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Food, Inc. : Mendel to Monsanto--The Promises and Perils of the Biotech Harvest
Food, Inc. : Mendel to Monsanto--The Promises and Perils of the Biotech Harvest
by Peter Pringle
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Many Sides of a Complicated Problem, Oct. 6 2003
One of the hardest contemporary stories to cover is genetically modified food. It is tangled with pure science, technology, industrialization, profiteering, and world politics. In the past ten years, there have been loud boasts and loud denunciations about GM crops. Those who invent and stand to profit from new herbicide-resistant, insect-resistant, salt-resistant, nutrient-added species have promised that farmers, starving third-world children, and the environment will all be benefited. On the other side are those equally insistent that "Frankenfood" promises nothing but superweeds, distorted genomes for traditional crops, allergies, decimation of fauna, and benefit to no one but giant corporations. Peter Pringle has entered this zone of contention almost like a war correspondent, and his bulletins from the front form _Food, Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto - The Promises and Perils of the Biotech Harvest_ (Simon & Schuster). Pringle has tried not to take sides, but to report on the curiosities, colorful characters, and paradoxes of the new technology. Because of this, the volume will probably be unsatisfactory to anyone with strong feelings on one side or the other, but it is a good overall look at the controversy. Pringle insists that people are going to have to make informed decisions on these issues, and his book is a good step in that direction.

Pringle starts with the story of Ingo Potrykus, one of the researchers who invented "golden rice." Potrykus coaxed genes from daffodils (of all things) into rice so that the grains contained beta carotene, which can be converted in the body to vitamin A. Getting the vitamin to third-worlders who didn't have it was supposed to put a humanitarian face on the worrisome technology. It didn't happen because a mega-company had to be paid off, and the biotech industry was accused of various other infractions. While Pringle certainly covers the overreactions of anti-biotech forces, he has the most criticism for Monsanto and its fellow corporations. He gives many examples of how GM food has been cavalierly treated and regulated.

There is potential that GM crops might help us, but we are stumbling. Environmental activists shout whenever there is any product from GM agriculture, and the corporations have a skuzzy record of bullying Mexican bean importers and Canadian rapeseed growers for punitive royalties, as well as lying about the possible dangers of the crops. The dangers are considerable; what is going to happen, for instance, when genes to produce medicines are inserted into our grain and we get tetanus vaccine in our corn flakes? The industry has done so bad of job of safety issues that rightly or wrongly, the European Union will not import GM plants, and starving Zimbabwe has refused relief from GM corn. There is surprisingly little evidence that GM crops actually help in any way; even the financial benefits of Bt crops have been no better than marginal. The problems are not going to go away; having tinkered with the basics of plant identities, humans are unlikely to stop. _Food, Inc._ is a thoughtful and unalarmist look at the problems. GM plants have promise and hazard, and neither their promoters or detractors, nor governmental regulators, are providing sufficient service to those of us at the bottom of the food chain.

The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races
The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races
by Walker Rumble
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 37.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Champions Whose Names You Never Knew, Oct. 4 2003
"As exciting as watching paint dry" is proverbial. If watching paint dry does not excite you, how about watching typesetters set type competitively? Before you start yawning, realize that there were racers who set type, just as now there are racers who bicycle, and crowds paid to watch them and cheered and bet on the outcome. There must have been something not-so-dull about the contests, and there is nothing dull about _The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races_ (University of Virginia Press) by Walker Rumble. Partly this is because of his strange subject; the Swifts were the typesetters who were so good at their craft they could race against others, and they were colorful characters involved in an eccentric sport. Also, Rumble, a historian who has worked as a printer, has included a great deal about printing technology, printing unions, and the place of women in the trade.
Typesetting was the last printing task to be given over to machines. It was the working realm of the fellows called "typos" or "comps" (compositors). The really fast typos were the Swifts, who picked out letters from cases, set them into their sticks, justified, put in hyphens, and so on at an unbelievably fast pace, their pistonlike arms going back and forth more than once a second. There were shop races for beers, and in 1886 there was a series of highly publicized typesetting races. They did not happen on the shopfloors where the typographers customarily worked, but in the public arenas known as "dime museums," where the competition would be one of a number of attractions including animal displays and stage shows. Challenges were extended, and appreciative crowds wondered at the capacity of the Swifts to bring down type into comprehensible lines. Cash prizes could be $1,000 (when a top compositor made $30 a week). The promoter who had been responsible for P. T. Barnum's celebrated Jumbo the Elephant offered to put the competing Swifts on tour, and to Chicago, Boston, and other cities the competition traveled, often with a hometown champion thrown into the fray. Victors could endorse products, like the types forged by a particular firm. One of them performed a specialty piece where he composed with the upper and lower cases reversed, and then he composed blindfolded, and then he composed with the reversal and the blindfold in place. The crowds loved it.
It was a short-lived sport. Part of the problem was that after the competition in Boston, there was a novelty added after the men had raced: women typesetters. That would not have been so bad, but the women were faster than the men. The men sniffed that "as much latitude was allowed the ladies in the matter of time and proofs, their scores cannot take rank as genuine records." However, there isn't any evidence that the women had special latitude given at all. But of course the big problem was not that the men were being shown up by women. The year of 1886 was not only the one for the typesetting race frenzy, it was the year that the _New York Tribune_ inaugurated its brand-new Linotype composing machines. The machines, dirty, noisy, and laborious to operate, knocked women out of the typesetting business, to be sure, but they knocked the Swifts out as well. A linotype operator was supposed to live a clean life, he was stuck to his machine and could not travel from one workplace to another, and he could be expected to average a rate more than twice the speed of the fastest Swift. As one of the champions remarked in 1895, "The glory of the composing room is gone forever, and soon will be but a reminiscence..." It was not even a reminiscence, with hot metal Linotypes themselves eventually giving way to phototypesetting and digital typography, until Walker Rumble reminded us of it in this surprising and detailed examination of a strange facet of American history.

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester
Edition: Hardcover
69 used & new from CDN$ 0.06

5.0 out of 5 stars The Making of a Gargantuan Classic, Oct. 1 2003
In a world of uncertainties, there is at least one human effort we can count on. For 75 years, if you have needed to know about an English word, you could turn to the _Oxford English Dictionary_ and you could expect enlightenment. You could know you were getting the authoritative low-down on any word you might come across, and you could not only find its definition, but its history of use given in quotations dating from its very first known appearance in print. For word fans, using the _OED_ is a joy, and every turn of the pages in its monumental volumes registers new affection and admiration for an unequalled intellectual accomplishment. Five years ago, Simon Winchester wrote _The Professor and the Madman_, an inspiring account of an inmate of an asylum who helped compile the _OED_'s words. It was a footnote to the _OED_'s larger history, and now, in _The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary_ (Oxford University Press), Winchester has given that history with the same humane and appreciative tone of his first book on the subject. Anyone who uses English ought to know the _OED_, and anyone who loves the _OED_ will find this book fascinating.
Winchester gives a fine brief guide to the history of our language, and shows that by the Victorian age, philologists felt a comprehensive dictionary was needed. In 1842, the Philological Society settled on a proposal of a gargantuan dictionary, one that would have old words and new, one that would have every word and every meaning for that word. There was certainly something of power in such a scheme; great men and great ambitions would push the influence of English throughout the Empire, nay, the world, and increase the influence of Britain and her church. The story of the _OED_ is inextricably the story of the chief editor for the original edition, James Augustus Henry Murray. He was the son of a Scottish linen draper, and after a rural upbringing, he had to leave school at 14 because of poverty. However, by that time, he had developed precocious interests in geology, astronomy, archeology, and plenty of other fields, especially languages. He became a teacher at a boys' school in London, but in 1879, he was appointed editor of the dictionary project. Murray was not just a lexicographic and organizational genius, however, but a cheerful and persistent diplomat, who was adept at dealing with difficult personalities and making friends with those who were originally nuisances. He was also a family man whose very happy marriage produced eleven remarkable children. The children never had pocket money but by earning it in sorting dictionary slips. One wrote, "Hours & hours of our childhood were spent in this useful occupation. The motive actuating us was purely mercenary." One unforeseen result of this upbringing is that when the crossword puzzle craze came on, all the Murray children were brilliant at them.
Murray himself died in 1905 and did not live to see the completion of the work in 1928 (there was a supplement in 1933 for all the new words that had been put in use since the start). But he knew himself that there would really be no completion of the work any more than the language itself would be complete. A dictionary is a snapshot of current language, a verbal description that rapidly goes out of date. There has been a second edition, and a web-based version, and a Revised Edition is being worked on, which will possibly weigh a sixth of a ton and comprise forty volumes. Perhaps, though it will appear in only an electronic form. But Murray's basic plan for the dictionary was so good that the plan has remained intact, and the book will continue reflect the growth of our language. The _OED_ is still looking for volunteer readers, to make slips for new words and also to try to find previous usages for words already in. For instance, according to the _OED_'s last bulletin, if you can find a source for the phrase "pick up steam" (that is, to accelerate) from before 1944, the editors want to hear from you.

Mirror, Mirror & A History Of The Human Love Affair With Reflection
Mirror, Mirror & A History Of The Human Love Affair With Reflection
by Mark Pendergrast
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from CDN$ 0.33

5.0 out of 5 stars Mirrors Show What We Are, Sept. 29 2003
There's a good chance you looked into the mirror as one of your first tasks of the day, and that you have mirrors in many of the rooms in which you live and work. You certainly have them in and on your car. Perhaps you are not fascinated by mirrors, but that may be because they are all around, ready to be taken for granted. Like most things taken for granted, it is a good idea to take notice again, and Mark Pendergrast has done so for the common and not-so-common looking glass. _Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection_ (Basic Books) looks at how mirrors have played roles in history, literature, technology, sex, science, and magic. There is a good deal here to reflect upon.
Our ancestors had to make do with looking into puddles, polished obsidian, and eventually polished metal. It was not until the thirteenth century that industrial mirror-making was begun, in Venice. City authorities forced the glassmakers to the island of Murano because they used such dangerous furnaces. In addition, authorities could better keep watch on the members of the glassmakers' guild if they were isolated on the island; escaping from the island carried the death penalty. Mirrors are inextricably entangled with light, and one of the pleasures of _Mirror Mirror_ is that it gives a history of our improving concepts of what light is. Telescope makers for centuries have been increasingly able to coax light to reveal secrets of our universe, and a large part of the book is about this history of telescope making. There are many stories here of mirrors that took years to grind into the perfect shape before they could be installed in famous observatories. The troublesome mirror that had to be corrected on the Hubble is here, as are newer Earth-based mirrors that can be magically adjusted to correct for atmospheric distortion.
Despite the book's subtitle, there is not a great deal here about humans looking at themselves in mirrors. There is a firm called True Mirror that makes a right-angled mirror surface that produces an unreversed reflection; wink your right eye into it and the right (not left) eye of your mirror image winks back. People looking into such a mirror can be confused, or repelled, but are often fascinated, and the makers encourage mirror gazing as an aid to self-understanding. It is clear that Pendergrast is much more impressed with mirrors used to look at our place in the universe rather than mirrors that we use to apply our make-up. He has written a fascinating book that shows that the mirrors in observatories, in orbit, in compacts, and in magic tricks reflect ourselves and our wide range of interests.

Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball
Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball
by Stefan Kanfer
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from CDN$ 1.88

5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Story of the Sad Clown, Sept. 25 2003
Lucille Ball is one of the totems of America in the 1950s, but she has proved to transfer very well into the next century and into other cultures. At every second of every day, people somewhere in the world are watching Lucy stomp grapes, drunkenly pitch a vitamin product, or get woefully behind on a candy assembly line. "I Love Lucy" was the hallmark of her career; she didn't do anything as well before or after, but it wasn't for lack of trying. _Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball_ (Knopf) by Stefan Kanfer is a big, entertaining biography that spends about a third of its pages on the "Lucy" years, when the star produced a classic program that will, like the films of other clowns such as Chaplin and Keaton, always find an audience. Even during those years, however, Lucy's life was tense and unhappy except for her professional efforts. It is the standard paradox of comedians, and Kanfer rightly evaluates it in full.
Lucy was a beautiful brunette from Jamestown, New York. She worked as a model and then became "Queen of the Bs", a hardworking actress stuck in second-rate pictures. Her eventual success on television stemmed directly from her marriage to Desi Arnaz, but their joint effort was from the beginning an attempt to keep the marriage together. Kanfer is careful to show just how much Desi contributed and how revolutionary the format of the show was; production in front of a live audience with three cameras going had never been tried before, for instance. But he knew she was the core of the show; when she tripped on a cable, he told everyone, "Amigos, anything happens to her, we're all in the shrimp business.") She got opportunities to show off a physical comedy that movie producers had denied her. The television success did not, of course, save the marriage. There are wonderful anecdotes about the production of the show, and surprising facts such as Lucy's summons to appear before HUAC because she had been a registered Communist, and her role in bringing such shows to the air as _Star Trek_.
Lucy was increasingly anxious even during the height of her success. Her marriage failed, and she had fitting worries as her children tried being adults. She had a phobia about birds and about dirt, and she was a prig, fretting over the morals of movies and upbraiding Marlon Brando for _Last Tango in Paris_. Spinoffs after "I Love Lucy" were derivative failures, and her movies, except for _Yours, Mine, and Ours_, were embarrassments. Toward the end of her career as at the beginning, she just did not fit; but it was a glorious second act. Kanfer, who wrote an excellent biography of Groucho (who along with Harpo and Zeppo has a cameo in this book), has loaded it with facts and anecdotes that anyone who likes Lucy reruns will enjoy. He has not been able to explain just where Lucy's amazing gift for an almost universally enjoyed brand of comedy came from. No one could do that. She had more than her share of failures and disappointments, but harnessing that gift was her main aspiration in life. The best part of her energies went to acting happy in a television marriage and acting a manic fool in improbable situations with which everyone could identify. She had a decidedly sad life overall, but increased the world's mirth. _Ball of Fire_ helps fans appreciate how much of a gift that was.

The School of Whoredom
The School of Whoredom
by Pietro Aretino
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from CDN$ 4.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Learning More than Being a Whore, Sept. 23 2003
This review is from: The School of Whoredom (Paperback)
If you want to read a work that is literally pornography, you are in luck. Remember, pornography literally, etymologically, is "whore writing", or writing about or by prostitutes. Of course we have grown away from this literal standard, but _The School of Whoredom_ (Hesperus Press) by Pietro Aretino meets it. It consists of a classic dialogue (from the time when dialogues where the choice way of explaining ideas in astronomy and philosophy) between a whore and her daughter who will become a whore. This makes it sound quite a bit coarser than it really is. While the book is not without frankness and the translator has not spared four-letter words, it is a sophisticated satire on the morals of men and women. It is full of jokes, robust humor at the expense of courtiers, clerics, men, women, and different ethnicities of the sixteenth century. It has some advice to a daughter that works just fine in modern and less meretricious settings.
_The School of Whoredom_ (written around 1535) is not a work like Aretino's famous _I Modi_, called the world's first "stroke book". While it treats of the erotic endeavors of men and women, it could hardly be called an erotic work itself. Basically, it is instruction more on how to be a courtesan than how effectively to engage in coitus. As such, it is more about manipulation of the emotions of men than of their anatomy, and might be read as a prescient call to feminist solidarity. Whoring, mother Nanna reminds daughter Pippa, isn't easy: "So, you see, becoming a whore is no career for fools, well I know it..." She also advises, "You'd need more skills than a doctor to be a courtesan." There is plenty of other advice, some proverbial. "Never mock at the truth and never do harm with a joke." "Don't take pleasure in upsetting friendships by reporting gossip; avoid scandals; and whenever you can make peace do so." By such means, Pippa is to ensure her position of relative esteem in society, but always she is to be mindful of the bottom line: "... a courtesan whose heart pounds for anything other than her purse is like a greedy, drunken tavern-keeper..." who eats his own fare instead of selling it.
While the liveliest parts of the book are the descriptions of ruses for parting punters from their extra cash, there are many pictures here of a vibrant society, one which valued good food and entertainment. Aretino's work shows they also liked satire. There is much here to expose those in power, and plenty that makes fun of the sexual peccadilloes from cardinals to monks and nuns. Nanna discusses the merits (or lack thereof) between Frenchmen, Spaniards, Romans, Florentines, and Germans, giving pride of place to the Venetians ("If I said everything they deserve to have said about them, people would tell me: 'Love has blinded you.'"). Nanna has triumphed over men for years, and is delighted with Pippa's prospects: "My heart swells so much with pride at seeing you at home in these affairs that I'm in raptures." Careful reading, though, almost five centuries later, shows she has instructed about far more than the ways of whoredom.

Triangle
Triangle
by David Von Drehle
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from CDN$ 1.22

5.0 out of 5 stars What Caused the Fire, and What the Fire Caused, Sept. 22 2003
This review is from: Triangle (Hardcover)
Before 11 September 2001, the worst workplace disaster in New York City was the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village on 25 March 1911. As recounted in a riveting history, _Triangle: The Fire That Changed America_ (Atlantic Monthly Press) by David Von Drehle, the fire was caused not just by a careless cigarette, but by social, industrial, and labor forces summed to that point, and true to the subtitle, it changed those forces ever afterward. Anyone studying the economics and history of twentieth century America needs to know the prominence of the sweatshops, but as Von Drehle points out, we are now once again concerned about the sweatshops from where our clothes issue (they just don't happen to predominate in New York anymore). And though after Triangle there were important safety laws imposed in New York, there are still factory disasters happening in the equivalent of sweatshops in other parts of the world.
Ironically, the Triangle factory made shirtwaists, which were the women's blouses of the time, and they were something of a sartorial liberation for women. It was a practical garment, with no hoops or corsets, and yet it was fashionable enough for the Gibson Girl. The book covers the lengthy strike at Triangle of 1909, but the strike was not about safety, just hours and pay. Von Drehle shows that there had already been factory buildings successfully protected from fire. Automatic sprinklers, firewalls, and fireproof doors and stairways were, from the 1880s, standard in some factories. The Triangle owners paid lots for insurance, and little for safety. The building itself was promoted as fireproof, and it proved essentially to be, but the contents were certainly not. There were about 250 workers in the building, and as they attempted to escape, each fire hazard took its toll. A door to the rear stairway was locked, for instance, because the owners insisted that workers use only one stairway. This ensured that before leaving the building, everyone could be checked for goods smuggled out. Crowds mobbed shut other doors which opened inwards. The account of the fire is vivid and scary. 140 people died in the fire, 123 of them women. About a hundred of the deaths were those who fell or jumped.
The owners were tried for manslaughter. Van Drehle has uncovered a lost transcript of the trial, which focused on the locked doors. On the stand, one of the owners stressed the importance of having the door locked to prevent theft, but when pressed to state how much loss there had been to theft, he admitted that it was less than $25 a year. The owners were deemed not guilty, and gained $60,000 in insurance payments. The resulting public outcry provided a new impetus for workplace safety, creating rules that are in force even today, like the ones requiring outward swinging doors. Van Drehle shows that even more importantly, it began to be taken for granted that a progressive government ought to be regulating such matters. Tammany Hall came around to protecting the workers, and from this change grew such philosophies as the New Deal. _Triangle_ compellingly tells the story of the building's fire, but even better, it covers the stories of the women workers involved in the disaster, and the changes the fire brought. The fire lasted a horrific ten minutes in 1911, but it has not finished burning yet.

Adams Navel
Adams Navel
by Michael Sims
Edition: Hardcover
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars All Around the Body, and More, Sept. 17 2003
This review is from: Adams Navel (Hardcover)
From heads to toes, we are all remarkable creatures, even if regarded superficially. Regarding bodies superficially, but in whimsical depth, is the purpose of _Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form_ (Viking) by Michael Sims. While he may make a brief foray down the mouth or into the ears, Sims has left the innards pretty much alone. Instead, he has gone on a head-to-toe journey, scribbling down historical, etymological, literary, and physiological nuggets connected to all the external body parts. The book is a miscellany; other than the deliberate southwards theme, there is little unity, but that doesn't matter. Sims is a journalist on scientific and cultural matters (the science here is definitely science light, in keeping with the fun of the volume), and he has amassed a huge amount of information, even if it reflects a quirky selection. The overall topic is inherently interesting, and the digressions themselves are full of facts.
For instance, after regarding the face, its relative hairlessness, the thirty-six ways of moving the eyes, and the way faces are inherited as shown by the photos of your ancestors on the mantel, Sims treats us to pages about the Face on Mars. What this silly case, and all the other faces-in-the randomness manifestations, show is that we are evolutionarily programmed to see faces even if they aren't faces. Not only do newborns know to fix their gaze on faces (thereby getting attention from the more competent humans around them), but predators such as ourselves are better off mistakenly making a snap judgement "Hey, there's a face!" and then sheepishly refining the assessment if it really isn't one. Sims's discussion of the eye includes binocular vision, the fashion appeal of sunglasses, and Medusa who could turn to stone anyone who looked into her eyes. It winds up with "the argument from design," famously expressed by William Paley in 1802, and demolished by evolution since then. Darwin himself was troubled by the complexity of the eye, and (as befits a good theoretician) he accepted that this could be taken as an argument against natural selection. These worries proved groundless, as biologists learned of the connections between primitive eyes (like those in flatworms) and complicated ones like our own. As befits the book's title, there is plenty here about navels. A professor of physics, Karl Kruszelnicki, has solved the longstanding mystery of why so much fluff gets in them (and he was awarded an IgNobel prize by the science humor magazine _The Annals of Improbable Research_). Kruszelnicki did a year-long, self-funded study of various navels, shaved and unshaved, to confirm "... his theory that abdominal hairs serve as a conveyor belt for transporting fibers upward from underwear."
It is really impossible to summarize the contents of a volume like this whose every chapter is packed with factual amusements. Read here about the agonizing lip problems of Louis Armstrong. Learn why Barbie's breasts have resulted in a fatwa against her from Kuwait. Reflect that lexicographer Samuel Johnson refused to put terms for private parts into his dictionary, and now "johnson" is widely accepted as slang for "penis" (resulting in the witty chapter title "Boswell's Johnson," having to do with, among other things, the sexual adventures of Johnson's biographer.) Consider why the male figure on the plaque carried through the universe by Pioneer 10 has a penis, but the female has no vulva. Learn how the French do not French kiss, but instead Italian kiss. Any fan of trivia, presented with an eye to fun rather than strictly to erudition, will learn plenty here, and laugh (often in self-recognition) many times besides.

Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify & Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man
Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify & Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man
by Nancy Armstrong
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Let's Have a Show of Hands, Sept. 15 2003
You are in conversation with an individual you do not know well. All of a sudden she makes a fist, extends the pinkie on one side and the thumb on the other, and wiggles the fist with its extended digits. You are mystified. What do you do? The answer is simple: You pull out the _Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify and Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man_ (Quirk Books) by Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner. After all, it is pocket sized and full of pictures, and you always have it with you. You find the photo of the gesture, but you ignore the similar one with the fist elevated and the thumb pointed to the open mouth ("Let's Drink") or the one where the thumb is near the ear and the pinkie is near the mouth ("Call me"). No, the gesture is the "Hang Loose"; your partner in conversation is using a sign associated with Hawaiian surfers, but actually traced to Spanish explorers. The gesture derives from "Let's Drink", but as given without the "bottle" gesture, it has no implications of recreational drug use, just "take it easy". If you are in Japan, however, the gesture might mean "six." There is more information available on this gesture, and on over a hundred others in this funny and interesting book. It doesn't matter that you know most of them already; included here are pointing, nodding, hugging, rolling the eyes, and so on. You can find out the history of the gesture, where it might be misunderstood, and exactly how to make it. You will be surprised at how many gestures you already use and take for granted.
For a sample, look at just a few of the gestures that can be made with the hand in a simple pointing configuration. The index finger extended from the fist is universally understood to mean "look over there". Pointing upwards, it means "one". Elevated and wagged it means "No, no, no..." Slashed across the throat it is an utmost gesture of disapproval. Inserted in and out of the fingers of the other hand, it means, well, you know. Tapping the finger on the side of the nose means "We are sharing a secret." Put to pursed lips, it is "Shhhhh!" even without the sound. Put to the side of the head and rotated it means "crazy". There is a special subtlety to this particular gesture in Japan. It means "crazy" when rotated counterclockwise, but "vain" when clockwise. This distinction, however, the authors note, is fading. Amusingly, as with other field guides, there is a disclaimer at the front of the book to say that it can't list the millions of gestures and meanings, and stressing that it therefore cannot guarantee full reliability. Of particular interest to the naughty will be the large section dealing with gestures of disrespect. If you follow the explicit "1-2-3" directions here, you can perform "The Moon" at someone, for instance. Hand signals saying about the same thing are definitely not omitted from this guide.
For a reference book, I found _Field Guide to Gestures_ to be great fun. Thumbs up.

Madame Tussaud And The History Of Waxwork
Madame Tussaud And The History Of Waxwork
by Pamela Pilbeam
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 47.96
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.83

5.0 out of 5 stars The History of a Popular Entertainment, Sept. 13 2003
With all the historic sites, shrines, monuments, cathedrals, and museums in London, one must-see has been a tourist magnet for almost two centuries, and has been merely a commercial operation. Pamela Pilbeam says, "There is nothing so fascinating for a human being as others of the species," and if we can't rub elbows with the stars (and scoundrels) of our species themselves, then waxwork simulations will do. Pilbeam has written an enjoyable history, _Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks_ (Hambledon & London), which gives insight to a subject that, quite obviously, people find fascinating.
The future Madame Tussaud was the niece, possibly daughter, of the man who made waxworks a popular exhibit in Paris. Once the Revolution came, both the theater and waxworks were a sort of newspaper, but waxworks, unlike newspapers and theater, were not censored. The exhibit showed who was in, who was out, and who was guillotined. There was a great appetite to put the guillotined heads on display, and, according to her sometimes unreliable memoirs, Madame Tussaud at her studio would receive the heads hot off the chopper. She would make wax copies, so that there would be enough heads to go around, some going for display in England. Her eventual marriage to Monsieur Tussaud became unsatisfactory, and to pursue a career in exhibitions, she left him for England in 1802, never to return. Remarkably, she was 41 at the time, when women did not launch themselves into mid-life careers; she was to continue running her show until her death at 89. She originally had a traveling exhibit, offering music, good lighting, and space in which visitors could walk around and see themselves, as well as the waxworks. Her marketing was well-targeted; her show became a central place for people to socialize. Eventually she settled in London. There were plenty of others waxworks, but Madame Tussaud continued to be the one to see. She installed over five hundred figures in the new space, more than any competition could muster. She kept the exhibits timely and watched what people watched; a mannequin which didn't make people pause and look was doomed to be melted down. Most importantly, when museums had limited entry, she bought up relics, royal robes, and paintings that would make her waxworks respectable to the respectable middle class. But "respectable" has its limits; the most popular attraction has always been the Chamber of Horrors.
At last counting, Madame Tussaud's had more visitors than any pay-for-view attraction in England. Pilbeam examines the appeal, but it is hard to say exactly why a three dimensional image of, say, Madonna, would be a draw, when there are plenty of lively photos and movies that provide perfectly good depictions. There are some artistic claims among those who appreciate the exhibits; there is no reason, of course, why a wax sculpture should be less "art" than a bronze. Somehow, waxworks might be entertaining, might be instructive, but fundamentally are just fun. The same can be said of Pilbeam's book.

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