Hot reads for cold nights

I never know what I am going to read next. Somehow this week I have had five rather varied nonfiction books catch my eye. A purchased ebook to give me organized quotes from highlighting the environmental message of Peter Wadham’s A Farewell to Ice. Two library books were most enjoyed: a) The New Wine Rules (2017) by Jon Bonne has fun Rules from 1) drink the rainbow to 89) don’t save a great bottle for anything more than a rainy day. Open and enjoy. And b) The Flora of Middle-Earth (2017) by the father son team Walter and Graham Judd. Walter is an eminent professor of Botany at UFlorida and his son Graham is a professional illustrator in St Paul Mn. They spent four years exhaustively researching the plants and created an amazing field guide so you can create your own middle earth. I can’t believe I missed the NPR review of this. Two additional books were sent by friends 1) Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shananhan, MD- so much common sense that really means changing your lifestyle and 2) Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn, PhD Historian.

Title: Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn

Publisher: Scribner, 2017, 517 pp

Genre: history, leadership, crisis management

4 stars, Recommended as Library reading, I’m glad I didn’t pay money.

Author: From her bio

“Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robinson chair of Business Administration. She has coached leaders from many organizations and speaks frequently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the World Business Forum. An accomplished author and scholar (she earned her M.A. and PhD degrees in history from Harvard), she spent ten years writing Forged in Crisis, her first book aimed at a popular audience. Her research focuses on how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth and impact. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts and is a committed equestrian.” She has written several books and case studies, previous best: Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers’ Trust from Wedgewood To Dell about six entrepreneurs.


The case studies or essays include Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson. This was an interesting mix and my first question was why these five, what did they have in common? I’ve read multiple great biographies on all but Bonhoeffer. At the same time, the current political climate could benefit from a wider audience reading this book.

I was disappointed in the analysis of leadership, often a page summarizing at the end of each profile (60-80 pages). They more like afterthoughts not original insight. In the conclusion, “The Power of Courageous Leadership” Koehn tells us that the most important thing that connects these leaders is “that these leaders were made, not born.” Years ago, I read John F. Kennedy’s succinct, inspirational book, “Profiles in Courage.” I can’t believe it’s too dated to read. Especially in light of the comment/conclusion “All five leaders were willing to work on themselves.” I think college lecture or motivational speaker. “The second thing that each of the five leaders learned as they navigated through great turbulence was the significance of committing to a worthy goal.” This applies to every generation, but we need tools to make the generations work together. These five also learned was the value of resilience. We definitely need more of that.


From the introduction, leaders are “effective, decent…people of purpose and commitment who want to make a positive difference and who choose to rise: first within themselves, by claiming their better selves, and then on the large stage, by staking out the higher ground.”

American History

Title: An Empire on the Edge Nick Bunker Publisher: Knopf Doubleday 350 p

Genre: history, American Revolution, colonies, Great Britain

4.5 stars


Nick Bunker lives in Lincolnshire, England and is the author of Making Haste from Babylon (previously reviewed here). He has been a journalist for the Liverpool Echo and the Financial Times. Bunker uses his financial background and research skills to cleverly reveal underlying causes and personal details. This book won the 2015 George Washington Book Prize sponsored by Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Story Line:

This is a probing, highly readable account of Great Britain’s internal, political and financial tensions on the eve of the American Revolution. There were a number of concurrent crises in the Empire: Europe, India, Ireland and the American colonies. Each is given an assessment, with a particularly insightful analysis of the East India Trading Company. Fascinating correspondence reveals that Britain saw the colonies as mere resources/goods for their empire or a destination for convicts. They didn’t just underestimate the people, they never understood their independent nature.  

This book does not sum up entire aspects of the revolution, but it provides another element, an indepth analysis of important factors. It is well researched from a British perspective, which helps to provide an balanced account: rounding out and adding details, providing a clearer picture with motives and mistakes (both sides). I was surprised by number of current comparisons with e-banking and 2008 financial crisis.  I enjoyed the fascinating portraits of Prime Minister Lord North, of Lord Dartmouth, King George III, General Gage and the Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson.

They might have lost the war and lost the colonies, but Britain went on to develop the industrial revolution, global exploration, and India.

This would make a lovely Christmas present and gift for historian or revolutionary war aficionado. I encourage you to read this interesting history. RPL has a copy.

Read On:

Bernard Bailyn Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson

Robert Middlekauff The Glorious Cause 

Barbara Tuchman The First Salute

David Hackett Fischer Washington’s Crossing, Liberty and Freedom


England never had a solid plan for administering the American colonies.

Benign neglect can lead to revolution.

Recently, I was just lucky enough to see the new acquisition at the MMAM (Minnesota marine art museum) of George Washington Crossing the Delaware (Leutze, 1850). This painting previously hung in the West Wing, and is one of only two surviving copies. The original (1848) was destroyed by the British RAF in WWII “Britain’s final retaliation for the American Revolution”. It is a very stylized, historically inaccurate painting of the beginning of the Battle of Trenton December 25/26, 1776: the boat is the wrong model, the crossing was at night, not in daylight, the weather conditions were appalling (drizzle, rain, sleet and snow), the flag didn’t exist yet (carried by James Monroe), the river is modeled on the Rhine not the Delaware, which had a narrow crossing and sheet ice. Washington is standing, which would have rocked the boat (although higher sides would have had them all standing). With the exception of Washington, Monroe and Gen Edward Hand, the people in the boat represent the cross section of the American colonies: farmers, western riflemen, Scots, women, Native American frontiersmen, African American (believed to be Whipple, but now known not to have been there (portraits modeled from American tourists in Germany).  

from wikipedia

 See also NJ state quarter 1999.

Warm Summer Reading

  Title: Forests in Our Changing World by Joseph J Landsberg, Richard H Waring(New Principles for Conservation and Management)

Publisher: Island Press (2014). 304 pp

Genre: climate change, global warming, forests, trees, ecology, forest ecology, biodiversity, non fiction


Authors: Landsberg and Waring are eminently respected forest scientists who have worked in the field for decades. Between them, they have a vast understanding and experience in of global forests.

Richard Waring is a Distinguished Prof of Forest Science (Emeritus) at OSU (Corvallis)[studied at UMinn, Phd UC Berkley] forest monitoring, modeling with NASA

Joe Landsberg (PhD U Bristol, UK) past Chief of Div Forest Research of Australia (CSIRO) and Terrestrial Ecology Program NASA 

Story Line:

Climate change is upon us with serious implications for global biodiversity. This book provides a clear overview of forests around the world, describing basic concepts of forest ecology and tree physiology. This is not a textbook but a highly readable text. Seven chapters outline 1) Forests in human history 2) World forests, 3) Weather and climate 4) Causes and consequences 5) Value and use of forests 6) Economics, management and money and 7) future possibilities. The last is perhaps the most important chapter. They combine history, science, management and constructive thought to illustrate the importance of forests and their management. Clear diagrams illustrate general principles. The protection and management of our forest resources, global habitats, has never been more important. There is an excellent glossary of terms, with accurate definitions.

Read On:
Limited bibliography, surprisingly (perhaps to save paper).  This will be useful primer for undergraduates, managers, governmental policy makers and environmental organizations. This publication should reach a wider audience which should improve public knowledge and gain support for policy makers and managers. I remain a fan of Island Press publications for their commitment to accessible information.

Peter Spathelf (Ed.) Sustainable Forest Management in a Changing World: A European Perspective (2009, Springer Verlag)

Mark Ashton, M.L. Tyrell, D Spaulding, B Gentry. 2012. Managing Forest Carbon in a Changing Environment.


Closing line: Humans can no longer afford to treat the world’s forests as expendable.

A footnote was most informative: People everywhere expect that their standard of living will increase continuously.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

BookScapes by Helen McIver

Hermit in the GardenFrom Imperil Rome to ornamental gnome by Gordon Campbell
Oxford University Press (October 2012, recently on book tour in the USA)
Campbell is a noted historian, distinguished professor of Renaissance studies at the University of Leicester and has an impressive list of literature, art and history books authored and edited. (I thoroughly recommend his book “The story of the King James Bible”)
This is a magnificent historical account of Hermits, Hermitages and English Garden design, especially Georgian. Hermitages have enjoyed a minor renaissance recently, with old ones restored, new ones built and even job offers with increased tourism. I think the popularity of hobbits might have helped too. Although he claims that gnomes are a logical evolution of the hermit they are still banned at Chelsea Flower show! “Garden hermits evolved from antiquated druids and eventually declined into the garden gnome.” He illustrates four types of hermitages- religious, secular or court, Elizabethan and earlier British hermits (he often states English hermits, while showing them in Scotland and Ireland). Many early garden hermitages were in southern Europe, Italy, France around the 1400s, although the first might have been at the Roman villa of Hadrian. Campbell also recounts the fascinating history of hermitages in Spain.
18th century British grand garden design brought follies into the landscape. Follies often included hermitages with or without hermits (not religious but secular). Britain has had hermits since pilgrimages of Christianity, but I was astonished at the list of 750 cells and names of 650 hermits in the 1800s (Rotha Mary Clay). These were places of contemplation, which allowed “pleasurable melancholy” and deep thought, sometimes following a retreat after personal crisis. They were also fads/fashionable as recounted by nobility ‘pretending to be peasants”. The affinity for nature and solitude had a quite different expression in America with Thoreau and Emerson. Hermits have been romanticised but in actual fact the austere living conditions were primitive at best – and sometimes had required conditions of not cutting hair or nails (for up to 7 years). I found the descriptions both beautiful and tragic, for so many gardens and hermitages lost over the centuries.
I have space in my garden: gnomes need not apply.

Appendix has a list of interesting hermitages, several I have visited: Dunkeld, Dalkeith park, Craigieburn, Taymouth castle
Some good illustrations, mostly black and white photos and drawings in my e-copy (contents say 63 color plates, 304 pp)
Bibliography and List of Hermitages in the World (country and county) Now I must visit the Ermitage at Arleshein, Switzerland – it sounds idyllic and has the last surviving ornamental hermit.

Read on to (preferably in your garden)
Edith Wharton (short story) Hermit and the Wild Woman
Tom Stoppard Arcadia
Seamus Heaney (1984) poem The Hermit
Read as an ARC
4.5 stars