Consider the fork

A wooden spoon – most trusty and lovable of kitchen implements – looks like the opposite of “technology,” as the word is normally understood.

Now this is my kind of non-fiction, and not just because of the subject. Clearly written with fun and love for the subject, it’s the kind of books that makes you share facts with a smile. Not a school book, but a book of knowledge.

Consider the fork is about your kitchen, kitchens in the past, kitchens in the future. It’s about ways to prepare food, about utensils, about how certain foods and materials have influenced our diets and diets around the world. It explains why the Japanese are satisfied with using only one knife, while the Western world prides itself on a case full of them. Why the wok was for the poor, and why fridges were looked at with suspicion. It’s a history book through the kitchen.

Bee Wilson adds anecdotes, but never makes the story about her. It’s excitement and facts thrown together, making it a very tasty stew (no, I couldn’t resist such a corny metaphor).

Consider the fork, Bee Wilson, Basic Books 2012

Coal: A Human History

In the summer of 1306, bishops and barons and knights from all around England left their country manors and villages and journeyed to London.

It wasn’t completely the non-fiction that felt like history/school books, but sometimes it got very close. When it didn’t, it was an interesting and possibly confronting pamphlet about the environment and what humankind does to it. And what a bizarre influence coal had on the development of societies. Who would have known?

From deforesting to coal lobbies getting their American president, for something so mundane, coal left severe traces. Barbara Freese is in environmental law as an assistant attorney general, and doesn’t mince words. Which is -sadly- refreshing, climate change and environmental issues so often being handed with kid gloves instead of reality checks. And she does more than preach doom, she looks at (other) options.

All this means the reader gets a bunch of knowledge directed at them, but always in a considerate, usually light, way. No needs arise to prepare for the test soon, although an environmental-related pub quiz may be aced after reading this.

Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese, Perseus Publications 2003