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An Uncommon History of Common Things [Hardcover]

Bethanne Patrick , John Thompson , Henry Petroski
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 45.00
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Book Description

Nov. 17 2009
Sometime about 30,000 years ago, somebody stuck a sharp rock into a split stick—and presto! The axe was born. Our inquisitive species just loves tinkering, testing, and pushing the limits, and this delightfully different book is a freewheeling reference to hundreds of customs, notions, and inventions that reflect human ingenuity throughout history.

From hand tools to holidays to weapons to washing machines, An Uncommon History of Common Things features hundreds of colorful illustrations, timelines, sidebars, and more as it explores just about every subject under the sun. Who knew that indoor plumbing has been around for 4,600 years, but punctuation, capital letters, and the handy spaces between written words only date back to the Dark Ages? Or that ancient soldiers baked a kind of pizza on their shields—when they weren’t busy flying kites to frighten their foes?

Every page of this quirky compendium catalogs something fascinating, surprising, or serendipitous. A lively, incomparably browsable read for history buffs, pop culture lovers, and anyone who relishes the odd and extraordinary details hidden in the everyday, it will inform, amuse, astonish—and alter the way you think about the clever creatures we call humans.

Frequently Bought Together

An Uncommon History of Common Things + An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy: How Manners Shaped the World + The Knowledge Book: Everything You Need to Know to Get by in the 21st Century
Price For All Three: CDN$ 75.21

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Product Description

About the Author

Bethanne Patrick is a writer and book critic. Her features, profiles, and reviews have appeared in the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, People magazine, and other publications.

John Thompson is the author and co-author of more than a dozen books including Dakotas, America’s Historic Trails, and National Geographic Almanac of American History.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Uncommon History of Wine

·From the Latin Vinum (Wine)
·Popular types: Red, White, Sparkling, Dessert
·“Variety” in winemaking is the type of grape used

Wild grapes have existed for millions of years. Make that tens of millions–the oldest fossilized vine is dated at about 60 million years old. However, wild grapes are small and sour. The first grapes to be made into wine were domesticated, made possible by cultures that had settled and begun to grow annual crops. The oldest wine container finds have been in what are now modern-day Georgia and Iran (where it was called mei). University of Pennsylvania researchers now believe the domesticated grape may first have been planted in Georgia, then spread south.

Just one grape, Vitis vinifera, is the species responsible for 4,000 varieties around the world, but only a relatively small percentage of those are cultivated into wine. Wine production dates back about 6,500 years in Greece, and both red and white wine were important in ancient Egypt. Wine became a commodity in ancient Rome, where barrels and bottles first were used for its storage. The oldest existing bottle of wine is from a Roman colony near what is now Speyer, Germany. That bottle contains some olive oil, an early method of preserving the fermented grape juice, before corks came into use.

After winemaking spread from the Roman Empire throughout western Europe, wine became a preferred beverage in nearly all of those countries, with regional types like sherry (from the port of Jerez), Riesling (grown along the Rhine), and Tokay (a sweet Hungarian varietal) gaining favor, too.

All of these varietals were placed in jeopardy in1863 when the North American root louse Phylloxera vastatrix was brought to Europe, decimating European rootstocks for decades. After a Texan horticulturist named Thomas Munson realized the way to save European vines was through grafting them to American stock, the great vineyards were saved, albeit forever changed.

Nowadays, wineries have become much more than the place where the grapes are grown and the wine made. Many wineries are tourist destinations with overnight accommodations and tasting menus that pair foods with wines. They may also act as wedding sites and corporate conference venues.

Most winery-area real estate is expensive. Modern farming techniques have helped wineries figure out ways to get more mileage out of their acreage while not weakening the soil. Such techniques as vertical shoot positioning (VSP), in which the growth of the vines is highly controlled, results in a very neat, tight canopy. Rather than allowing vines to sprawl, VSP promotes sustainable growth. It's also healthier for the vines, making them less susceptible to disease and able to get shading from their neighbors and leading to more uniform quality.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE Jan. 4 2011
By BigB
I gave this book to the family for Christmas "From Santa", and since I had 10 days off work over Christmas, I had time to pick it up several times. It is a very interesting book if you have a desire to know the origins of sayings, holidays, and almost anything else you can think of. It is a fun, fact filled book that even gives you 10 best home remedies for common ailments. It's a great book for your own home "library".
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5.0 out of 5 stars So many fun facts and tidbits! Feb. 5 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I just love books like this. I saw it in the National Geographic catalogue, but it was much more expensive than on Amazon. Glad I was able to buy it here. Great content and great gift-giving idea!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good coffee table book Sept. 13 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It answers those funny questions
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Did they do ANY research? Dec 12 2011
By Lacerta Regina - Published on Amazon.com
My husband bought this book because he wanted a bathroom reader and I'm a useless-information junkie. I was hoping the book would be packed with nifty tidbits and juicy anecdotes. But halfway through it, I was getting the sneaking suspicion a lot of what I was reading was ... well ... somewhat lacking in the facts department.
The entries are, for the most part, excessively brief and throw out bits of history and culture helter-skelter, without any attempt at context. I assumed that was just the editors, trying to make things fit on the page. There were several instances in the sections on traditions, ceremonies and rituals where a single origin theory was presented as fact, when there are actually several competing theories (as with the origins of Mother Goose).
But when I got to the bit on baby names, I felt like smacking myself in the forehead. The authors had NO idea what they were talking about as regards Scandinavian names -- they said the children of Olaf would be Harald Olafsson (son) and Sigrid Olafsson (daughter). Then, to compound their error, they said some Scandinavian names followed the maternal line, and the children of Sigrid would be named Liv Sigridsdottir and Leif Sigridsdottir. That's the stupidest thing I've ever read. "Son" means son (obviously) and "dottir" means daughter. Not even the drunkest Viking would name his son daughter-of-Sigrid.
My only conclusion is the authors came across some girls named for their mothers and made the stunning leap that ALL of that family's kids had the same surname.
I have to wonder how many other times similar errors and leaps of illogic were made; clearly their fact-checkers (if they had any) did not do their jobs.
In short, the book is somewhat entertaining, but its claims to be a "history" of any sort are questionable at best. It is a collection of popular theory, rumor, myth and legend, packaged in a bright, easy-to-read volume. But before you go quoting it to anyone, you might want to check your "facts."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disapointed Aug. 30 2013
By Russell C. Hendrix - Published on Amazon.com
I enjoy these types of books with lots of useless information. I found this one to be overly wordy filled with generalities and very little factual information. For example "Modern Pizza is basically no more than a circle of dough spread with sauce and sprinkled with cheese". Really? who would have ever guessed that?? on Plastic ware "today there are many different kinds of plastic containers available for food storage..." I had no idea, lol. Luckily the book was cheap.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good for both 11 year olds and 63 year olds Feb. 10 2010
By Susan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I gave this as a gift to my goddaughter and my husband. Both are thoroughly enjoying the trivia and tales. It makes for a lot of "Did you know?" conversations that are both fun and engaging.
20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncommon History of Common Things Feb. 1 2010
By Turtle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great book! Alot of fun to read! Bought for husband as Christmas present. Lots of interesting and facts and antedotes in this book, worth the money. Will read myself when he gets done!
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is available in paperback Oct. 19 2011
By Disappointed in St. Louis - Published on Amazon.com
Fun book but I felt is was too expensive in hardback. I am not sure why Amazon is not selling the paperback version but I found it for $9.98 in my local big box book store. This seems to be one case where Amazon does not have everything.
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