Monday, December 18, 2023

Volcanic: Vesuvius in the Age of Revolutions (John Brewer)

Mount Vesuvius may be one of the world’s most famous volcanoes, known for its destruction of Pompeii back in AD 79 and other numerous eruptions throughout recorded history. It became a tourist attraction in the 18th and 19th Centuries, partly due to a period of historically high volcanic activity but also the burgeoning of global tourism. John Brewer’s Volcanic: Vesuvius in the Age of Revolutions chronicles how global political change and an active volcano seemingly went hand-in-hand in the late 18th and 19th Centuries

This is a long, detailed book but has many interesting chapters. The story of developing tourism at the volcano site, specifically the visitors book at a hermitage near the volcano, which was signed by thousands of individuals from throughout the world, is particularly intriguing. Some historical trends that are identified in the guest book ring similar to the verses echoed today. The visitors' books and their stories were symbolic of an era of great global political change: fervent nationalism, occasional revolts, and the various European powers all jostling for parts of European control. Some of the stories of the increasing tourist trade are entertaining; others, such as a soldier who hurled himself into a volcanic vent, more tragic.

We know a lot about the Pompeii eruption through the archeological work done in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Brewer covers this as part of the evolution of tourism and travel, as well as to help tell the tale of a volcano that has been a dramatic part of our history for millenia. Given its proximity to the city of Naples, it will quite likely be a part of our story in the future.


Monday, December 11, 2023

The Dish: The Lives and Labor Behind One Plate of Food (Andrew Friedman)

If you've ever dined at a restaurant that's not a chain and sources its ingredients from local farms, you might have wondered about the journey of your food from farm to plate. Andrew Friedman's The Dish: The Lives and Labor Behind One Plate of Food takes it one step further, incorporating the lives and labor that go into making that dish you really like.

The Dish is about not just the journey of the food that goes on your plate but also about those responsible for growing the food, making the dish, and cleaning up after you eat it. Friedman also shares the stories of several purveyors that raise beef, pork, and produce and the journey those ingredients take from regional farms in the Midwest to one specific Chicago restaurant.

We learn in The Dish that a restaurant's kitchen is made up of a diverse mix of talent from many different places. We also learn that getting into food service often happens for a specific reason or because of an event from a person's childhood. Most importantly, we learn that behind one plate of food in a restaurant are many people who play a part in bringing that experience to you. The Dish delivers a great reading experience on the restaurant industry.


Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream (Peter Moore)

The concept of “liberty” as part of political practice had been an evolving process in England going back to the Magna Carta in the 13th Century. Philosophers and politicians ebbed and flowed with the idea of rights, particularly for white men with property but also gradually extending through the various classes of English society. Liberty became a cause for those coming to America in the 17th and 18th Centuries, whether to seek religious freedom or economic liberty through charting a new course in life. This “export” from Britain to America gradually shaped the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream, by Peter Moore, shows how those concepts evolved in America over the decades preceding its revolution.

Moore’s book centers around Benjamin Franklin’s relationship with English publisher William Strahan, as well as Strahan’s relationships with English philosophers and writers such as Samuel Johnson, Catharine Macaulay, and John Wilkes. These individuals, in many respects, helped shape the cause of liberty that the American colonies gradually adopted as their justification for breaking away from England. Interspersed with plenty of correspondence, the book artfully weaves in political events that help shape the gradual deterioration of relations between England and America. While Jefferson ultimately put those famous words to paper in 1776, it was the concept of these philosophers and writers that ultimately shaped American (and even English) thinking in the late 18th Century.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness was a wonderful read – well-researched and full of insight.