Posts tagged book

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Revolution

The Light Revolution

Health, Architecture, and the Sun

by Dr. Richard Hobday

In times past, we instinctively understood that our lives depended on the glowing warmth of the sun.  Without space heaters and microfleece, every winter was a stark reminder that the sun’s warmth can be all too fleeting on a winter’s day.  And in the spring, great rites and festivals celebrated the coming of longer, more fertile days.

Somehow, however, the sun’s importance in modern architecture has diminished over the course of the twentieth century, often even as firms attempt to “green” buildings by reducing airflow (and therefore, heat loss).  The Light Revolution is a beautifully researched book about the sun’s journey over time through our collective consciousness.  It is also a medical book, celebrating the healing power of sunshine, which has been known to cure a whole host of diseases and other maladies. Even as a solar enthusiast, I learned a lot about ways in which solar power and medicine has been utilized in the past, and also about why current architecture has strayed from its heliocentric past incarnations.  When you realize just how many things the sun can cure, and how many very respectable people have argued its merits over the years, it is almost hard to figure how the box factory/warehouse/office building came to be.

What I liked most about the book was its discussions of quality of light.  After all, sitting under a tree is hardly the same as sitting on a beach, though both can be considered daylight.  According to Dr. Hobday, our modern lighting systems are negatively affecting our health, and costing us billions of dollars in loss of health and productivity.  The quality of indoor light is most often below the luminant threshold necessary for internal vitamin D production.  As you’ll discover in the book, vitamin D is absolutely critical to our ability to prevent and heal infections and diseases.

Rounding out the interest to readers is an interesting look at how political considerations often eclipse design considerations in the planning and construction of buildings.  He showcases some nice attempts at solar building design from the past, and shows how each achieves or falls short of its goals.  In the end, the lessons from the past serve to greatly underline the future potential of light therapy and its applications in health and architecture.

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BOOK REVIEW: Mycelium Running

Mycelium Running: Paul Stamets, Google Books Listing

Mycelium Running

This book is very inspiring!  I can’t even remember how it ended up on my library list, but since starting it, I haven’t put it down.  I also haven’t stopped talking about the wonders of mushrooms, much to my friends’ chagrin.  Yesterday even found me stooping in a neighbor’s yard, trying to figure out how to extract a cool-looking mushroom from their lawn without damaging the manicured turf!  Did you know that a cubic inch of earth can contain about 8 miles of mycelium, the fungal thread that matures into familiar mushrooms?  Or that some species of mushroom can survive on crude oil, breaking down the hydrocarbons into fertile soil in a matter of a months?  Other species of mushroom have shown promise in destroying neuro toxins, absorbing heavy metals, even killing the HIV virus.  Whoa, Shitake!

Seriously though, this book is excellently written with plenty of nice pictures for visual reference and a decidedly scientific style.  The author really knows his stuff, too, and he has the patents to prove it.  Everything is covered here from using mushrooms to repopulate logged forests to starting your own backyard mushroom garden or mycelial water filtration system.  The types of fungii and the environments in which they operate are also eloquently discussed.  There are charts galore showing which species can be used for different applications such as removing certain toxins or digesting certain wood species, even how to battle parasitic fungii with other species which are more environmentally benign.  Bottom line is that our oft mistreated fungal friends may hold the key to saving our planet more efficiently than we humans ever could.  Also, their unique medicinal properties, which though known in the Far East for centuries have only recently entered exploration by Western scientists, may be the key to the cancer and viral cures of the future because many fungii protect their hosts from infection and disease in a microscopic act of “you scratch my back…”.  Now that’s a pretty good reason to eat a heaping plate of fungii!  Five big shroomy stars.

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BOOK REVIEW: Power Down: Options for a Post Carbon World

It’s book review time again!  If you’re the type of person who wants to read about the miracle technology that will single-handedly save humanity from the energy crisis… this book is not for you.  No, Power Down is decidedly pessimistic about our near-future options for creating a sustainable energy economy without major human sacrifice along the way.  After all, as Heinberg argues, in past societal collapses, evidence shows that an average of about 90% of a given population dies off in the wake of the social unraveling.  Those that survive are deligated to a life of hardship.  Heinberg puts forth a good case for why we should be comparing ourselves with collapsed societies in the first place, and includes a brief discussion of several promising energy technologies that may impact, if not invert, the current energy market.

So all is not doom and gloom.  To be honest, I felt inspired after reading about the necessary sacrifices that we will have to make in order to usher in the new sustainable global energy economy.  In all the heavy thoughts lie opportunities for change, and Heinberg makes a decided point of keeping a silver lining even on the cloudiest day.  The book also includes inspiring stories about nations that have made the rough transition to energy autonomy with varying degrees of success.  I learned as much about foreign policy from this book as about alternative energy technologies.

Overall, Power Down is a good read, and has been included on many prominent environmentalists’ must read bibliographies.  It is a tribute to the swiftness of developments in the energy industry that some passages in the book seem dated, though the book was published as late as 2004!  If you’re looking for a book that looks the problem squarely in the eye and suggests solutions, check out Power Down.

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BOOK REVIEW: Fresh! Seeds of the Past and Food for Tomorrow

Fresh! Seeds from the Past and Food for Tomorrow

It’s been a big week of reading, trying to stay ahead of the library due dates.  This was a great book, a bit different from any I’ve read before in the general gardening arena.  Brian Patterson takes a scientific look at human history’s tenuous relationship with the foods we eat and illustrates how cultivation of seeds created the culinary landscape we take for granted today.  Part science, part history, and very interesting, he goes beyond the superficial facts and examines cultivation on a chemical level. How did we learn that potatoes, though poisonous when green, can be eaten when cooked?  Or that by fermenting grape juice and adding it to flour, we can enjoy light, fluffy leavened bread, but only if that grape juice doesn’t turn to vinegar first?  When viewed through the lens of science, even the most mundane of foods take on a magical quality.

It’s not a super long book (160 pages) but it’s surprisingly full of facts to be so easy to read.  I especially enjoyed the sections on the global spread of foods from one culture to the next and the final section which contains his look toward to future of plants and humans.  For those considering gardening as a nutritional endeavor, I can’t recommend this enough. Though not expressly a gardening book, you’ll find plenty of solid tips on how to get the most from your plants in terms of flavor and nutrition.  And who doesn’t want either of those?  You’ll also get a clearer understanding of the miracles that led to the availability of foods in your favorite seed catalog, and it may inspire you to try a few new exotic varieties.

There’s also plenty here for those interested in botany or cultural anthropology. After all, seeing what detailed culinary data we can glean from Egyptian society based upon their meticulous burial practices, one can draw some interesting conclusions about how we might preserve our own history for future generations.  For the general reader, and especially for those interested in going off-grid, knowing more about locally grown foods and their health properties can only be helpful in today’s 1500 mile to plate global food culture. And it might make you befriend a local farmer or two for their floral insights.  Strawberries never tasted so sweet as when you know that the farmer used sustainable scientifically sound growing practices to deliver them to your kitchen.

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BOOK REVIEW: Skinny Bitch in the Kitch

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch (Rory Freedman and Kim Bardouin) – 2007 (excerpt)

The Bitches are Back!

For those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll remember how excited (and grossed out!) I was by the book Skinny Bitch, a treatise on eating vegan and treating yourself like the queen (or king) you really are. (read the review here) Soon after turning the last page of that book, I ordered the new companion book, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch from the library and sat back to wait, and wait, and wait, for it to come. Guess it’s just as popular as the original!

While I did enjoy the book, it lacked the hard-hitting feeling of the first book. Much of this is due to the different format. After all, this is a cookbook, so the focus is on recipes, not pep-talks. I guess they figure they’ve already hit you over the head, no need to do it again. I read through it in an afternoon, copied the recipes I liked, and sent it on its way. No grossed out dreams the next day, not even a squeamish look at the supermarket meat aisle. Perhaps after the first book, my expectations were too high… I actually MISSED this feeling of being punched in the stomach, and felt like I’d been let down. The book sort of assumes that you’ve already read Skinny Bitch, and for those that haven’t you’re relegated to three pages of summary and an order to get off your ass and purchase that book too.

That being said, the recipes look very good, and admirably, they stick to a relatively normal palette of ingredients that you probably already own (or should). And they look pretty tasty too. Most don’t travel to the culinary ends of the world, but are instead vegan revamps of classic recipes. The organization was funny and there are some cute little quotes peppered here and there for good measure.

Overall, I liked the book, but felt that I’d have liked it better with a little less expectation. I found myself photocopying chapters from the first book and handing them out to everyone I knew while breathlessly expounding on the vegan lifestyle. That won’t be happening with this one. As a producer in the movie business, I know well the daunting challenge these ladies faced in creating the sequel to such a popular book. Truly, living up to high expectation is never easy. If you’ve never read either, I recommend getting the two books together and trying out the recipes while you read Skinny Bitch and other food is totally turning your stomach. That way, the yummy vegan meals you prepare will taste that much better, and will have a greater chance of ending up in your regular cooking repertoire.

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BOOK REVIEW: the Self Sufficiency Handbook

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan and Gill Bridgewater

the Self-Sufficiency Handbook

The title of this book is perfect. There are no crazy survival tips here, although I wouldn’t mind having this book along in a pinch. It’s a guide for getting your existing house off the grid, and also for evaluating properties in terms of their sustainability potential. The writers live in the UK, after years stateside, so the companies and tips are both oriented toward those countries. But there is a nice discussion of navigating local laws no matter where you decide to drop your hoe and start gardening.

After a nice discussion of housing, which includes talks about insulation, orientation, ambient heating/cooling, alternative energy sources, and materials, they move on to daily living practicalities. First, getting light. That done, next you need food. This is where the book really shines. There is an in-depth lesson on growing an organic garden, including successful composting and which crops should be planted where and when, what needs rotation (and a sample rotation schedule that will leave you with fresh foods year-round) and what can stay put, and the care profiles for a large variety of different garden plants. They are careful to share wisdom on how much land you need to make your off-grid dreams happen, and also on how to choose property that will lead you to success.

Animal husbandry is covered in detail species by species, along with construction considerations, possible worries and probable successes of owning each type. The sections are not overly in-depth – I thought they were perfect for the off-grid enthusiast with lots of commitment but no experience with husbandry. Of course, one can never emphasize enough the time it will take to properly care for animal on your own property. They cover it nicely, if briefly, by saying this: if you own animals, you will have to feed them EVERY DAY, holiday or not. Yes, that’s EVERY day. Having kept horses growing up, I can relate to the urgency with which they repeat this statement throughout the book. Take heart.

The last section of the book can best be described as a tutorial section of recipes for survival. Not pemmican or Gorp-style recipes, but rather old-fashioned recipes for things like candles, making soap, making chutneys and jams, and brewing beer and making wine. Their recipes are pretty short and look easy to handle. In fact, the whole book was particularly well planned to fit each concept on two facing pages, so you’re never left looking for information in a thick chapter of words. I’m sure this limits the amount of information that can be presented a little, but I didn’t notice.

If you’re even considering moving off-grid, or even just converting a section of your yard to an edible garden, you should pick up this book. It’s fairly new, but with its special emphasis on looking at your actions in terms of an overall lifestyle, I think it will one day be considered a standard text in self-sufficiency. Which, as gas rises toward the $5 mark, is something we could all afford to learn more about.

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BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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BOOK REVIEW: Skinny Bitch

Skinny Bitch

Even though it doesn’t sound like an off-grid living title , read this book! Let me repeat: Read this book! It won’t take you more than an afternoon or two, and if it’s straight talk you need to scare yourself healthy, well, these gals have plenty of that. Written by a former agent and a former model who met at Ford models, the book is officially geared toward the female health and diet crowd. But the diet talk is minimal, and the text is full of totally gross-you-out quality secrets that the government and food industries can’t afford for you to know. ‘Cause, trust me, once you know, you won’t look at their products the same ever again. I finished the book yesterday, and suddenly, my morning tea had scary ingredients today. Liquid carcinogens, artficially processed sweeteners. Oh, boy, it’s not even 8 am yet.

Besides an excellent (graphic) discussion of the meat industries and another on food additives, the highlight of the book to me was the focus on applied action. Rory and Kim implore you to make a decision today… right now!… to change at least one habit that isn’t doing your body or life any good. Then, once you’ve mastered that, take on another item. This is the strategy that has worked best for me when trying to change habits. For example, want to quit smoking? Don’t scare yourself thinking I’ll never be able to smoke again! Instead, train your focus on “Don’t buy another pack”. It’s a specific action that takes effort (and a financial transaction!) to complete anyway, so it’s easier to regulate than reaching for a single ciggy. Concentrate on that, and by the time you’re moving on to “don’t smoke” (ie. you’re getting tired of bumming smokes off your dragon-breathed buddies), you’re already in the habit of thinking about your action: you’re halfway there!

Anyway, back to the book. Authors Rory and Kim have recently expanded their line of Skinny Bitch offerings to include Skinny Bitch in the Kitch (a cookbook) and Skinny Bastard (for men). So no matter what information you’re jonesing for, there’s a book for you. If you think you know a lot about what’s in your food, these ladies likely know a whole lot more. But even though they’re straight talkers (to put it politely), they never talk down to you. It’s like having two big sisters who kick you in the ass, but you know it’s because they love you and for your own good. They are very careful to explain the difference between an awesome vegan Skinny Bitch and a skinny bitch, which no one wants to be. As for me, after waiting months to get this book from the library (which arrived with curious “shelve with fiction” stickers all over it… huh? I WISH it was fiction!), I’m once again on the waiting list, this time for the cookbook. Read Skinny Bitch today and start feeling better tomorrow!

If you want to preview the book, check it out here at Google Books.

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BOOK REVIEW: Coming Out of the Woods

Coming out of the Woods, Wallace Kaufman

Wallace Kaufman’s website

Coming Out of the Woods - Wallace Kaufman

I first picked up this book because Mr. Kaufman is an alumnus of the same university I attended, and was a self-proclaimed naturalist. Well, I thought, at least we have something in common. The forest he describes in his tale border the ones I spent several weeks in on my college no-impact wilderness trip, so I felt immediately familiar with the place names and general environment he described on each page. But even if I hadn’t been there before, the way in which this story is written literally walks you through the forest, seeing everything with the trained eye of someone who not only observes, but understands the awesome forces which shape natural (and not-so-natural) history. I learned a lot about ways to detect past human presence in an area simply by observing the trees and bushes around you.

But this book is more than a tale about the woods themselves. It’s about living in the woods, humankind’s constant struggle to understand, adapt, and coexist with nature and her varied forms. As such, and as a tale of fatherhood, this book really shines. I found myself wanting to visit Morgan Branch and sit myself in the cool waters running downhill to join the larger stream. To sit alone and listen to the squirrels and birds and bats fly overhead while old-growth trees wave gently overhead. To help break ancient rocks and lift them into place for a self-built house’s foundation. Truly scenery so lovely deserves the loving documentation it receives in Coming Out of the Woods.

Of course, if you see the title, you’ll understand that all tenures have their end, and this is no exception. What would possess a man who has escaped society by the first Earth Day to rejoin it by the end of the millennium? For the answer to that, you’ll have to read the book!

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BOOK REVIEW: Peak Oil Survival

Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life After Grid-Crash

Peak Oil Survival

Just the name alone drew me to the book. Of course I want to know how to live after the bottom inevitably drops out from under us. The book was really a quick read. It looked much more dense textually than it turned out to be. But there was a lot of good information here, centered mostly upon three areas of expertise: Finding and preserving clean water, finding and making light, and heating and cooling of both environment and food.

The chapters are very short, and each show a few different ways to achieve the stated goal, depending upon your location and particular circumstance. Neither bending toward warm or cold weathers in bias, the book has something to offer for everyone. The one thing this book ISN’T is a handbook for surviving in the wilderness. Most of the projects use salvaged materials from a more populated locale than the wilderness affords. No, this is just what it says. How to make soda can shingles and dig an outhouse when Home Depot goes under and you no longer have city water running through the pipes.

I enjoyed reading the book, and found I came out with a fair understanding of most of the topics covered, especially the importance of water in a person’s chances for long-term survival. If you’re smart, you’ll put many of the ideas in here to practice long before the arrival of grid-crash. The only thing I felt missing was a solid discussion of making shelters, as I suppose it flew too far toward the wilderness for their intended audience. If they eventually write a companion guide to cover that enormous topic, I’ll gladly be in line to buy it.

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