Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.


The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore

The Inflamed Mind: A radical new approach to depression - Edward Bullmore

TITLE:  The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression


AUTHOR:  Edward Bullmore




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781780723501



Worldwide, depression will be the single biggest cause of disability in the next 20 years. But treatment for it has not changed much in the last three decades. In the world of psychiatry, time has apparently stood still... until now. In this game-changing book, University of Cambridge Professor Edward Bullmore reveals the breakthrough new science on the link between depression and inflammation of the body and brain. He explains how and why we now know that mental disorders can have their root cause in the immune system, and outlines a future revolution in which treatments could be specifically targeted to break the vicious cycle of stress, inflammation and depression. The Inflamed Mind goes far beyond the clinic and the lab, representing a whole new way of looking at how mind, brain and body all work together in a sometimes misguided effort to help us survive in a hostile world. It offers insights into the story of Western medicine, how we have got it wrong as well as right in the past, and how we could start getting to grips with depression and other mental disorders much more effectively in the future. "




Prof. Bullmore makes an intersting case that most cases of depression are caused by physical inflamation.  He also briefly covers the history of immunology and psychiatry/psychology, as well as providing a nice explanation of how the immune system and blood-brain barrier work.  I found the placement of the history section in the middle of chapters rather jarring, and the extra bits about Descartes rather irrelevant, but overall the book was informative. 


Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 4 - Cellulose

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn:


- about cotton, the slave trade and the industrial revolution;




- that "cotton consists of over 90 percent cellulose, which is a polymer of glucose and a major component of plant cell walls";




- about the structural differences between cellulose and starch and why one is digestable by humans, but not the other;


- how cellulose makes a big bang - literally.


- about the invention of nitrocellulose, celluloid, cellophane, and rayon.



"By the 1830s it was found that cellulose would dissolve in concentrated nitric acid and that this solution, when poured into water, formed a highly flammable and explosive white powder. Commercialization of this compound had to wait until 1845 and a discovery by Friedrich Schönbein of Basel, Switzerland. Schönbein was experimenting with mixtures of nitric and sulfuric acids in the kitchen of his home, against the wishes of his wife, who perhaps understandably had strictly forbidden the use of her residence for such activities. On this particular day his wife was out, and Schönbein spilled some of the acid mixture. Anxious to clean up the mess quickly, he grabbed the first thing that came to hand—his wife’s cotton apron. He mopped up the spill and then hung the apron over the stove to dry. Before long, with an extremely loud bang and a great flash, the apron exploded. How Schönbein’s wife reacted when she came home to find her husband continuing his kitchen experiments on cotton and the nitric acid mix is not known. What is recorded is what Schönbein called his material—schiessbaumwolle, or guncotton. Cotton is 90 percent cellulose, and we now know that Schönbein’s guncotton was nitrocellulose, the compound formed when the nitro group (NO2) replaces the H of OH at a number of positions on the cellulose molecule. Not all these positions are necessarily nitrated, but the more nitration on cellulose, the more explosive is the guncotton produced."


"Nitrocellulose (guncotton) was one of the very first explosive organic molecules made by man, and its discovery marked the start of a number of modern industries originally based on nitrated forms of cellulose: explosives, photography, and the movie business. The synthetic textile industry, with its beginnings from rayon—a different form of cellulose—has played a significant role in shaping the economy over the last century. Without these applications of the cellulose molecule, our world would be a very different place."



Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 3 - Glucose

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn:


-how sugar influenced the salve trade and the industrial revolution;

-about the different types of sugar molecules and what they look like;

-why certain people are lactose intolerant;

-the effect of glucose on the brain;

-about the relationship between the chemical structure of a molecule and its sweetness;

-about artificial sweetners and why they are perceived as sweet.



In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire


"This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.




A lovely addition to the Wayward Children series.  The writing is beautiful, the world building fascinating, the story entertaining but sad.




Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 2 - Ascorbic Acid

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur



"THE AGE OF DISCOVERY was fueled by molecules of the spice trade, but it was the lack of another, quite different molecule that almost ended it.  Over 90 percent of his crew didn’t survive Magellan’s 1519-1522 circumnavigation of the world—in large part due to scurvy, a devastating disease caused by a deficiency of the ascorbic acid molecule, dietary vitamin C."


Chapter 2 takes a look at scurvy, shipboard diet, the shoddy implementation of the cure for scurvy on ships, the discovery of Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, the importance of Vitamin C in the human body, and the industrial manufacture of ascorbic acid.


As an example:

"James Cook of the British Royal Navy was the first ship’s captain to ensure that his crews remained scurvy free. A healthy, well-functioning crew was essential for Cook to accomplish what he did on his voyages:  the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, the first circumnavigation of New Zealand, the first charting of the coast of the Pacific Northwest, and first crossing of the Antarctic Circle."




A random interesting fact:  Vitamin C is necessary for collagen and thus scar production.  Lack of Vitamin C or scurvy can result in scar tissue being reabsorbed by the body, thus opening old wounds.  Something to think about if you have had major surgery.

Journal Article



Mastering Memory by Chester Santos

Mastering Memory: Techniques to Turn Your Brain from a Sieve to a Sponge - Chester Santos

Interesting, but too USA-centric.

The methods described in this book also seem a bit long-winded to me.

The Re-Origin of Species by Torill Kornfeldt

The Re-Origin of Species: a second chance for extinct animals - Torill Kornfeldt, Fiona Graham

TITLE:  The Re-Origin of Species: A Second Chance For Extinct Animals


AUTHOR:  Torill Kornfeldt        


TRANSLATOR:  Fiona Graham




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  9781911617228



"What does a mammoth smell like? Do dinosaurs bob their heads as they walk, like today’s birds? Do aurochs moo like cows? You may soon find out.

From the Siberian permafrost to the Californian desert, scientists across the globe are working to resurrect all kinds of extinct animals, from ones that just left us to those that have been gone for many thousands of years. Their tools in this hunt are the fossil record and cutting-edge genetic technologies. Some of these scientists are driven by sheer curiosity; others view the lost species as a powerful weapon in the fight to preserve rapidly changing ecosystems.

It seems certain that these animals will walk the earth again, but what world will that give us? And is any of this a good idea? Science journalist Torill Kornfeldt travelled the globe to meet the men and women working to bring these animals back from the dead and answer these questions.




An interesting, easy to read, if somewhat superficial, journey around the globe to explore what geneticists are up to in terms of reviving, cloning, storing or otherwise fiddling with the genetics of extinct and almost extinct animals and plants in order to aid in conservation efforts or to recreate the extinct animal.  The author also covers the ethics of using genetic engineering in various ways.  This book doesn't cover anything new (except the conservation of trees) that hasn't been covered by other books on the same topic.  A nice, easy, informative read.




- Rise of the Necrofauna:  A Provocative Look at the Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction by Britt Wray [General]


-  Bring Back the King:  The New Science of De-Extinction by Helen Pilcher [General]


- Resurrection Science:  Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O'Connor [focus on conservation]


- The Fall of the Wild - Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation by Ben A. Minteer [focus on ethics and conservation]


- How to Clone a Mammoth:  The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro [focus on the science and ethics]






Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 1 - Peppers, Nutmeg and Cloves

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur




...in which we learn:

- that pepper is a tropical vine originating in India, that bears red globular fruit;


- that black pepper is produced by a fungal fermentation of unripe pepper berries and white pepper is obtained from the dried, ripe fruit after removal of the berry skin and pulp. 


- that the start of the Portuguese empire began when Vasco da Gama brought Calicut under Portuguese control because Portugal didn't want to pay in gold for peppercorns.


- that nutmeg spice and mace come from the same nutmeg fruit.


- the chemical structures of several compounds found in nutmeg are similar to safrole (from sassafras) and Ecstacy (MDMA), resulting in their similar hallucinogenic properies.


- and how nutmeg is responsible for New Amsterdam becoming New York.


This chapter takes a look at how pepper and other spices started and drove the Age of Discovery - Christopher Columbus, Diago Cao, Bartholomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Ferdianand Magellan were all in search of an alternative route to India and the Far East in search of pepper and other spices.




Christopher Columbus didn't find pepper but he did find chilipeppers.  The active ingredient in both pepper and chili pepper is elucidated and the reason why these substances "burn" is examined.  It has to do with the shape of these molecules.  The author's then look at the molecular shape of other "hot molecules", such as zingerone from the giner plant, euganol from cloves, various compounds in nutmeg, and manufactured hallucinogenic compounds.



The Bone Woman by Clea Koff

The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo - Clea Koff

TITLE:  The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo


AUTHOR:  Clea Koff




FORMAT:  Paperback





"In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of the first acts since World War II to be legally defined as genocide. Two years later, Clea Koff, a twenty-three-year-old forensic anthropologist, left the safe confines of a lab in Berkeley, California, to serve as one of sixteen scientists chosen by the United Nations to unearth the physical evidence of the Rwandan genocide. Over the next four years, Koff’s grueling investigations took her across geography synonymous with some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.

The Bone Woman is Koff’s unflinching, riveting account of her seven UN missions to Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, as she shares what she saw, how it affected her, who was prosecuted based on evidence she found, and what she learned about the world. Yet even as she recounts the hellish nature of her work and the heartbreak of the survivors, she imbues her story with purpose, humanity, and a sense of justice. A tale of science in service of human rights, The Bone Woman is, even more profoundly, a story of hope and enduring moral principles.





This is a memoir of Koffs missions as a forensic anthropologist in Rwanada, Bosnia, Croatian and Kosovo.  The experiences as related by Koff are interesting, showing the reader how forensic anthropology field work takes place, how the sites are stakes out and bodies recovered, her relationship with her team mates and the survivors of genocide.  There is, however, minimal actual forensic anthropology "how to" information provided in the book.  This book is important to raise awareness of atrocities and genocide, but I felt Koff spent so much time complaining about her situation - the lack of equipment, disagreements with co-workder, lack of running water or fancy food - that the original purpose of the book to bring awareness to genocides and helping skeletons speak simply got lost in the background.  I would also have provided more context if Koff had included a more detailed background to the genocides that she did, and if she had included something about how her end-results were going to be used or what effect her work had.  She couldn't know all of this at time of publication, but something is better than nothing.


Themis-Athena included some of the "missing after action" information in her reviews and updates.  You can find her review with links to the relevant updates here: war-crimes-laid-bare-from-beyond-the-grave

This book wasn't bad - it does showcase the life of a forensic anthropologist on some of her international missions.  There were happy moments and poignant moments.  A worthwhile read.




The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes

The Shortest History of Germany - James Hawes

A bare-bones (minus a few phalanges and ribs) of what will eventually become Germany.  The beginning is alright, if very superficial, but the rest is overshadowed by the author's political agenda, dislike for Protestants and rabid anti-Prussianess (or basically a dislike for anything on the east side of the Elbe).  There were also numerous factual errors and typos.  The inclusion of maps was usefull.  There is no timeline or list of references, or even further recommended reading.  In short, a poor offering. 

Why Dinosarus Matter by Kenneth Lacovara

Why Dinosaurs Matter - Kenneth Lacovara

TITLE:  Why Dinosaurs Matter


AUTHOR:  Kenneth Lacovara




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781501120107





"What can long-dead dinosaurs teach us about our future? Plenty, according to paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara, who has discovered some of the largest creatures to ever walk the Earth.

By tapping into the ubiquitous wonder that dinosaurs inspire, Lacovara weaves together the stories of our geological awakening, of humanity’s epic struggle to understand the nature of deep time, the meaning of fossils, and our own place on the vast and bountiful tree of life.

Go on a journey––back to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth––to discover how dinosaurs achieved feats unparalleled by any other group of animals. Learn the secrets of how paleontologists find fossils, and explore quirky, but profound questions, such as: Is a penguin a dinosaur? And, how are the tiny arms of T. rex the key to its power and ferocity?

In this revealing book, Lacovara offers the latest ideas about the shocking and calamitous death of the dinosaurs and ties their vulnerabilities to our own. Why Dinosaurs Matter is compelling and engaging—a great reminder that our place on this planet is both precarious and potentially fleeting. “As we move into an uncertain environmental future, it has never been more important to understand the past.”"




Why Dinosaurs Matter isn't so much about WHY they matter, but more about the history of geography and paleontology, with some really neat facts about dinosaurs (avian and non-avian dinosaurs), and including an interesting chapter on Lacovara's field trips to Patagonia to dig-up his newly discovered giant titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur, Dreadnoughtus schrani.  This book is ultimately too short to delve deeply into any particular topic and thus falls short.  The author also doesn't really deal with the title of the book - why dinosaurs matter - other than as a lesson for the future.  This is a short, fun read, but rather superficial.


The Hot-blooded Dinosaurs by Adrian J. Desmond
When Life Nearly Died by Michael J. Benton
The Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J. Benton.


Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (A Choose Your Path Book) by Deb Mercier

Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: A Choose Your Path Book - Deb Mercier

This is a choose your own path novel following the story as told by Jules Verne in 20 000 Leagues Under the Seas.  This novel faithfully follows Verne's story but provides choices for the reader at various intersections.  This novel differes from the other Choose Your Own Adventure stories in that there is only one correct path that results in success.  All other side paths end in disaster.  The novel was entertaining and would make a good book for novice readers, who aren't quite up to the unabridged Jules Verne novel.



The Battles of Tolkien by David Day

The Battles of Tolkien - David Day



This book LOOKS pretty but the contents are superficial, with many factual errors, poor quality maps and half-complete summaries.  The author is rather liberal in his interpretation of Tolkien's sources of inspirations and what Tolkien intended when he developed his Middle-Earth.  This book is supposed to be about the battles of Tolkien, the who, what, where and battle tactics as stated in the introduction.  However, very little of this is evident.  There are pretty pictures and timelines, as well as explanations of the historical and mythical background to Tolkien's works, but little about the actual battles.   Even the wikipedia page provides more information that the book, but it does not look as pretty.

If you want information about battles and maps, try Atlas of Tolkien's Middle-Earth by Karen Wunn Fonstad and Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings by Barbara Strachey.

Also interesting is Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen and
Making of Middle-Earth by Christopher A Snyder.





Tolkien: An Illustrated Atlas

Tolkien: An Illustrated Atlas - David Day

This isn't the type of ATLAS that has maps in it.  This is the type of atlas that has tables, illustrations, some maps that are more illustrations than useful guides, charts and a bit of superficial half-summaries of places and events under headings.  This book is pretty but there is nothing of substance in the contents.  If you haven't read the Silmarillion, or the Appendices to the Lord of the Rings you will be lost and confused.  If you have read those works, then this book will provide nothing new.  It isn't particularly useful as a guide either.   David Day also tends to be liberal (and sometimes inaccurate) with his interpretation of some aspects Tolkien's works .  A thoroughly disappointing offering.

If you want maps, try Atlas of Tolkien's Middle-Earth by Karen Wunn Fonstad and Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings by Barbara Strachey.

Also interesting is Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen and
Making of Middle-Earth by Christopher A Snyder.


Or use this interactive map:





The Dark Powers of Tolkien by David Day

The Dark Powers of Tolkien - David Day

A beautifully illustrated book that takes a perfunctory look at the Dark Powers in Tolkien's Middle-Earth books.  David Day also makes several comparisons between Tolkien's "bad guys" and various mythologies throughout the work, some of which are rather superficial.  If you are a Tolkien fan, you won't find anything new in this book, but the illustrations and timelines are nice. 


INTERESTING: "Voynich Manuscript Is Solved And This Time It’s Academic"

Academic Cracks Voynich Code


"A University of Bristol academic has succeeded where countless cryptographers, linguistics scholars and computer programs have failed - by cracking the code of the 'world's most mysterious text', the Voynich manuscript.

Although the purpose and meaning of the manuscript had eluded scholars for over a century, it took Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire two weeks, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system of the famously inscrutable document."




""It is also no exaggeration to say this work represents one of the most important developments to date in Romance linguistics. The manuscript is written in proto-Romance - ancestral to today's Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician. The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government. As a result, proto-Romance was lost from the record, until now."


Cheshire explains in linguistic terms what makes the manuscript so unusual:

"It uses an extinct language. Its alphabet is a combination of unfamiliar and more familiar symbols. It includes no dedicated punctuation marks, although some letters have symbol variants to indicate punctuation or phonetic accents. All of the letters are in lower case and there are no double consonants. It includes diphthong, triphthongs, quadriphthongs and even quintiphthongs for the abbreviation of phonetic components. It also includes some words and abbreviations in Latin.""







Currently reading

The Trojan Horse Pandemic: A Struggle for World Domination by Veronica Preda, Robin Wildt Hansen
Progress: 20/116pages
Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur
Progress: 81/384pages