Somewhat dated now, but a fascinating introduction to the non-scientist who wants to know more about astronomy without taking a year of college study.Somewhat dated now, but a fascinating introduction to the non-scientist who wants to know more about astronomy without taking a year of college study. The book is infused with Carl Sagan's love of astronomy and his romantic passion for space exploration. This book would be a great preparatory read before viewing the sequel Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey due to air this year on Fox. Hosting the 13 part series is astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I only hope that PBS will also air the series.
I found it an effective counterbalance to all the hyperbole, wild flights of fancy and cherry picking the facts which Terence McKenna and Gordon WassoI found it an effective counterbalance to all the hyperbole, wild flights of fancy and cherry picking the facts which Terence McKenna and Gordon Wasson resorted to in their theories of psychedelic mushroom use. One of the main themes that Mr. Letcher so eloquently elucidated was that, in most of recorded history, mushroom intoxication was considered a toxic side-effect of mushroom poisoning and not a unique phenomena worthy of study. The book is divided into three parts. The first part outlines the recorded history of mushroom intoxication. Letcher places particular emphasis on analyzing the historical flaws and lack of solid evidence that the brilliantly idiosyncratic proposition of McKenna's theory that the "coprophilic" (dung-loving) psilocybe mushroom was instrumental in early man's language development and spirituality. In addition, Letcher takes to task the fascinating story of Gordon Wasson, a Harvard educated, wealthy banker, whose dedicated interest in the "etheogenic" (deity-revealing) psilocybe species of mushrooms led him to Mexico and a critical meeting with a local, Mazatec "curandera" (healer). Under the influence of the mushrooms, he believed that Maria Sabina, the curandera, was "religion incarnate" and the ideological origins of his later ideas that the source of religious impulses originated in Paleolithic mushroom-cults. Perhaps, the most outlandish, but highly imaginative, belief proposed by John Allegro, an accomplished Biblical scholar and philologist. Allego contended that the figure of Jesus was an anthropomorphic representation of the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushroom. In his seminal book, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970), Allego asserts that Christianity was nothing more than a fertility cult centered on the consumption of the fly agaric sacrament. In addition, Allegro shockingly translates the Sumerian text, "Christ crucified" to mean "semen-annointed, erect mushroom." In the final part, Letcher surveys the recent history of psilocybe mushroom use: the CIA's totally repulsive, illegal use of psilocybe, LSD-25, Mescaline and other potent psychedelic drugs on unsuspecting soldiers and civilians in their perverted goal to find a "mind control" drug; the unregulated, shoddy research methods of Timothy Leary's Psilocybin Project (1960-63); and finally, the contemporary use of psilocybin as a medicine, spiritual adjunct and recreational drug. To summarize, this book is a well-written investigation into the historical, scientific, cultural and pragmatic experiences of the psychedlic mushroom. Eschewing the rhapsodic, hyperbolic prose of its dedicated adherents, Letcher argues for continued research into the very possible medicinal and/or spiritual benefits of the psilocybe mushroom without the call for its indiscriminate, popular use. Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom...more
A very informative bildungsroman of Robert Fortune, a Scot from a small rural village who, despite his humble working class background, was indispensaA very informative bildungsroman of Robert Fortune, a Scot from a small rural village who, despite his humble working class background, was indispensable to the crreation of the lucrative tea plantations of North India. This book takes place during the era of British plant hunters who roamed the colonies looking for new plants to cultivate in the prestigeous Royal Botanic Garden of Kew and the Chelsea Physics Garden, both located in London. This was the era of the mid 19th century when Britain's thirst for Chinese tea would contend with China's monopoly on it's cultivation and sale. It would take a Chinese addiction to Indian opium, which the British had exported to China and deliberately cultivated it's use among the Chinese, to open up the port cities of Fuzhou, Shanghai & Hong Kong. The Chinese Emperor expressly forbid foreigners from entering the interior of China. Robert Fortune, commissioned by the East India Company, had to disguise himself as a Manchurian mandarin official in order to surreptitiously gather specimens of green tea from the fabled Yellow Mountains. The story describes his encounters with pirates, bandits, inclement weather and infighting among his hired Chinese servants. One of the most curious facts that I learned from this book was that the reason the British today almost exclusively drink black tea was that the Chinese added dyes to their green tea for British consumption, not with any malicious intent, but because they believed that the British liked their tea very green. A very good read and I recommend it to those who enjoy history and a good tale. ...more
A beautifully illustrated and comprehensive book about the a humble commodity indigenous to the tropical forest of the southwestern Chinese province oA beautifully illustrated and comprehensive book about the a humble commodity indigenous to the tropical forest of the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, bordering Myanmar (Burma) and Laos.
It provides the reader with a tour de force exploration of the social history, varieties, processing, geographical distribution and medicinal benefits of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis).
Among the fascinating facts about tea revealed in the book was that during China's last four dynasties: the Tang, Song, Ming and Qing, there was a list of 20 tribute teas that was used as tax payment to the emperor. These teas were reserved exclusively for consumption by the emperor and officials of the court. Such colorful names as Longjing (Dragonwell), Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle), Da Hong Pao (Red Robe) and Bi Lo Chun (Green Snail Spring) were among the emperor's favorites.
The authors do a fine job classifying the different types of tea: green, white, yellow, oolong, black and Pu-erh and providing their growing regions, processing and popularity.
I enjoyed the addition of entertaining exotic facts such as the favorite tea of the Sherlock Holmes character was Lapsang Souchong, a smoked dark tea from Fujian province in China. And that a famous oolong tea from China, Tiekuanyin, was named after the Chinese goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin.
The authors not only cover Chinese and Japanese teas, but extends their research into teas from India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and southeast Asia.
My single criticism is that the reader unacquainted with the many facets of tea culture may be initially overwhelmed by the amount of information contained between the covers. But I would encourage the curious not to be intimidated by the amount of information, but pick out favorite chapters and enjoy learning about this intriguing beverage....more
Martin A. Lee, investigative journalist, has written an articulate, compelling, fact-filled book on the social history of marijuana use in the UnitedMartin A. Lee, investigative journalist, has written an articulate, compelling, fact-filled book on the social history of marijuana use in the United States and the corresponding prohibitionist mentality which has forever demonized the plant. Now, with the states of Colorado and Washington legalizing adult recreational use of cannabis (Cannabis is the preferred scientific term for marijuana), this book is an excellently written, pertinent resource for anyone wanting to know more about this controversial plant. A few fascinating factoids gleaned from the book:
*Louis Armstrong was a lifelong user of reefer, preferring it to alcohol. He was horrified at the use of heroin by fellow Jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Bud Powell.
*Hashish and other cannabis tinctures & confections were readily available from (without a prescription) from 19th century drugstores and mail-order outlets for the treatment of depression, insomnia, migraines, muscle pains and menstrual cramps.
*Harry Anslinger, chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) created the "reefer madness" mythology when alcohol prohibition was repealed and the 1930's depression era government slashed his budget. His ally in spreading this ludicrous misinformation was the megalomaniacal newspaper magnate, Randolph Hearst, who hated Mexicans and spoke openly of his admiration for pre-war Nazi Germany. He notoriously printed false articles in his paper about Mexicans high on marijuana attacking anglo men and seducing anglo women.
*In the 1950's and early 1960's, the US Army Chemical Weapons division experimented on soldiers (without their consent or knowledge)by administering THC (one of the active compounds in cannabis), LSD, PCP and other psychoactive drugs in a vain attempt at discovering a "truth drug" and/or nonlethal incapacitant.
*Richard Nixon, who was a heavy user of sleeping pills, amphetamines & liquor, hated marijuana because he associated its use with hippies and Jews.
*When First Lady, Nancy Reagan was sanctimoniously telling the nation to "just say no" to marijuana and illegal drugs, she was a chronic user of prescription tranquillizers.
*The United States is the only industrialized nation that prohibits growing low THC industrial hemp for paper, fiber, fuel, etc. The DEA in 2001 unsuccessfully attempted to ban hemp food products.
I give this book a resounding triple THC "kind bud" rating....more
A harrowing, heartfelt account of the "garbage pickers" of Mumbai/Bombay. Despite the squalor and lack of adequate food, sufficient clean water, and dA harrowing, heartfelt account of the "garbage pickers" of Mumbai/Bombay. Despite the squalor and lack of adequate food, sufficient clean water, and deplorable housing, the families who live in the Annawadi slum near the uber modern, shining Mumbai Airport are portrated, not with romanticized descriptions, but are characterized as both astoundingly hard-working, versatile and often creative people who often fall prey to the universal human vices of jealousy, prejudice (Hindu vs. Moslem), drunkeness and drug addiction, and political corruption. The character who I found most compelling was Abdul Hussain, a short ten year old Muslim boy, whose family is engaged in collecting servicable garbage from construction sites and the Airport and reselling them to metal, plastic, and paper recyclers. Abdul's mother, Zehrunisa, runs the family business as the father Karam has a debilitating illness which leaves him to weak to work. Abdul's younger brotehr, Mirchi, is sporadically attending school in hopes of entering a private school and becoming an engineer. But corrupt, brutal police officers often arrest and beat them for vagrancy, unless they pay bribes. And there is always the danger of politically agitated riots against the Muslims by the right wing Hindu Shiv Sena who want to rid Maharastra state of the non-Hindu and non-Maharastrians who have flocked to Mumbai from all over India in hopes of a decent job and a better life for their families. Ms. Boo has done an admirable job in describing this one slum among hundreds that have mushroomed around Mumbai and other large Indian cities. The Western perception of India as a growing, prosperous middle-class country is an unbalanced view that neglects the vast majority of Indians who live on less than $1 per day and face the constant threat of riots, crippling injuries and illnesses (from TB to AIDS), constant payment of bribes to gain justice or to be left unmolested by corrupt police and politicians. Despite all these pressures, the people of Annawadi slum try to hang on to hopes of education, clean water, food and shelter and the prospect of a better tomorrow....more
A funny, informative introduction to many Yiddish phrases that the non-Jewish and Jewish folk don't always know. For example, "mentsch" is a common YiA funny, informative introduction to many Yiddish phrases that the non-Jewish and Jewish folk don't always know. For example, "mentsch" is a common Yiddish word meaning "a person who is honest, humble and helping" and not just "a man". In contrast, a "schmuck" is a strong pejorative word equal to the English S.O.B. There is a veritable treasure trove of words and phrases that will be of interest to anyone who enjoys languages. One of my favorites is "hok a tsaynik" or "bang on a teakettle". So, if someone is yammering on, just say please stop "hokking a tsaynik". I highly recommend this book....more
Great summer read! The characters are lovably eccentric: Jana Bibi, the Scottish widow of an American missionary who stays on in India after her husbaGreat summer read! The characters are lovably eccentric: Jana Bibi, the Scottish widow of an American missionary who stays on in India after her husband's death; her son who wants her to return to Scotland, Mr. Ramachandran, who owns the Treasure Emporium (a glorified knick knack shop), Feroze Khan of Royal Tailors, Mary, her housekeeper, the bagpipe playing Gurkha, who keeps the wild monkeys away, Mr. Ganguly, the chatty parrot and the bullying, extortionist police commissioner, Mr. Sharma Bandu. The setting is in the Indian foothill and the village's name is ironically titled Hamara Nagar ("our village")and the plot is how to save the village from the central government's plans to construct a hydroelectric dam that will flood the village. It is a very nostalgic, good-humored and gentle story. Highly recommended....more
This book is a provocative look at religion for those who have "lost faith in faith". The premise of finding enduring values in religion without accepThis book is a provocative look at religion for those who have "lost faith in faith". The premise of finding enduring values in religion without accepting the divine origins of these values is intellectually appealing and innovative. The suggested secular replacements for the "divine" values leave something to be desired. In his chapter on community, the author proposes an Agape House or Center where the community could gather and share in an atmosphere of mutual goodwill appears contrived. Religion has a long history which contributes to its appeal of continuity and stability. In today's culture of the individual uber alles and instant success, the factors of time, tradition and shared experiences are given short shrift. I especially found his example of a shared orgy, similar to the tradition of Holy Fools Day in medieval Christianity, as simplistic and unnecessary. However, some of his proposals have true value. As a humanistic, nature-oriented Jew, I found his example of the shared confession of guilt among the community at Yom Kippur as having secular potential for all non-believers if professed in a humanistic liturgy. Also, the many examples of religious art and architecture as visual teaching tools to express compassion, anger, failure, love, dreams and our ultimate demise as possibly being capable of translation into secular rituals. The human desire for beauty, ritual, shared values, solace when confronted with life's inevitable disappointments and losses could be "sanctified" with rituals connected to nature. We are all children of the earth and the stars and our shared imaginations could construct rituals which could reflect this. One example, which centers around marriage, could focus on the universal need for companionship, love and propagation of the species which permeates all cultures and simultaneously exists within non-human animals. The profound feelings of loss through death could be ritualized through the scientific truths that nothing is destroyed all transformed, from the DNA which we share with all living things on earth to the death of distant stars which provides the heavy elements which are the building blocks of all life. ...more
I read this gem of a science fiction novel over a decade ago and it still is one of my favorite books. The writing style is descriptive without beingI read this gem of a science fiction novel over a decade ago and it still is one of my favorite books. The writing style is descriptive without being overwhelming and thankfully lacks the polysyllabic techno babble that often mars a good sci-fi story. The characters of the monks in the order of St. Leibowitz are drawn clearly and have a complexity and nuance that is very refreshing. All in all, I highly recommend this "classic" sci-fi tale....more
Euell Gibbons was one of the finest examples of the "living off the land" genre of books. His descriptions of edible plants, their habitat, any lookalEuell Gibbons was one of the finest examples of the "living off the land" genre of books. His descriptions of edible plants, their habitat, any lookalikes that may be poisonous, and a generous dollop of humor makes his book a treat for the beginner or the experienced forager of wild edibles....more
It was an interesting study of the cultural use and misuse of opiates like laudanum and tincture of opium in 19th century Britain. Because of the authIt was an interesting study of the cultural use and misuse of opiates like laudanum and tincture of opium in 19th century Britain. Because of the author's education and literary bent, his description of his opium dreams are vividly described in rich detail. His progression from an intermittent user to assuage the pain of toothache and migraine to his habitual use and difficult in abstaining is a provocative study of 19th century addiction. Recommended....more
An interesting exploration of the evolution of the human brain and especially focusing on Broca's and Wernicke's areas which are responsible for speecAn interesting exploration of the evolution of the human brain and especially focusing on Broca's and Wernicke's areas which are responsible for speech comprehension and communication. Highly recommend for the lay person....more