The narrative occasionally drags, but this multidisciplinary master class in the history, science, religion, and literature...

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TASTING THE PAST

THE SCIENCE OF FLAVOR AND THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGINS OF WINE

You don’t need to be an oenophile to enjoy this flavorful adventure about one wine nerd’s search for the perfect grape.

In 2008, when former AP correspondent Begos was in his hotel room in Amman, Jordan, he took a red wine named Cremisan out of the mini-bar. He wasn’t expecting much, but “wow. I perked up immediately. The dry red wine had a spicy flavor.” As he writes, “my hotel room wine morphed from an obsession into training wheels,” and he was off on a two-year quest to learn more. Begos traveled through the original wine routes from the Caucasus Mountains and the Holy Land and north through Europe. He soon realized that it was not the wine he was seeking but the grape or grapes from which the wine was made. There would be more wine sampling ahead and interviews with experts who would provide him with “facts instead of just colorful myths.” At the University of Pennsylvania, archaeologist Patrick McGovern, the “Indiana Jones of ancient wine and beer,” taught the author how tests using liquid chromatography have helped identify types of wines in King Tut’s tomb. At the Cremisan monastery in Jerusalem, Begos discovered that his 2008 wine was probably made in 2006, “so I’d tasted one of the last vintages made by the monks.” In a small city on the Rhone, the author learned about ampelography while visiting with Jose Vouillamoz, a “kind of John James Audubon for endangered grapes.” It was like studying “branches (or vines) twisting in all directions, each shoot representing a different variety, a new flavor.” Others taught Begos about the importance of the soil (terroir) and yeast in the fermentation process. His “biggest American winemaking surprise came from Oregon,” which “may be the epicenter of wine innovation in America, even if there’s more money in California or New York.”

The narrative occasionally drags, but this multidisciplinary master class in the history, science, religion, and literature of wines is as luscious as a full-bodied pinot noir.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-577-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A media-savvy scientist cleans out his desk.

LETTERS FROM AN ASTROPHYSICIST

Tyson (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, 2017, etc.) receives a great deal of mail, and this slim volume collects his responses and other scraps of writing.

The prolific science commentator and bestselling author, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, delivers few surprises and much admirable commentary. Readers may suspect that most of these letters date from the author’s earlier years when, a newly minted celebrity, he still thrilled that many of his audience were pouring out their hearts. Consequently, unlike more hardened colleagues, he sought to address their concerns. As years passed, suspecting that many had no interest in tapping his expertise or entering into an intelligent give and take, he undoubtedly made greater use of the waste basket. Tyson eschews pure fan letters, but many of these selections are full of compliments as a prelude to asking advice, pointing out mistakes, proclaiming opposing beliefs, or denouncing him. Readers will also encounter some earnest op-ed pieces and his eyewitness account of 9/11. “I consider myself emotionally strong,” he writes. “What I bore witness to, however, was especially upsetting, with indelible images of horror that will not soon leave my mind.” To crackpots, he gently repeats facts that almost everyone except crackpots accept. Those who have seen ghosts, dead relatives, and Bigfoot learn that eyewitness accounts are often unreliable. Tyson points out that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so confirmation that a light in the sky represents an alien spacecraft requires more than a photograph. Again and again he defends “science,” and his criteria—observation, repeatable experiments, honest discourse, peer review—are not controversial but will remain easy for zealots to dismiss. Among the instances of “hate mail” and “science deniers,” the author also discusses philosophy, parenting, and schooling.

A media-savvy scientist cleans out his desk.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00331-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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