If you’re curious as to the strange coincidence that someone named Cadbury is writing a book about the history of British chocolatiers, cease your cogitating: Deborah Cadbury is, in fact, a direct relation of the family which ran the largest chocolate business of the isles, though she is admittedly several steps laterally distant from the immediate chocolate-making family. If, now that you know this, you’re troubled as to the possibility that Deborah Cadbury may not, therefore, be the most reliable narrator, you may once again cool your firing neurons, because I can say with little hesitation that your fears are justified.
- Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883
- Publisher: Harper Perennial
- Year: 2005
- Pages: 464
I’ve been familiar with Simon Winchester only for his two books about the Oxford English Dictionary, namely The Professor and the Madman and The Meaning of Everything. I’d made the lazy assumption that Winchester major field of interest was, therefore, dictionaries and language in general. It wasn’t until I picked up Krakatoa that I noticed his bibliography is not only voluminous, but multifarious as well, spanning people, major events, and obviously major publications.
The proposition to create a whole book about what appears a simple and straightforward substance may seem rather daunting. Certainly, one expects that salt could provide a number of amusing or amazing anecdotes, but 500 pages worth? In Kurlansky’s defense, he manages to tell a tale more full-figured than a smattering of interesting errata, but I can’t help but feel as though there was at least 75 pages worth of fluff.
I read McCullough’s biography of John Adams three years ago and found it every bit as amazing as the Pulitzer committee did. In the course of describing John Adams’ life, especially his role in the Continental Congress, involved no small number of words about the Revolutionary War; however, Adams being a congressman and not a military man, the martial details of that time period were largely absent from the book.
1776 was, apparently, written as a sort of companion piece to that biography. It’s both trademark McCullough and also somehow disappointing.
Bertrand Russell is known for two things, depending upon the tradition from which you approach him: he’s an early and ardent atheist (perhaps the grandfather of the recent “New Atheist” movement popularized by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett), as made clear in Why I Am Not a Christian. Much less controversially, his contributions as a mathematician and logician (for which see his and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica) were perhaps the most important to formal Logic since the early Greeks.