Being a bibliomaniac is one thing, a foodie quite another. Put them together, and you have the potential for chaos and catastrophe: for whose kitchen is big enough to house all the gadgets and all the cookbooks there are in the world, all essential to our happiness?
It doesn’t help that the winning slate of the James Beard Award was announced last week, full of books that the gastronome and gourmand will want to own. The nerdiest, as Wired has it, is J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab, a collection of food hacks at the frontier of science and the culinary arts. One of the broadest ranging is Toni Tipton-Martin’s The Jemima Code, a searching study of African American cuisine and the cookbooks that grew out of the tradition. Marion Nestlé, the sharp-sighted critic of the food industry, returns with Soda Politics, while Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook’s Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking took double honors for international book and book of the year.
Make room on the shelf—and room in the stomach, too. If you live in San Francisco, Wired writes in a separate report, you can do both with one click: Amazon.com, already the leading online purveyor of books and other media, is also delivering food across the Bay Area as part of its Prime Now service. Residents of Chicago, Portland, Austin, and a handful of other cities have access to meal delivery as well, an aspect of its business that analysts expect Amazon to roll out elsewhere in months to come.
If we lived half a million years ago, we’d be delivering ourselves as snacks for large African carnivores. So suggests the fossil record, with human bones chomped on by large predators. With that in mind, it may be apt to dust off Bear Grylls’s autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears, which makes good reading for the survival-minded, alongside BBC America’s heavy-rotation rescreening of his series Man vs. Wild. Tough-minded New Yorkers—and even San Franciscans, those not made soft by too-easy chow delivery—might be inclined to agree with Guardian critic Tim Dowling, though, who opines that the skills Grylls teaches, based on bushcraft and knife-between-the-teeth derring-do, are perhaps less essential to making it in the modern world than other survival arts: finding a parking space, planning a dinner party, getting an appointment with the doctor.
Bear Grylls is one model of the adventurer archetype. Another is the amazingly Zelig-like American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, the subject of Steve Kemper’s biogaphy A Splendid Savage, which earned a Kirkus star. Burnham was everywhere, riding in the Apache Wars one year and the Boer War the next, serving as exemplar for Robert Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts movement and as a prototype for the 20th-century conservation movement celebrated in, among other sources, Douglas Brinkley’s new book Rightful Heritage.
He was an Odyssean type, a man who knew many cities and the minds of many people, as Homer would have it, and Kemper ably commemorates Burnham in his lively pages. But Burnham—and Grylls—aren’t the only examples of bare-chested toughness in an unforgiving world. Reports the New York Times, Walt Whitman, the canonical American poet and long unsung pioneer of gay literature, took time from writing Leaves of Grass to venture a program of healthful living. Among his recommendations: Have a steak, wear sneakers, and cultivate a “robust physique.” Oh, and don’t forget to take a shower. You can read more of Whitman’s pseudonymous recommendations online at the University of Iowa’s Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.