-5 degree Celsius heat stress and water scarcity could trigger extensive forest death and a dangerous release of the stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo: Kevin Owen, Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Climate change is placing stress on plants and animals to rapidly adapt but without intact habitat, that could become impossible for many. Tony Hiss is an award-winning author and joins Host Bobby Bascomb to talk about his book Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which looks at several places across North America where communities are already working to protect habitat and biodiversity.

Transcript

BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

During his first few days in office President Biden announced the goal of protecting 30 percent of US land and water by the year 2030 with a long term goal of 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading

McKibben’s Thoughts On Bittman’s Book

Illustration by Tim Robinson.

Sometimes one recommendation is not enough, so here is one of the environmental writers we feature most frequently giving us a second look at Junk:

Mark Bittman’s history of why we eat bad food.

Mark Bittman writes the way he cooks: The ingredients are wholesome, the preparation elegantly simple, the results nourishing in the best sense of the word. He never strains; there’s no effort to impress, but you come away full, satisfied, invigorated.

From his magnum opus, How to Cook Everything, and its many cookbook companions, to his recipes for The New York Times, to his essays on food policy, Bittman has developed a breeziness that masks the weight of the politics and economics that surround the making and consuming of food. In Animal, Vegetable, Junk, his latest book, he offers us his most thoroughgoing attack on the corporate forces that govern our food, tracking the evolution of cultivation and consumption from primordial to modern times and developing what is arguably his most radical and forthright argument yet about how to address our contemporary food cultures’ many ills. But it still goes down easy; the broccoli tastes good enough that you’ll happily go for seconds. Continue reading

Elizabeth Gould, Illustrator Of Note

Gouldian Finches, named for Elizabeth Gould, from The Birds of Australia. Illustration: Elizabeth Gould/Public Domain

When we think of birds and illustrations, most frequently the work of John James Audubon comes to mind. But there were others:

Meet Elizabeth Gould, the Gifted Artist Behind Her Husband’s Famous Bird Books

John Gould’s ornithology books were hugely popular and cemented his name in history. But his wife’s illustrations were a big reason why.

In 1830, when English taxidermist John Gould was keen to publish his first volume of bird species, his wife Elizabeth asked him who would create the illustrations. She knew her unartistic husband wouldn’t be up to the task. Continue reading

Trees Are Social Creatures

When I first read about trees as social creatures five years ago it was thanks to a man in Germany. I am happy now to learn that a woman in Canada is at least as responsible for this concept as anyone else. She is promoting her book currently and there are at least three good ways to get a glimpse into it, and her, including this book review, this audio interview and IndieBound’s description:

Description

From the world’s leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest–a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. Continue reading

Mosquitoes Of The World, And Other Books For Earth Day

Thanks to Matthew L. Miller for this series of book reviews in honor of Earth Day (including the book to the left, which may make you wonder who would be interested in such a topic):

I have a confession: I have never celebrated Earth Day. That may sound almost sacrilegious for a conservation writer to admit, I know. And perhaps it’s more accurate to say I don’t celebrate it in the usual way: going to a festival or concert with some “green” theme. It’s never really been my scene.

Instead, I’ll go for a walk, look for the local birds and wildflowers, hopefully write something about nature and certainly read about it. But that’s pretty much how I spend every day.

“Biodiversity” is one of those terms that gets said a lot on Earth Day. As a concept, I’m not sure it connects to many people. For me, the diversity of life on Earth is not only why I’m a conservationist, it’s one of the main motivators of my life. Continue reading