On Our Bookshelf

This post really should be titled "On MY Bookshelf." I've been reading an odd assortment of books lately and strangely [serendipitously?] each new book seems to flow into the next. It's been very fun and I'm enjoying the breadth, depth, and atypical nature of these books immensely. I've listed them in the order in which I'm reading them.

The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at Age 72 by Molly Peacock

  • I briefly mentioned this book and Flower Hunter's here, but wanted to elaborate. This memoir follows the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany who lived in eighteen century England. If you can get past the fact that the author is a poet and feels the need to relate all of Mary's flower cuttings as sexual representations, you'll enjoy the book--even botany isn't your forte. What held the most fascination for me was the connections Mrs. Delany had by birth, forged as an adult, and died receiving. It's a biography with plenty of history, art, and a bit of botany to boot.

Flower Hunter's by Mary Gribin

  • Picking up more heavily on botany, this book looks at the lives of 12 extraordinary individuals who contributed (often with their lives) to our floral understanding and garden beautification. For example, you'll meet the man who the Blacked Eyed Susan was named after, explorers who brought back rhododendrons from the Himalayas, and the individual responsible for smuggling vast quantities of tea from China to plant in India for British tea drinking consumption. You also get some history of how Kew gardens came to be which is helpful as Paper Garden and Beatrix Potter both heavily focus on Kew's impact to the lives of these women.

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear

  • Speaking of Britain and nature and Kew Gardens, this definitive biography on the life of Beatrix Potter holds far more treasures than her little books for children. I actually started reading this book 5 years ago during jury duty. I've picked it up, put it down, and then picked it up countless times over the past 5 years. Each time I would make headway before being pulled into something else. What fascinates me immensely is that Beatrix's life as author was quite short when compared to her life as farmer, land preservationist, and naturalist/fungi sketcher. In fact, her botanically correct illustrations of fungi are still used today by botanists.

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Lecouteur

  • And while we're on the topic of small things influencing history... Napoleon's Buttons is an organic chemistry's version of Flower Hunter's. Although not about flowers, it follows 17 actual molecules and how their presence has effected our lives today. Some molecules influenced food, others health, others our clothing, and more. I am anything but a chemist, still I'm enjoying this very different look at history.

Speaking Among the Bones: A Flavia deLuce Mystery by Alan Bradley

  • Chemistry is often overlooked, despite it's everyday occurrence. In the fictional world of Flavia deLuce, chemistry is always popping up. A young girl in rural 1950's England, who is fortunate enough to live in an estate which houses an ancient yet very useful chemistry lab belonging to her great uncle, now deceased. Flavia is well versed in poisons and enjoys helping the local constabulary with murder investigations. This final entry in my list of odd books that weirdly relate links all of the previous ones together: England, chemistry, botany, and the hidden lives behind everyday people and plants.

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