Skip navigation

In the last few years, we have been posting on various bookstores around the world. If you missed the blog entries, click here for a shortlist of the visited bookstores posted on this site. I(Chris) admits to like loitering in bookstores, browsing, and buying books.

Our interest is not just in the stores that display and sell them. We like books. But admittedly, for various reasons, not many books have been read cover to cover.

Anyway, to make books as a topic a bit more interesting, we will talk about pairs of non-fiction books with a similar theme. To start, we have:

The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst


Europe: A History by Norman Davies

These two books actually inspired us to make this post. First, we are not history buffs.

Europe: A History by Norman Davies was bought initially for a reason. One advantage of living in Europe is that we have more opportunity to visit a rich diversity of churches, historical sites, and castles, etc. Although we use guide books and read descriptions onsite, the information is more often sketchy and does not provide the broader context. Usually, we get the “what” but not the “why”. And we soon forgot what we saw after we left the site. Knowing the history and the bigger picture would make the visits more meaningful and enjoyable.

We liked the idea of a panorama, from the Ice Age to the Cold War. This book does it. It is a hefty 3-pounds, 1400-pages tome.

In Munich’s airport, I (Chris) recently bought The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst. I was impressed by the first 2 chapters – 50 some pages of an effective overview of the history of classical/medieval Europe (Greek & Roman learning, Christianity and German warriors) and the modern Europe (Renaissance, Enlightenment and Romanticism). The history was told by a focus on explaining the driving forces behind the social trends and events. The remaining chapters explore what made Europe unique.

The plan is to finish the short one and then go to the big book for specific events.

+ + +

Next up is a trio of books on languages – quick fix french grammar, Wicked Italian and Learn German in a Hurry. Judging by the titles, one can surmise that we want to learn at least two of these languages in the shortest possible time. All three are official languages of Switzerland (our host country).

We happen to live in a French speaking canton – Vaud. So the French book got the most use. We actually have quite a few more books on learning French but unfortunately the number of books is not a reflection of our competence in the language.

Wicked Italian is a collection of long-form (probably old fashioned and even cute) insults, and it contains some swear words. Vaffanculo! The book is for amusing our Italian friends.

+ + +

One of our favorite topics is food.

Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is a classic first published in 1984. The edition we have has been updated. The book is comprehensive and accurate on food science and practical cooking skills. The appendix has a primer on chemistry. We read it to improve our general culinary knowledge and for its simple explanation on why certain combination of things/techniques would work or not.

Arts & Foods – Rituals since 1851 is a catalogue of an exhibition we saw in the La Triennale di Milano in 2015 as a part of the World Expo. The following blurb sums it up nicely”

… an exhibition that brings attention to the theme of the event: ‘feeding the planet, energy for life’; creating an area for art in the center of the city, outside of the official expo venue. curated by Germano Celant, the exposition investigates the relationship between the arts and different food-related rituals around the world, offering: an historical view of the aesthetic and functional influences eating has had on the language of creativity; while exploring the way in which art in all its forms has dealt with themes of nourishment.

There are in this 960-page book, pictures of special forks used by the cannibals in New Caledonia, images of food in Italian neorealism cinema, as well as essays on design, autocracy, war, famine and migration. It is a smorsgabord.

+ + +

About Switzerland, our host country – we bought Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes. Chris found a copy of Watching the English by Kate Fox at a book swap at work.

We enjoyed reading Diccon Bewes who is a travel writer from the UK and now living in the land of milk and honey (see tag line). The book is funny, insightful, and we can fact-check him.

We have just started with the book about the English. The tag line is The Hidden Rules of English Behavior. The writer herself a Brit and a social anthropologist takes a humorous look at and tries to explain Englishness.

“Every social situation is fraught with ambiguity, knee-deep in complication, hidden meanings, veiled power-struggles, passive-aggression and paranoid confusion.” 

Taken from a section of Goodreads which has a collection of quotes from the book.

+ + +

Last but not least, this pair of publications was probably the result of year-end shopping at airports, at least one was bought in the United States. According to the cover, the Onion’s Our Dumb World (Atlas of The Planet Earth) is the 73rd edition, hard cover and comes with 30% more Asia. If you do not know The Onion (America’s finest news source), click here to explore and enjoy.

2018 is a complicated year, a rich time for history writers. It will be interesting to see how much of the observations and prospects discussed in The World in 2018 panned out in reality. Judging by our daily world news, things will get even more unpredictable in 2019.

We encourage all to read more in the new year. We will.


One Comment

  1. Vow cd u find time to do so much? Not forgetting u have a v busy job! Hats off to u, this pairing is enlightening, as your random photos are amusing. Have a great year of 2019: with lots of good travels, good food and self enhancements.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: