Saturday, August 14, 2010

Even More Books !

The Jane Grigson cookery book is a classic, but one I had never read before. I was thrilled to pick this up at a thrift shop , but I haven't cooked anything from it yet.

The Last Family In England - this is one of the cleverest, funniest, tragically heart-breaking books I have ever read. Narrated by the this particular family's Labrador dog, it chronicles his desperate attempts to keep his family happy and well at all costs.  Despite his non-stop care and vigilance, life goes pear-shaped, and his attempts to make things better just make things much worse, with an ending that reduced me to a blubbering, gibbering, tear-stained wreck. I don't think I could bear to read it again, so I have given it away.

Several members of our family have served in the Armed Forces, and I like reading books on that theme. Andy McNab is an ex-SAS serviceman who writes utterly gripping thrillers. I really enjoyed these two books and am looking for more of his.

Oh my. What can I say about The Knife Man ? It is the richly detailed, absolutely superbly written but utterly gruesome and scary biography of the 18th century surgeon, John Hunter. Hunter was the inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and with very good reason. Affable family man, medical lecturer and surgeon by day, by night he was hand in glove colluding with grave robbers, who at considerable monetary cost provided him with the non-stop supply of fresh corpses he needed to carry out his scientific studies and provide "specimens" for his growing museum as well as to teach his paying medical students about real-life, hands-on anatomy. It details many of his truly vile experiments on living creatures and,  in same cases, humans. 
He seems to have truly believed that the end of gaining medical knowledge automatically outranked the means, no matter how great the suffering caused.  Definitely do not read at meal times or at bedtime unless you have an enormously strong disposition and are not prone to nightmares.
Hunter was  not a person I would wish to meet; he seemed  to have displayed many psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies, and in modern times, might well have ended up as a serial killer........

The Herbalist details the life and times of Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century herbalist/astrologer/physician, and the rise of the medical profession. It is a fascinating and detailed look at the social, medical and religious history of the period, and how they interplayed to produce the Enlightenment in Britain.
I remain to be convinced that the Enlightenment was a wholly good thing, however, considering how it produced horrors such as John Hunter's relentless pursuit of knowledge  in the next century.....

Having absolutely hated Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall", and thinking perhaps it was just me, I was determined not to write her off on the basis of one book. I found Fludd for 20p, and read it. I have to say, don't bother.  Parts of it were very clever pastiches of Vatican 2, with obsessed reforming bishops creating havoc on parochial levels, but I found the whole book desperately sad and quite cruelly written.
Hvaing read and disliked two of her books, I think that gives me enough excuse not to bother with any more.
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