Archive for December, 2012

2012 Book of the Year – A History of the World in Six Glasses

2012 Book of the Year: A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage.  Another of the wonderful recommendations from the folks at “Unshelved,” this is a fascinating interdisciplinary look at six eras of world history and how the dominant beverage of the time influenced societal, political and economic change.  Standage is a business editor at The Economist magazine and the style of the magazine is mirrored in this volume: rigorous in its depth and description, but not academically dry.  One theme that emerges from almost every era is that the featured beverage began as a drink limited in its distribution to the elite: the priests, the rulers and the wealthy, but eventually new sources of supply and manufacturing techniques led it to become available to the masses.  The book is filled with interesting information such as how the customs of the Greek symposia are still carried on around dining tables today, how the change from beer to rum on Royal Naval ships led to British dominance of the high seas, and how local Prohibition and federal tax regulations impacted the development of Coca-Cola.

His follow-up title, The Edible History of Humanity, in which he examines the impact of food on world civilization through the centuries, is also readable, but not quite as good.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.


2012 Books of the year – The Lifespan of a Fact

On to the best non-fiction books of the year 2012.

Non-fiction finalist:  “The Lifespan of a Fact” by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal.  This is a fascinating look at how an author and a fact-checker have different ideas about the concepts of literary non-fiction, journalism, art, imagination, accuracy and truth.  D’Agata submits an essay about a teenage suicide in Las Vegas to a magazine and Fingal is the researcher assigned to confirm the details in the story.  What follows is a line-by-line examination of the article and the conversation between the two as they argue about what are the “facts.”  In just the first chapter, I recognized many of the same situations that I experienced as a librarian for a publishing company.  Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a bit repetitious until the last chapter, when the duo gets into the meat of their arguments.  Readers will get lots of insights into the editorial process, an especially important area as the news industry evolves in the digital age.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.

2012 Best Children’s/Adult Comic Book – Darth Vader and son

Best Children’s/Adult Comic Book:  Darth Vader and son by Jeffrey Brown.  What if Darth Vader had had to raise young Luke Skywalker as a single parent?

Vader: “Luke, pick up your toys this instant.”
Luke: “No.”
Vader: “Luke, I am your father.”
Luke: “Nooooooo!”
Vader: “Do you want a time out?”

That is the premise of Darth Vader and son, a collection of one-panel comics by Jeffrey Brown which examines father-son relationships with a Star Wars twist.  Brown artfully merges memorable movie quotes into typical parenting situations as the Dark Lord struggles to bond with his four-year-old progeny.  A funny, short 30-minute read, I highly recommend it.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.

2012 Best Biography: Catherine the Great

This was a weak year for biographies as the category was dominated by political subjects which hold no interest for me. However, Massie’s book did stand out. Hopefully, 2013 will be better.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie. One of my favorite historical figures closely examined. Both her years as Grand Duchess under the rule of Empress Elizabeth and the oppression of her husband, Peter III, and the 33 years of her rule as Catherine II. Her approach to enlightened autocracy with its successes (the arts) and failures (serfs) are described in great detail.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.

Flip Flop Fly Ball quiz answers

This post contains the answers to the Flip Flop Fly Ball quiz.  Simply hover over the text and the answer will appear.











Flip Flop Fly Ball Follow Up: the Quiz

A follow-up post to my review of Flip Flop Fly Ball by Craig Robinson, here is a quiz based on some of my favorite questions answered in the book (answers to follow this weekend):

1. How many of the 14 expansion teams since 1961, how many started their franchise histories with a 1-0 record?

2. From 1964 through 1992, at least one team each season wore powder blue road uniforms (11 teams in 1980-81).  Name the first and last teams to follow this trend.

3. How many MLB venues are named a Park?  How many are a Field? And how many a Stadium?

4. Rank in terms of height: Marine Corps War Memorial, the Hollywood sign, NFL regulation goalposts, The Green Monster (just the wall, not including those awful seats where the netting should still be)?

5. Before the Cubs in 1988, who was the next-to-last team among the pre-expansion teams to add lights to their stadium?

6. As of the 2009 season, name the only two stadiums where the catcher is facing Northwest instead of Northeast or Southeast?

7. As of the 2009 season, name the only three MLB stadiums at an elevation greater than 1,000 feet?

8. Name the American town within the continuous states farthest from a major league team?

9. Including Fall, Winter, Minor and Instructional Leagues as well as spring training and MLB regular season games, on how many days during 2009 could you have seen a game in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area?

10. In the Steve Miller Band’s song “Rock’n Me,” he travels from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, then Philadelphia, Atlanta and L.A. before returning to Northern California.  What pitcher played for teams in all those places (except Tacoma, though he did play for Seattle and pitched at Tacoma in the PCL as a visiting player)?

2012 Best Sports Book: Flip Flop Fly Ball

Best Sports Book:  Flip Flop Fly Ball by Craig Robinson.  There are plenty of baseball trivia books available, but none quite like Robinson’s take on the American sport.  It combines a series of essays, infographics and illustrations on such a wide and weird set of topics that it becomes an unlikely, but fascinating, page-turner.  Robinson was born in Lincoln, England and didn’t really follow the game until a summer spent in New York on business 28 years later.  He became hooked (and a Yankee supporter) and his essays describe his evolution into a fan both in Europe and on subsequent trips across the Atlantic.  His non-American perspective influences not only his writing, but also the questions he asks and answers in his infographics.  He seems obsessed with stadiums, but he also delves into the history of teams and leagues as well as just off-the-wall stuff like the distance covered by all 716,083 pitches thrown during the 2006 season (8,138.5 miles from St. Louis to Mumbai), a day-by-day look at Ted Williams’ 1941 batting average (never below .300), and the number of times “O Canada” has been the only national anthem played at a game (40 interleague games between the Expos and Blue Jays).  The variety of questions is such that you feel compelled to see what subject he examines next.

Despite its wonderful content, unfortunately its design does not lend itself to reading while lounging on the couch with a game on in the background.  It’s an oversize book at 9.5″ x 12″ and hardbound so it doesn’t fit easily in one’s lap.  And you’ll need a magnifying glass or eyesight like Wade Boggs in order to read some of the miniscule font on most of the graphics.  Also, as with all trivia books, some of the information is dated and has changed since its publication following the 2010 season.  However, given those flaws, it is still a great read and worth the effort.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.

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