Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Read: 22 May, 2016

In this book, Mary Roach explores the weird science and history of space exploration. As with Stiff, the writing is absolutely delightful – full of humour, interesting factoids, and tangents in all the right places.

Roach always seems to be able to guess just what sorts of follow up questions I might have, and is always ready with either the information I’m craving or perfectly suitable substitute joke.

It’s so hard to write a review for a book that is so flawless. Packing had me in stitches – it’s the kind of book you read around other people so you can interrupt them all and read out passages. And the best part is that no one will even be annoyed!

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The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ships, Boats, Vessels and Other Water-Borne Craft by Graham Blackburn

Read: 3 August, 2008

This is a huge reference work that covers most time periods and geographical locations. The edition I read used a handwritten style that made it look like someone’s notebook. I found this done in a tasteful and practical way (the writing was perfectly legible) and it added a certain amount of charm to the book.

There were many illustrations, all done in the same style as the handwriting. They were detailed, but still had that hand-drawn look to them. Again, I found it charming as well as useful. They were well labelled so that the areas they were supposed to show were quite clear.

Since the book is about types of ships, entries were quickly bogged down with nautical terms that sometimes made them a little confusing. There was a glossary at the back, but I found the entries to be somewhat short and didn’t always answer my question. Really, this is the major flaw in the book – entries are short and don’t provide a good level of detail. However, as a reference work, it functions well as an overview and jumping off point. Overall, well worth the time for anyone with a passing interest in ships, boats, etc.

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Medieval Pottery in Britain by Michael McCarthy and Catherine Brooks

Read: 22 December, 2007

A survey of Medieval pottery divided into two parts. Part one deals with shaping, firing, and decorating techniques as well as the uses for pottery in both the domestic and industrial settings. Part two has an in-depth look at each area of England and the pottery styles common to each.

Part one is very interesting and a fun read. The writing style isn’t too dry and it’s full of great information. If you’re looking for something to just pick up and read one afternoon and have some interest in pottery or Medieval life, it’s a great choice.

Part two is a much more in-depth study. It’s mostly sketches of pots with explanations that are written for brevity rather than readability. Basically, part one is the read bit and part two is the reference bit.

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Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel by Frances & Joseph Gies

Read: 23 August, 2007

The book begins with a discussion of the technology inherited from Classical civilization and from the Dark Ages. It then discusses technology adopted from the East. Finally, it covers technology invented (or perfected) within Europe through the Middle Ages, the High Middles Ages, and the end of the Middle Ages (in a chapter titled “Leonardo and Columbus”).

The language is easy to follow and the concepts, though detailed, are well explained. This makes Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel a perfect book for anyone interested in technology (both “domestic” and military) or in what life was like during that time period. In fact, the processes or production are well described and are invaluable to anyone who, like me, hopes to use a Medieval setting in creative writing.

I can’t sing this book’s praises loud enough. It took me a great deal of time to read simply because every sentence provided new information to write down in my notes or to help me jump into further study. I consider this a book anyone with even the most passing interest in history should read.

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