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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