Milk!: A 10, 000-Year Food Fracas

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Kurlansky, and Bloomsbury (USA) Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I remember an advertising campaign from my youth that extolled the virtues and health benefits of drinking milk. It stuck with me and I have tried to present the same positive outlook to my son. When I saw the latest Mark Kurlansky book, all about the history of milk, I could not help but wonder if it would be an entertaining read, as I knew he had tackled some other interesting food topics. One may presume the topic is quite mundane or simplistic, but the attentive reader will discover that milk and its byproducts are anything but boring, though it is one area where history has only added to the controversies, rather than neutralise them. In a book that is as eye opening as it is refreshing, Kurlansky offers the reader much insight into this product that has been a central part of history as long as female mammals have roamed the earth.

Milk has long been a controversial staple through the centuries, from the debate between breastfeeding and delivering the essential nutrients to babies, to the best ‘type’ of milk for humans to consume, and even whether to treat milk to make it safer for consumption. Kurlansky details these and other debates throughout the pages of his book, presenting arguments and views as they were documented throughout history. There remains a strong debate over pasteurisation versus raw milk, which has led to various parts of the world to adopt varying rules and regulations. While many Western countries turn to cow’s milk, there are numerous other animals whose milk is widely used, utilising the higher concentration of such mammals on differing terrains.

Liquid milk is only scratching the (fatty) surface of the discussion, as Kurlansky talked extensively about the various byproducts. Often discovered by accident, byproducts include cheeses, butters, and creams, though their variety can easily be forked into hundreds of different outcomes. The history of cheese is both long and full of political intervention, as Kurlansky discusses at length. Creation of cheese can be a laborious process and is tightly regulated, creating different colours, flavours, and consistencies. Kurlansky explores not only how different milk determines key cheese creations, but also the food intake of the cow that can vastly alter the end result. Turning to creams, history has seen the evolution of different products, based not only on filtering techniques but also the ability to refrigerate or cool for lengthy periods of time. Different people claim fame for various inventions that many take for granted now, though there was surely a fierce debate at the time to launch the best clotted creams, ice creams, and desserts that stemmed from there. Kurlansky also explores how different parts of the world tapped into shaping these byproducts with the local ingredients, creating even more differentiation across the globe.

The political and social aspects of milk are firmly rooted, particularly when government health and legislative bodies learned that they could levy fees and fierce regulations. Milk can be a highly profitable industry, though strict adherence can also lead to marginalizing those who have spent their life trying to make a living off dairy production. Kurlansky turns the focus away from North America and delves deeply into the European and Asian markets, which may shock some readers in the West. There is surely a hierarchy when it comes to milk consumption, as well as a fierce debate about how to treat the animals and the food they consumed. There is no correct answer, nor does Kurlansky try to steer the reader in any single direction, but offers a wonderful cross-section of information for a better understanding. Readers and milk enthusiasts alike can enter the debate better armed for the battle.

Kurlansky’s delivery of the topic at hand is so seamless as to create a story that flows with ease from beginning to end. While there is so much to cover, Kurlansky offers detailed discussions throughout without bogging the reader down with minutiae. Not only does he provide a rich history of milk and its evolution, but Kurlansky offers hundreds of recipes embedded in the narrative, permitting the reader to explore the more amusing side of milk’s maturation. Offering education and entertainment in equal doses, Kurlansky provides the reader with a fulfilling historical tome that will fuel interesting discussions for all. Any reader with a love of history and curiosity about food will surely find something they can enjoy in this book. “Milk. It does a body good!”… and so much more!

Kudos, Mr. Kurlansky, for such a wonderfully diverse piece. I have learned so much and dazzled others with random facts that will stick with me for years to come. Now I am convinced that I will have to find some of your other food histories and see how they compare.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:


The Man who Could be King, by John Ripin Miller

Eight stars

The Revolutionary War comes alive in new ways under the pen of John Ripin Miller in this interesting piece that shows a new and interesting side of George Washington. Told from the perspective of Josiah Penn Stockbridge, the intensity of the Continental Army’s clash with the British hit home for many, none more than Commanding General Washington. Charged with being his closest aide, Stockbridge tells the reader not only about the numerous moments that led to the informal surrender of the British, but the goings-on soon thereafter. Newburgh, New York is the setting and the army is about ready to give-up. An anonymous letter arrives, addressed to General Washington. In it, there is discussion of revolt against the Continental Congress, who have not paid the troops. Over the week during which the book takes place, Stockbridge explores how Washington will react to this—and further anonymous letters—leading up to Washington’s formal address to his men. Might he try to convince them to deny their ire and let Congress lead this new country, freed from the shackles of British control, or will he stand alongside them and rise as the leader of the revolt, serving alone and with all power concentrated in his mighty word? Washington has a great deal riding on this decision and a country waiting to be shaped. Miller does an exceptional job here, pushing the limits of fact and fiction, to create this wonderfully detailed story that will leave the reader with a new respect for General George Washington. Perfect for US History fans who want a thought-provoking piece to keep them debating for the foreseeable future.

I admit that when I saw the title of the book, I was sure that it would be a strongly argued piece about the regal possibilities of the first US president. While I was soon to discover it was a piece of fiction, I was blessed to know that the narrative was seeped in historical fact. Miller pushes the envelope here, entertaining and educating in equal measure. Josiah Penn Stockbridge is an interesting character, particularly as he holds the entire narrative in his able hands. A pacifist by religious conviction, Stockbridge shows the reader the inside view of working alongside Washington, as well as some of his weaknesses, both familial and collegial. Stockbridge weaves quite the tale and allows the reader an insight into the struggles felt by the man who would run these newly joined thirteen colonies, but never does he turn Washington into an outright deity. Washington’s presence is felt throughout the piece, though through the lens of Stockbridge, forcing the reader to parse through the laudatory sentiments to see a man—a mortal—who had the world looking on him an a massive army on the brink of disaster. Even after the British laid down their arms, the battle raged on, within the American camp. Seeping in actual fact, much of the story surrounds these letter that become the cornerstone of the plot. How will Washington react and synthesise this news and whose side is more grounded in what the man feels? Suspend what is known in the history books and look deeply into the choice that Washington had to make, then let the reader ponder, “what would I do?”. I enjoy alternate history and this one left me thinking, as it should any intrigued reader.

Kudos, Mr. Miller, for a piece that kept me wondering and hoping throughout. I am pleased to see you chose this topic and I hope you have more such books in you to keep the reader guessing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson

Seven stars

When asked if I would take a leap of faith (pun evident later in review) and read Jordan B. Peterson’s book, I was slightly hesitant. Surely, I could take something away from this and learn how to incorporate it all into my daily life. If not, I would be able to drum up some interesting discussions with people about the content. Peterson argues effectively that life has become chaotic for most people, as he has witnessed in his profession as a clinical psychologist. His analysis of this chaos can, and should, be rectified by better understanding twelve rules that can assist the wayward person to find their way and live a more productive and less erratic life. While I choose not to delve into all twelve, some interesting insights did emerge as I made my way through this piece, including that humans are not alone in their struggles, nor are their reactions unique. Early in the tome, Peterson makes strong parallels between human inter-personal relationships and those of lobsters. Making some fundamental ties to the two, Peterson seeks to convince the reader that there are strong correlations that cannot be dismissed, simply because the two groups seem so vastly different. From there, the narrative takes an interesting tangent, exploring the lack of self-care that people have, whereby they are more concerned with the health of pets than with themselves, at times. His argument seems to be that it is essential to look inward and fix that which is reflected in the mirror before trying to ‘save the world’. The burden of the world’s issues is chaotic and can be too much to handle, but making that one change—the self change—can bring stability. Core tenets such as listening to what others have to say and trying not to compare one’s self to everyone else seem to fill much of the narrative, as Peterson seeks to push the idea of the inner view to betterment, rather than one of comparison. No one is entirely perfect, so it is a waste to try modelling a life based on the outward appearance of others, be it their physical display or attributes. Rather, taking the time to stop and reflect will lead the reader to acquire the needed tools to betterment. These twelve rules do seem well-grounded and based on a number of years of experience that Peterson has garnered, through study and interactions with patients, and so the reader need not think this is a twelve-rule modern stone tablet set of commands. Those who enjoy learning and analysis of behaviour may enjoy this one. I found some tidbits highly thought-provoking, but I am not yet sure if I will return to take more detailed notes for personal betterment.

I will be the first to admit that I am not one for self-help books or those that seek to point out flaws with a recipe for success. I suppose that is the primary reason I chose this book for the Equinox Book Challenge, to push myself out of a comfort zone and face some of the raw aspects of my being. While I was interested in most of what Peterson had to say, I found some of it troubling, especially if the message was meant to go out to the general public. While I will admit that the West is strongly a Judeo-Christian society, particularly the general rules and moral pathways laid out, it is an ever-evolving society that cannot be boxed in. While done effectively, Peterson used numerous biblical passages and stories to assert his points, both the flaws that have been around for centuries and the solutions that have been followed when listening to God. At no point did I feel that Peterson sought the reader to ‘find Christ and be saved’, but such ongoing reference to these stories boxes the reader into knowing them before being able to make the correlations. Peterson does explain the stories and then explores how God was trying to communicate something to the mortal individuals, but there can be a sense of inculcation, even if not intended. To reach out to the largest cross-section, removing the faith-based narrative may help. Secondly, I would venture to say that this piece straddles the fence between academic and useful for thought-provoking argument, rather than helpful to the masses who might need it. While the core tenets are laid out in the rules and a brief description of them, the discussion is quite detailed and thorough, perhaps too much to truly get the meat out of the piece. Peterson knows his stuff and has much to say on the topics, but perhaps too much to effectively leave the reader with something to take away. Biblical reference, personal experience, historical context. They all occur within each discussion of the different rules, but it is traversing the entire narrative to find the thread of discussion that can leave the reader wondering what they just read and where this all began. I admit that I enjoyed the meandering discussion and numerous insightful viewpoints, but if the premise of the book is to find twelve keys to successfully slaying the chaos dragon, it may be best not to meander along the countryside and forget the task at hand. Soldiers in the battle need clear rules of engagement. That being said, perhaps people enjoy the discussion and as I admit to not being keen on this genre, I am speaking for myself alone. Whether I enjoyed the content, the method of delivery, or even the message, Peterson does craft an effective book and keeps the reader engaged throughout. Canadian content is always nice to see and he personalises the journey, rather than speaking from an ivory tower down to the lowly masses. I can applaud him for that and am pleased to see that type narrative flowed so well and seemed to present a clear understanding of the topic at hand.

Kudos, Mr. Peterson, for your helpful insights into the world of removing chaos. I’ll keep the book for future reference and be sure to speak to others about it.

This book fulfils Topic #5: First and Last? in the Equinox #3 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Retreat, by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Edwards, Amazon Publishing, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his latest thriller, Mark Edwards adds a degree of the paranormal while also creating a mystery that will keep the reader guessing. Lucas Radcliffe is still riding the wave of his latest bestseller, exploring a number of missing children who were taking by a mysterious beast. Seeking to gather himself as he begins his next piece, Radcliffe makes his way to a writers’ retreat in North Wales. On his way up to the secluded spot, Radcliffe learns more about the local lore and the proprietress’ own personal tragedy; a daughter, Lily, who went missing two years ago and a husband who drowned the same day, looking for her. Radcliffe is curious, though understandably reticent to speak about it when it is introduced to Julia Marsh. Could this story of the Red Widow have any basis in truth or simply be a way the locals keep themselves in check? Radcliffe divulges what he knows to Julia, who is still traumatised by the happenings two years before. Wishing to help, Radcliffe hires his own P.I., hoping to make sense of what he knows. When odd things begin happening inside the retreat, Radcliffe wonders more about the lore, but cannot admit to himself or anyone else that he might be ready to accept it. Julia is convinced that her daughter will be back and must be ready for the inevitable. When people tied to the community begin turned up dead, Radcliffe is convinced that there’s a coverup, both tied to the recent disappearance, but also to the lore that posits the Red Widow will arrive every thirty-five years to take a child as a sacrifice. As panic mounts and a collection of writings reveals many secrets Lucas Radcliffe may have stumbled upon something more captivating than any novel he could wish to create. Edwards is brilliant yet again and delivers a stunning thriller sure to keep the reader hooked through to the final pages.

I have always loved a good Mark Edwards novel, especially as they do not follow too strict a writing path. Edwards is able to breathe chills into his writing while keeping the story plausible and unique from past publications. His creation of Lucas Radcliffe is surely a loose mirroring of himself, an author with a collection of darker ideas. Radcliffe does come across as a little passive in his appearance throughout the piece, but does have a sense of determination, especially when a mystery emerges. He seems eager to help, though it is readily apparent that his literary net is always out, seeking tidbits for another novel that may help him further explore his dark thriller side (like Edwards?). Julia Mars proves to be another strong and alluring character, whose focus on trying to find her daughter trumps everything else. Seeking to protect herself from the outside world, Julia is less a waif than seeking to foster what little strength she has left. The cast of secondary characters are well developed and help to create a curious mystery throughout. Spanning over thirty-five years, the characters have honed their personalities and proved as secretive as they are forthcoming, creating an interesting duality that only the reader is able to see. The story may seem a little silly, paranormal in its delivery, but Edwards does a wonderful job to provide the reader with a mystery and chilling narrative that weaves into many unexpected twists and keeps the story from becoming too predictable. Layering the present narrative with both flashbacks of Lily’s final year before her disappearance and some journal entries back in 1980, Edwards keeps the story fresh and the reader engaged, which allows them to become lost and pleasantly surprised.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for delivering yet another powerful piece that thrills and shows just how versatile a writer you have become.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: