Over the holidaze I received two books as gifts. I finally finished the second one yesterday.
The first one I read was The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice. This book is about how cities that gained large shares of the spice trade were able to turn that trade into bigtime wealth, prestige and power. Firstly, the book dives into the tale of Venice, which is by far the most interesting of the three, imho. The author does a good job of describing just what exactly the old maritime empire of Venice did and how they did it to become one of the most powerful middlemen in history. He also does a fine job of describing how folks way back then used spices in their cooking - not an easy task with a small stack of literature to choose from on this topic that is available.
Next, the tales of Lisbon and Amsterdam are told. These, to me were not as interesting as the one about Venice, but still interesting nonetheless. Seems Lisbon did the most with the least, and the story of what is basically the first modern day company, the Dutch East India Company is fascinating.
The book did tend to repeat itself and drag on at times, but not very often. There were a few sentences the book did not need that trashed the good 'ol USA a bit as well. If you can look past these things, you will enjoy this history of the spice trade. It is incredibly interesting to me to see that a lot of what was done almost one thousand years ago is still done today getting things like pepper, ginger, mace, cardamom and other spices from the fields into my spice cabinet. As I have grown older I have for some reason or another needed more spices in my cooking. Not necessarily heat, but spice. This book is a good gift for anyone interested in food, history, or (as in the case of myself) both.
The second book that I just finished is To Cork or Not To Cork. This is literally one of the best books I have read in the last five years that is not a military history book. The author writes extremely well, and that helps the book read fast. He takes the reader through the many sordid tales of woe that wine manufacturers and wineries have with regard to wines that go bad. Some wines are "corked", some are oxidized, others are just flat out dead. Some of these stories make you feel really bad for the wineries - in some cases whole vintages have been discarded or sold off at pennies on the dollar to fortified wine makers all because of a poor closure.
The book takes you through all of the different stoppers on the market such as cork, plastic, screwcaps, combinations, glass, and many more. I had no idea that the market for stoppers is many, many billions per year.
There is a lot of science in this book as well. The author makes it easy for someone who doesn't know a lot about chemistry to understand a lot of the studies and reports that have come out about wine taint, and why it happens and how. I learned a lot about wines, how they are made, and why sometimes they taste "off".
As of the last few years my wife and I have been drinking a couple of bottles of wine per week, usually with dinner. We like to go to a local liquor store and go to their "wall of 10", which is literally a wall of wines that are under $10 per bottle. Since we don't cellar, we buy our wine to drink and it is fun when we find a real gem at that price point. It would be fun someday to take a class on wine appreciation I think.
Anyway, this book about wine closures is excellent and I highly recommend it if you are interested in wine, science or both. Sprinkled in the book are stories about wines ruined by failed stoppers that are also interesting and make the book a little more personal.
I can't recommend "To Cork or Not To Cork" enough.
Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.