As much as I love cats, I'm not normally a fan of books about cats. They tend to be way too cosy for my taste, and too full of home-spun wisdom, which...moreAs much as I love cats, I'm not normally a fan of books about cats. They tend to be way too cosy for my taste, and too full of home-spun wisdom, which I am not a fan of at all. But I was excited to read Cat Sense as it promised to be a scientific portrayal of cats, written by author who works in feline science and based on proper research. Divided into three parts, Cat Sense covers the history of cats and their domestication, scientific explanations for their behaviour and challenges faced by cats as they live in great numbers alongside humans.
The first part of the book, which was a history of cats and their relationship with humans, was completely fascinating. There was quite a lot of information on genetics, the ancestors of modern day pet cats and the genetic relationship between domestic and wild cats (not as far apart as you would think!). I genuinely found this interesting, especially when Bradshaw discussed the genes responsible for cat colouring and markings. I had no idea that blotched tabbies (like Joseph, but you can't see his blotches in the picture above), which are so common in the UK, are rare in other parts of the world. It's also interesting how some features, such as white paws, have survived because we like them, even though they are counter-productive to the cat's role as a hunter.
After the history, Bradshaw moved on to the science behind cat behaviour, which took up the bulk of the book. A lot of the information won't be new to anyone who has owned a cat or even observed one, but it was interesting to read about the studies that scientists have carried out. The section I most enjoyed dealt with the way cats think, their emotions and their personalities. The idea that animals have distinct personalities and can experience emotion in a similar way to humans is a modern one in science, so I was glad to see Bradshaw outlining the research in this area so far. As much as this section on cat behaviour was interesting, I felt like it was overly long and too heavily skewed towards the author's own work.
Finally, Bradshaw covers several issues facing cats and their owners, such as what the rising numbers of neutered cats will mean for future kittens. My cat was neutered at six months and I have always assumed this was the right and responsible thing to do, but Bradshaw argues that this narrows the choice of available males to part feral ones, meaning that the most domesticated, docile cats do not breed, and this could have consequences for the future. He also discusses the way wildlife campaigners have targeted cats and campaigned for things like cat curfews, and whether this actually has any impact on the population of wild animals in the area.
On the whole, Cat Sense was an enjoyable book if not a mind-blowing one. It was full of interesting information but tended to be over-long and wasn't always written in the most engaging style. However, if you like cats and want to find out more about them, Cat Sense won't disappoint.(less)
I'm not exactly an organic food goddess, but I do try to eat home-cooked meals, even if they aren't always the healthiest! I've really discovered cook...moreI'm not exactly an organic food goddess, but I do try to eat home-cooked meals, even if they aren't always the healthiest! I've really discovered cooking over the last few years, and my repertoire of meals that I can successfully make is gradually expanding. I cook a dinner from scratch every night. One thing I've noticed is that the more I eat meals I have made myself, the more that ready meals or sauces from a jar taste wrong. My taste buds must have acclimatized because ready made pasta and chilli con carne sauces now taste overly sweet and ready meals just taste salty, missing the range of different tastes that come when you cook the meal for yourself.
I was interested to read Salt, Sugar, Fat to find out more about processed foods and the way ingredients are used to create combinations that leave us craving more. With a section devoted to salt, sugar and fat separately, Moss covers the history of the use of these ingredient in processed foods, and how the major (mainly US-based) food manufacturers use them to cultivate dependency, heavy use and therefore large profits.
That salt, sugar and fat are bad for you is hardly going to be news for the majority of readers and indeed, Salt, Sugar, Fat contains lots of information that I've heard before, from lots of different sources. Some of the familiar facts included; fizzy drinks make you more hungry, cheese is chock-full of fat and too much salt can lead to heart conditions. A book like this always runs the risk of preaching to the choir but luckily Moss also includes information about newer research findings, such as the way sugar lights up the same pleasure centres in our brains as hard drugs, or that it can be so addictive that rats will willingly undergo electric shocks in order to get another slice of cheesecake. There is no 'stop signal' in our bodies when it comes to eating fatty foods, and it becomes invisible to consumers as soon as sugar is also added.
The most interesting part of the book for me was when Moss interviewed industry insiders and looked at the social implications of their product development and marketing. Poorer families and districts are deliberately and explicitly targeted. I teach in a socially deprived area of inner London and the majority of children in my class eat processed, fatty, fast foods every single day. According to Moss, this is a deliberate move, presumably as chaotic families lack the skills or budget needed to resist. At one point, Moss interviews a food executive who was in charge of opening up a new market in Brazil. As he tours the slums, the exec realises that whilst the children and families there need a lot of things, they don't need a can of Coke. The morality of such marketing campaigns deserves to be questioned.
Reading Salt, Sugar, Fat was fascinating, but it was all heavily US-based. I think the problem of processed foods is larger than that, it's a problem the whole Western world faces, so it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgement of this in the text. Apart from that, I found it engaging and well written, one I would definitely recommend.
You will enjoy Salt, Sugar, Fat if:
You are interested in the politics of big corporations and their effect on society. You enjoy social history. You are interested in where your food comes from or in trying to eat healthily. You simply like well written, engaging non-fiction.(less)
During the past two thousand years Ancient Egypt has effectively been destroyed, both by the Egyptians themselves and by a host of foreigners, many of...moreDuring the past two thousand years Ancient Egypt has effectively been destroyed, both by the Egyptians themselves and by a host of foreigners, many of them arriving in the Nile Valley in the name of science and nationalism. The loss to archaeology is incalculable, that to Egyptian history even more staggering. As a result of the looting and pillage of generations of irresponsible visitors, the artifacts and artistic achievements of the Ancient Egyptians are scattered all over the globe, some of the most beautiful and spectacular of them stored or displayed thousands of miles from the Nile." (From pages 11-12)
Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved learning about Ancient Egypt. I remember trips to the British Museum with my Mum to gawp at the Rosetta stone and writing my name in hieroglyphs at primary school. Later, at university, I studied Egyptian language as part of a linguistics unit and I've read countless books on the Ancient Egyptians themselves. The story of the European rediscovery of the Nile Valley in the eighteenth and nineteenth century is an exciting one, full of Indiana Jones type figures, such as Giovanni Belzoni. But in The Rape of the Nile, Fagan challenges the actions of Western treasure seekers and archaeologists. Who gave them the right to remove the artifacts from Egypt and keep them in foreign museums?
It's hard to argue with Fagan's arguments as there is some shocking behaviour on the part of early Egyptologists in the book. Whilst Fagan does cover tomb robbing and looting through Ancient Egyptian to Islamic times, the real pillage only starts with the arrival of Westerners in the form of Napoleon's expedition. We read about tombs being blown open with dynamite (and a near miss with one of the great pyramids), reliefs scraped off walls and my personal favourite, a sarcophagus being chopped in two as the whole thing was harder to transport. The early treasure seekers had little more than the desire to acquire exotic things, so there was no attempt at scientific recording or archaeology. So much was lost.
Fagan does balance his argument with stories of the pioneers who tried to make archaeology in Egypt more scientific and less about the treasure seeking, but it all comes too little too late. Egypt doesn't get a fully functioning national museum until late in the day and the patronising 'we can look after them better than you' attitude continues to this day. I read an early edition of this book (1977) but I know there is a more up to date one out there - it would be interesting to see what Fagan makes of the modern argument that Western museums should return some of their treasures to Cairo, put forward by people like Hawass. However, the benefit of reading the 1977 edition (pulled out of the reserve stacks of the library) was that it was a beautiful copy, hard back with illustrations on most pages.
I loved this book, but I can appreciate that some people might find it a little dry. Fagan has an engaging writing style but the book is fairly detailed and you would need a keen interest in Egyptology before starting in order to enjoy it properly. It's one I would recommend though, it's got a good balance of the history of what happened to Egypt in modern time and of the moral issues surrounding Egyptology.(less)
Most of us tend to think of slavery as something that happened in the past. We imagine Africans at slave markets, on overcrowded ships or working on p...moreMost of us tend to think of slavery as something that happened in the past. We imagine Africans at slave markets, on overcrowded ships or working on plantations. In Enslaved, Jesse Sage and Liora Kasten, the directors of the American Anti-Slavery Group, hope to enlighten people to the fact that slavery still exists in the modern world in a number of forms, from the traditional to sex slavery to labour camps. Inspired by the slave narratives of the nineteenth century, each chapter is the narrative of a person who has been a modern day slave, in a variety of different contexts.
Enslaved was certainly eye-opening. Whilst I was aware that modern day slavery existed, I had no idea of the extent and scope of it. To pick just a few narratives, in this book we meet: Micheline, a Haitian woman trafficked to the USA; Abuk, captured in a raid in Sudan; Jill, kept as a sex slave in suburban America; Beatrice, who thought she had got a job as a maid only to be enslaved and Harry, a victim of Chinese labour camps. There's also a narrative of a slave owner in Mauritiana, that still operates what we would think of as a traditional slavery system. Taken together, the chapters definitely raise awareness and they opened my mind to the suffering of millions of people around the world.
The more I read, the more the connection between slavery and poverty became clear. People who are living in extreme poverty are the ones that will apply for au-pair or maid positions abroad, without knowing enough about the situation to know if they are safe. They are the women driven to work as prostitutes, vulnerable to sex trafficking. The final chapter in the collection is about what we can do as readers and abolitionists, but it didn't really address this connection. Whilst I agree that there's much Western citizens can do about slavery (raising awareness being the least of them), until poverty as a whole is tackled it will continue. Corrupt governments and failing states have much to do with modern day poverty.
I think Enslaved is an important book, one to pass one and discuss with the people you see regularly. Modern slavery is an invisible thing, suffered by people that generally aren't educated or literate enough to raise awareness or push for change. It's not an easy read but it will make you think.(less)