Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.

The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarfs by Claude Lecouteux

The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarfs: Avatars of Invisible Realms - Claude Lecouteux, Régis Boyer

TITLE:   The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarfs:  Avatars of Invisible Realms

 

AUTHOR: Claude Lecouteux

 

DATE PUBLISHED: October 2018

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13: 9781620557150

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DESCRIPTION:

 

"A comprehensive examination of the intertwined mythology, folklore, and literary history of the little people

• Explores the pagan roots of dwarfs and elves and their evolution in myth and literature

• Reveals the role the church played in changing them from fearless, shape-shifting warriors with magical powers into cheerful helpmates and cute garden gnomes

• Traces their history from ancient Celtic and Germanic lore through their emergence in the literature of the Middle Ages to their modern popularization by the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney

Most people are familiar with the popular image of elves as Santa’s helpers and dwarfs as little bearded men wearing red caps, who are mischievous and playful, helpful and sly, industrious and dexterous. But their roots go far deeper than their appearance in fairy tales and popular stories. Elves and dwarfs are survivors of a much older belief system that predates Christianity and was widespread throughout Western Europe.

Sharing his extensive analysis of Germanic and Norse legends, as well as Roman, Celtic, and medieval literature, Claude Lecouteux explores the ancient, intertwined history of dwarfs and elves. He reveals how both were once peoples who lived in wild regions as keepers of the secrets of nature. They were able to change their size at will and had superhuman strength and healing powers. They were excellent smiths, crafting swords that nothing could dull as well as magical jewelry, and often entered into the service of lords or heroes. They were a part of the everyday life of our ancestors before they were transformed by fairy tales and church texts into the mythical creatures we know today.

Lecouteux shows how, in earlier folklore, elves and dwarfs were interchangeable, gradually evolving over time to express very different kinds of beings. “Dwarf,” “giant,” and even “elf” did not necessarily connote size but referred to races with different skills. Elves were more ethereal, offering protection and kindness, while dwarfs reflected a more corporeal form of spirit, often appearing as messengers from the underworld. Yet dwarfs and elves could be bargained with, and our ancestors would leave a broken object outside the door at night with the hope that a dwarf or elf (or other local spirit) would repair it.

Revealing the true roots of these helpful and powerful beings, including an in-depth exploration of one of the most famous dwarf/elf/fairy beings of the Middle Ages, Auberon or Oberon, also known as Alberich, Lecouteux shows how the magic of dwarfs and elves can be rekindled if we recognize their signs and invite them back into our world.
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The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarves takes a scholarly look at the changing nature of elves and dwarves in NEurope.  The book is informative and interesting, making a nice addition to the Ancestral Lore and Practices collection by the same author.

 

 

The Lost World and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Lost World and Other Stories -  Arthur Conan Doyle

An entertianing collection of all the Professor Challenger stories. The Lost World was the best story in the collection.

 

DESCRIPTION:

"These lively, varied and thought-provoking science-fiction stories (from the era of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells) are linked by their imposing central character, the pugnaciously adventurous and outrageous Professor Challenger.

The Lost World (forebear of Jurassic Park) vividly depicts a perilous region in which the explorers confront creatures from the prehistoric era. The Poison Belt presents an eerie doomsday scenario, while 'The Disintegration Machine' satirically comments on scientific cynicism. In 'When the World Screamed', the planet responds violently to an experimental incursion. The strangest item is The Land of Mist, which seeks to reconcile science with spiritualism.
"

The Magic Cottage by James Herbert

The Magic Cottage - James Herbert

An entertaining novel.  The squirrel takes the cake!

Toxicology in Antiquity Volume I by Philip Wexler

History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity Volume I - Philip Wexler

TITLE:  History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity Volume I

 

AUTHOR:  Various.  Philip Wexler (ed)

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2014

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9781306820622

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DESCRIPTION:

"Toxicology in Antiquity" is the first in a series of short format works covering key accomplishments, scientists, and events in the broad field of toxicology, including environmental health and chemical safety. This first volume sets the tone for the series and starts at the very beginning, historically speaking, with a look at toxicology in ancient times. The book explains that before scientific research methods were developed, toxicology thrived as a very practical discipline. People living in ancient civilizations readily learned to distinguish safe substances from hazardous ones, how to avoid these hazardous substances, and how to use them to inflict harm on enemies.It also describes scholars who compiled compendia of toxic agents.
Provides the historical background for understanding modern toxicologyIllustrates the ways ancient civilizations learned to distinguish safe from hazardous substances, how to avoid the hazardous substances and how to use them against enemies
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An interesting, but somewhat superficial examination of toxicology in antiquity, each chapter covering a different topic and written by a different expert.  Topics include toxicology in Ancient Egypt, the Death of Cleopatra, Mithridates and his universal antidote, venoms and poisons in ancient Greek literature, the Death of Alexander the Great, the execution of Socrates, the Oracle at Delphi, Lead poisoning in Ancient Rome, as well as poisons, poisoners and poisoning in Ancient Rome.  Some chapters where better than others in terms of detail in covering the chapter topic.  Overall, interesting, but topics were of mixed quality.

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Lost World -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Duncan

An entertaining romp in a lost world.

 

 

Illustrations from the abridged Ladybird Children's Classic.

illustrations

 

 

 

 

 

The Kingdom Fungi by Steven L. Stephenson

The Kingdom Fungi: The Biology of Mushrooms, Molds, and Lichens - Steven L. Stephenson

TITLE:  The Kingdom Fungi: The Biology of Mushrooms, Molds, and Lichens

 

AUTHOR:  Steven L. Stephenson

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2010

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780881928914

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DESCRIPTION:

"The ubiquitous fungi are little known and vastly underappreciated. Yet, without them we wouldn’t have bread, alcohol, cheese, tofu, or the unique flavors of mushrooms, morels, and truffles. We can’t survive without fungi.

The Kingdom Fungi provides a comprehensive look at the biology, structure, and morphological diversity of these necessary organisms. It sheds light on their ecologically important roles in nature, their fascinating relationships with people, plants, and animals, and their practical applications in the manufacture of food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals. The book includes information about “true” fungi, fungus-like creatures (slime molds and water molds), and a group of “composite” organisms (lichens) that are more than just fungi. Particular attention is given to examples of fungi that might be found in the home and encountered in nature.

The Kingdom Fungi is a useful introductory text for naturalists, mycologists, and anyone who wants to become more familiar with, and more appreciative of, the fascinating world of fungi.
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This book is a scholarly text on the biology of mushrooms, molds and lichens.  I'm not quite sure who the target audience is supposed to be - the book is too technical for an introduction to the subject, but not enough detail is provided to make this an advanced text.  The subject is interesting and the multitude of colour photographs delightful to look at, but a few additional schematic diagrams to explain certain concepts would have been helpful.

 

OTHER BOOKS:

 -Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History by Nicholas P. Money
 -The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization by Nicholas P. Money
 -March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen by John L. Ingraham

 

 

 

Winter Cottage by Mary Ellen Taylor

Winter Cottage - Mary Ellen Taylor

A lovely suspenseful mystery novel that blends the lives of past and present generations.  An entertaining and enjoyable read.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula - Bram Stoker, Roger Luckhurst

It's been 2.5 decades since I've read this last.  Dracula is an old gothic vampire novel that does not(!) involve sparkly vampires or moody children. 

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

Altered Carbon - Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon is a rather grim-dark detective story with interesting, original world building.  Definately for adults.  A bit too violent for my tastes.

The Book of Humans by Adam Rutherford

The Book of Humans: 4 Billion Years, 20,000 Genes, and the New Story of How We Became Us - Adam Rutherford

TITLE:    The Book of Humans: 4 Billion Years, 20,000 Genes, and the New Story of How We Became Us

 

AUTHOR:  Adam Rutherford

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:  19 March 2019

 

FORMAT:  ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13: 9781615195312

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NOTE: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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DESCRIPTION:

"The author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived investigates what it means to be human—and the ways we are (and aren’t) unique among animals.

We like to think of ourselves as exceptional beings, but are we really more special than other animals? In this original and entertaining tour of life on Earth, Adam Rutherford explores how many of the things once considered to be exclusively human are not: We are not the only species that communicates, makes tools, uses fire, or has sex for reasons other than procreation. Evolution has, however, allowed us to develop a culture far more complex than any other observed in nature. The Book of Humans explains how we became the creatures we are today, uniquely able to investigate ourselves. Illuminating the latest genetic research, it is a thrilling account of what unequivocally fixes us as animals—and what makes us truly extraordinary.
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REVIEW:

 

On the whole, this book provides an easy to read, overly simplified introduction to human evolution and what makes humans different (or not) from other animals.  Each section covers a different aspect of "humaness", such as tool use, sex, speech development and cultural dissemination.  I found the book a bit bland and lacking in substance as it did not provide any information that I hadn't come across in other books, journal, magazine or internet articles. 

SPOILER ALERT!

Night and Silence (October Daye #12) by Seanan McGuire.

Night and Silence - Seanan McGuire

An exciting and fast paced addition to the series.  I do wish they would hurry up with the wedding and I really dislike Gillian.  Too bad she might be a permanent fixture in the subsequent books.

Plagues and Peoples by William Hardy McNeill

Plagues and Peoples - William Hardy McNeill

TITLE:  Plagues and Peoples

 

AUTHOR:  William Hardy McNeill

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  1998, first published 1976

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9780307773661

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DESCRIPTION:

"Upon its original publication, Plagues and Peoples was an immediate critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of world history as seen through the extraordinary impact--political, demographic, ecological, and psychological--of disease on cultures. From the conquest of Mexico by smallpox as much as by the Spanish, to the bubonic plague in China, to the typhoid epidemic in Europe, the history of disease is the history of humankind. With the identification of AIDS in the early 1980s, another chapter has been added to this chronicle of events, which William McNeill explores in his new introduction to this updated editon.

Thought-provoking, well-researched, and compulsively readable, Plagues and Peoples is that rare book that is as fascinating as it is scholarly, as intriguing as it is enlightening. "A brilliantly conceptualized and challenging achievement" (Kirkus Reviews), it is essential reading, offering a new perspective on human history.
"

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This is an interesting and somewhat scholarly look at how people and diseases have interacted and evolved together over time, from "man the hunter" to "the ecological impact of medical science and organization since 1700".  McNeil examines macroparisitic and microparisitic effects on the growth of civilizations, focusing primarily on diseases and how epidemics have effected world history, the course of civilization and human evolution.

I found the sections where the author discusses the "living conditions" of diseases particularly interesting:  how a specific disease inhabited a certain enviornment, how it arrived and survived in that environment, and how those environments may have been altered by human impacts such as agricultural activities, population growth (or lack thereof), how the disease spread to other areas etc.  McNeill's comparison between human micro-parasites (bacteria, worms, viruses) and our macro-parasites (governments, armies ,raiders, plunderers) was a particularly thought-provoking and novel (to me) aspect of the book.

The book was originally published in 1976, so some details are a bit dated, but this doesn't detract from the overall thesis.  The writing style is also a bit "old-fashioned" if that sort of thing bothers you.  The author does, however, make use of historical sources that include as much of the globe as possible, so the spread between and effects of epidemics on Europe as well as of China, India, the Middle-East, the America's and Africa are discussed where possible (allowing for existing source material on these regions).

This is an interesting, fundamental and thought-provoking book about the interactions of humans and diseases and the course of human history.

 

 

 

The Pharaoh's Treasure: The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization by John Gaudet

The Pharaoh`s Treasure - The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization - John Gaudet

TITLE:  The Pharaoh's Treasure: The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization

 

AUTHOR:  John Gaudet

 

DATE PUBLISHED: October 2018

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781681778532

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DESCRIPTION:

"For our entire history, humans have always searched for new ways to share information. This innate compulsion led to the origin of writing on the rock walls of caves and coffin lids or carving on tablets. But it was with the advent of papyrus paper when the ability to record and transmit information exploded, allowing for an exchanging of ideas from the banks of the Nile throughout the Mediterranean—and the civilized world—for the first time in human history.  

In The Pharaoh’s Treasure, John Gaudet looks at this pivotal transition to papyrus paper, which would become the most commonly used information medium in the world for more than 4,000 years. Far from fragile, papyrus paper is an especially durable writing surface; papyrus books and documents in ancient and medieval times had a usable life of hundreds of years, and this durability has allowed items like the famous Nag Hammadi codices from the third and fourth century to survive. 

The story of this material that was prized by both scholars and kings reveals how papyrus paper is more than a relic of our ancient past, but a key to understanding how ideas and information shaped humanity in the ancient and early modern world.
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Gaudet has written a delightfully interesting and informative book that covers everything papyrus in terms of paper.  He covers topics such as the ancient locations of papyrus; it's various uses; the invention and evolution of papyrus paper; the business of manufacture and distribution of papyrus sheets from Egypt, across the Mediterranean region and beyond; and it's eventual eclipse by rag paper.   The numerous historical stories about archaeological discoveries, daring "rescue" attempts and some horror stories are well told and make this book something other than a dry rendition of the evolution of the papyrus scroll.  Of course, you can't have a book about papyrus paper and not mention the numerous ancient (and not so ancient) libraries that stored them.  This book compliments the author's previous book [Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World: From Ancient Egypt to Today's Water Wars] which deals more specifically with the papyrus plant; as well as Keith Houston's book [The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time] which deals with paper and the evolution of the book, but doesn't not spend too much time on papyrus paper specifically.

 

 

Mushrooms by Nicholas P. Money

Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History - Nicholas P. Money

TITLE:  Mushrooms:  A Natural and Cutural History

 

AUTHOR:  Nicholas P. Money

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781780237435

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DESCRIPTION:

"Mushrooms hold a peculiar place in our culture: we love them and despise them, fear them and misunderstand them. They can be downright delicious or deadly poisonous, cute as buttons or utterly grotesque. These strange organisms hold great symbolism in our myths and legends. In this book, Nicholas P. Money tells the utterly fascinating story of mushrooms and the ways we have interacted with these fungi throughout history. Whether they have populated the landscapes of fairytales, lent splendid umami to our dishes, or steered us into deep hallucinations, mushrooms have affected humanity from the earliest beginnings of our species.  
           
As Money explains, mushrooms are not self-contained organisms like animals and plants. Rather, they are the fruiting bodies of large—sometimes extremely large—colonies of mycelial threads that spread underground and permeate rotting vegetation. Because these colonies decompose organic matter, they are of extraordinary ecological value and have a huge effect on the health of the environment. From sustaining plant growth and spinning the carbon cycle to causing hay fever and affecting the weather, mushrooms affect just about everything we do. Money tells the stories of the eccentric pioneers of mycology, delights in culinary powerhouses like porcini and morels, and considers the value of medicinal mushrooms. This book takes us on a tour of the cultural and scientific importance of mushrooms, from the enchanted forests of folklore to the role of these fungi in sustaining life on earth."

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Mushrooms:  A Natural and Culturla History provides a lovely introduction to the world of mushrooms.  This book is about mushrooms in particular, not fungi in general.  This book is also not a field guide.  Each chapter covers a muchroom theme; from mushroom superstition, science, function, evolution, experts, parasites, growing, cooking, poisons, hallucinogens, and mushroom conservation etc.  The science is meticulous but not overwhelming and the anecdotes are relevant to the topic.   The book includes numerous colour photographs and other illustrations.  This was an enjoyable and interesting book about the various aspects of mushrooms.

 

Ten Drugs by Thomas Hager

Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine - Thomas Hager

TITLE:   Ten Drugs:  How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine
 

AUTHOR:  Thomas Hager

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:  5 March 2019

 

FORMAT:  ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13: 978-1-4197-3440-3

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NOTE: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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DESCRIPTION:

"Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of our culture and the practice of medicine. 

​Beginning with opium, the “joy plant,” which has been used for 10,000 years, Hager tells a captivating story of medicine. His subjects include the largely forgotten female pioneer who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, the infamous knockout drops, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, the first antipsychotic, which helped empty public mental hospitals, Viagra, statins, and the new frontier of monoclonal antibodies. This is a deep, wide-ranging, and wildly entertaining book.
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REVIEW:

 

Ten Drugs is an entertaining, yet informative look at a number of drugs that have shaped medical history and today's world.  This isn't a scholarly history of the pharmaceutical industry, but rather a collection of chapters about a variety of drugs that have shaped medical history.  This book is a nicely written (and fascinating) introduction to the history of drug discovery and medicine, as well as providing information on how the pharmaceutical industry evolved and functions.  Each chapter deals with a specific group of drugs and are bound together by common themes such as drug evolution, growth of the pharmaceutical industry, changing public attitudes and changes in medical practices and laws.  Chapters are devoted to the following topics:  opium; smallpox and vaccinations; chloral hydrate (the first totally synthetic drug and original date rape drug); herion, opiates and addiction; the not so "magic bullet" antibiotics; antipsychotics; lifestyle drugs, viagra, and birthcontrol; opioids; statins; and monoclonal antibodies.  The book concludes with a look at the future of drugs, with personalized and digitized medicine.

Hager states that this book is aimed at people who know a little about drugs and want to learn more.  In this regard, Hager has succeeded in writing a book that is (in my opinion) accessible, entertaining, informative and interesting, to the general public. I particularly appreciated the author's (mostly) objective and clear writing style.

 

 

 

Why We Dream by Alice Robb

Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey - Alice Robb

TITLE:   Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey
 

AUTHOR:  Alice Robb

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  20 November 2018

 

FORMAT:  ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13: 9780544931213

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NOTE: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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DESCRIPTION:

"A fresh, revelatory foray into the new science of dreams—how they work, what they’re for, and how we can reap the benefits of our own nocturnal life

While on a research trip in Peru, science journalist Alice Robb became hooked on lucid dreaming—the uncanny phenomenon in which a sleeping person can realize that they’re dreaming and even control the dreamed experience. Finding these forays both puzzling and exhilarating, Robb dug deeper into the science of dreams at an extremely opportune moment: just as researchers began to understand why dreams exist. They aren’t just random events; they have clear purposes. They help us learn and even overcome psychic trauma.

Robb draws on fresh and forgotten research, as well as her experience and that of other dream experts, to show why dreams are vital to our emotional and physical health. She explains how we can remember our dreams better—and why we should. She traces the intricate links between dreaming and creativity, and even offers advice on how we can relish the intense adventure of lucid dreaming for ourselves.

Why We Dream is a clear-eyed, cutting-edge examination of the meaning and purpose of our nightly visions and a guide to changing our dream lives—and making our waking lives richer, healthier, and happier. "

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REVIEW:

 

Why We Dream is a clearly written, well researched book about dreams that combines science, history and current research, with an anecdotal narrative that isn't overwhelming in terms of the book topic.  The author explores connections between dreams and health, problem-solving, creativity and other interesting topics, such as lucid dreaming.  Robb has written an accessible book about dreaming that would nicely complement any general book about sleep or that would provide a great introduction for those interested in dreaming.