What I’ve been reading

1. Momofuku, by David Chang and Peter Meehan.  This Nelson/Winter treatise on industrial organization teaches you the evolution of recipes and restaurants and (most of all) the mistakes made along the way.  Smokiness is an important concept in Japanese food, pickling and fermentation are underrated cooking techniques, a cook can learn from a heart surgeon, people will pay $80 for a ribeye steak without fancy decor, and you can cook semi-safe sous vide at home (suck the air out with a straw).  Recommended.

2. Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York, by William Grimes.  A book like this has to have something interesting and indeed this one does.  There is an excellent chapter on how oysters once were "New York City food," akin to lobster in Maine or crab in Maryland.  No more.  The rest of the book remains oddly distant from the eating experiences of real people and overall I was disappointed.

3. Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, by Ken Auletta.  In the abstract this is quite a good book and if someone woke up from a time capsule from 1969 you would start him with this.  Too much of it was familiar to me, though.

4. Timothy Egan, Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.  Impeccably written and well-researched, but it bored me.  Spellbinding portraits of characters, etc. Not enough of a point and of course the fire was not what saved America.  Many people like it, though, so don't let me put you off.

5. The Lives of the Brain: Human Evolution and the Organ of Mind, by John S. Allen.  A very good Belknap Press introduction to recent research on cognition, especially cognition and language.  An antidote to many things you have read in Pinker.  It's a bit of a "tweener" book: it doesn't take you "by the hand" through the results but it also doesn't assume that you are a research scientist.  It was written at a good level for me, but some readers may wish for more explanation of the results.


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