In this lyrical work, theoretical physicist Zee (An Old Man's Toy: Gravity at Work and Play in Einstein's Universe, 1989, etc.) steps outside his specialty to write about his tree loves--Chinese cooking, language, and culture. Zee's format is elegant: he takes a common food on the menu of any Chinese. American restaurant, explicates the Chinese characters designating the food, and relates charming anecdotes and history associated with the food--Beef Chow Mein, rice wine, and so on. The title, ""Swallowing Clouds,"" for instance, refers to two written characters in Chinese that designate wonton; in Old China, Zee explains, clouds of steam billowed up from the pot of broth carried on the end of a bamboo pole by street peddlers of wonton soup. The chapter titles--""Sleep of the Truly Inebriated,"" ""Courtesans Do Not Eat Crabs,"" etc.--are evocative of Zee's charming approach, enhanced by the book's unusual typography, featuring large Chinese characters interspersed on every page with the English text.