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Posts from the ‘Books’ Category

On the Reading Table: Spring 2013

Reading table All my book-related posts are, I realized, drafted during the Winter months. I’ve always been an ethusiastic—nay, voracious reader. But during the other seasons I’m inclined to engage in and write about the more tactile & outdoor activities.

And that time is almost upon us. However, it’s still just over 40 degrees and raining here, and I’m still under blankets at 11am with hot tea and a pile of books. So. Here are the reads that are currently on my nightstand or kitchen table, and I think they’d pique your interest. Because I know you, and you’re a curious, interdisciplinary individual. While they’re not directly related to herbal medicine, they all espouse a novel concept, perspective or story that can deepen our practice & understanding. (And when you’ve finished, see How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read on Brain Pickings, on the art of not reading. Thanks Michael DeMarco for the link!) Note: While I link to Amazon, I encourage you to purchase from a local bookstore if possible. 

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

the-emperor-of-all-maladies-a-biography-of-cancer-1439107955-lMy mother is a biochemist, and has all the respect & admiration I could offer. We just started a mother-daughter book club, and this was our first pick. (Next we’re reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book that I’m ashamed to have not read yet.) Released in 2012, this book is an attempt by oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee to get into the mind of a disease. Significant questions & themes are tackled: When did cancer first arrive? Is it a disease of civilization? We’re invited to learn the story of the discovery of genetic mutations, oncogenesis, and the development of chemotherapy, high-dose polychemotherapy, pap smears, mammograms, radiotherapy, and the like. It’s gorgeously written, with enough information to leave feeling satiated.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert Sapolsky

SapolskyThe cover is what I’d call “slightly cheesy.” So it wasn’t until one of my fellow herbalists at the clinic (Jean) gave it glowing reviews did I leaf through a copy & pick it up. Now I consider this a true treatise on neuroendocrinology. Topics covered are stress & its effects on immunity, human development, memory, metabolism, cardiovascular health, reproduction, voodoo death, and pain.The author is also hilarious. Sarcasm is tough to pull off in print, but Sapolsky does it well. Highly recommended for any reader interested in the connection between stress & illness. You may have to take notes or reread it: it’s fairly dense if you’re not familiar with the endocrine system.

The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson

EO WilsonE.O. Wilson, the Harvard entymologist most famous for his advocacy of biological diversity, covers a lot in this book: eusociality strategies of insects & humans, paths to terrestrial conquest, and forces of social evolution. Essentially, insects’ evolutionary pace comparitively slow. They progressed (more or less) symbiotically with the biosphere, with the colony being a superorganism/genetic extension of the queen (and natural selection operating at this level, not at that of the individual). Human evolution stands in stark contrast, evolving quickly with natural selection operating at the individual and group level. This is a good pick for those interested in human evolution & social complexity.

Antifragility: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

antifragile-book-coverI’m listening to the audiobook version of this, and will soon get a hard copy. I have to confess: I thought this was another book about resilience and robust systems. I was wrong, and apparently people like me (who initially confuse resilience and antifragility) annoy the author. Antifragility is the opposite of fragility. When volatility or a disruption occurs, fragile systems are disturbed (or, if unable to recover, collapse), robust systems are indifferent to some degree, and antifragile systems are invigorated. There are a lot of useful insights for medicine (things like hormesis). The author’s got a wicked sense of humor. A must-read for any systems thinker (looking at you, C3 grads & faculty).

Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo

9781604692198rOne of my foci this season are trees and their medicine. In addition to reading Tree: A Life Story by David Suzuki (a biography of Douglas-fir trees, which you need to promise you’ll read), I’m also gracing through this book (a Christmas gift from my sweetheart). It’s a stunning compilation of naturalistic observations of trees through the seasons & their growth patterns. The photographs along are worth the purchase. Robert Llewellyn took several photographs of each plant part, each with a different focus. Layering the images, he presents a nearly microscopic view of tree parts that expands our senses & understanding of these majestic species. This is the book I leave on the coffee table to show off to guests. Anyone who loves trees & the study of botany will find delight here.


Emerging beech tree leaf. ©Robert Llewellyn

And I’d love to hear what you’re reading & learning about. Please leave a comment below!

Spring 2012 Reading List

For us in the North, we’ve made it through yet another Winter. Here, the clouds have lifted and the humble residents of Cascadia have been graced with an abundance of sunshine. The nettles are out, the alders, poplars and willows are budding. Swamp lantern/Skunk cabbage is not quite up yet, meaning that Spring has yet to fully arrive. So as the weather gets ready to get its Spring on, you can simultaneously get your think on. Here are some books I think you’ll enjoy this season. May they inspire you to imagine and grow in new ways this year!

Designs by Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization by Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane

It absolutely PAINS me to say that I’m on a book diet and haven’t read this…yet. This book came out just over a month ago and has been tantalizing me ever since. Here, the authors focus on a

particular aspect of general systems theory (or, constructs and aspects of any kind of complex system) called Constructal Law. It was articulated by Bejan in 1996 as follows:

For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.

It basically says that orientation to flows in a system are what governs its evolution. This book elucidates the implications and applications of this concept to social organizations, ecological dynamics, engineering, and many other fields. I literally cannot WAIT to get my paws on a copy.

The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations: A Theory of Transformative Change in Living Systems by Andreas Wagner

This book is a unique one. It sets out to articulate a theory of innovation in living systems. It is a dense read, and the heavy terminology may be daunting for some audiences. But for someone with a working knowledge of biology, this read will take you through a tour of the biological processes that allow organisms to innovate. This book would suit those curious about biological processes as well as those interested in biomimetic design.

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

I have yet to get my hands on this as well, and I’m quite excited to read it. Recently published, anthropologist Wade Davis reiterates the necessity for diversity and integrity of our global ethnosphere. The ethnosphere is the complex, collective social web of stories, narratives, structures of thought, language, spiritual constructs. When we lose cultures, we lose a part of our human heritage. Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? This book addresses all these things, and I’d love for it to find its way to my overfilled bookshelf soon.

Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram

If you haven’t already, I recommend dropping what you’re reading now and get a hold of this. It’s a must. It’s one of the most gorgeously written, inspiring and insightful books available. It’s a bit difficult to say what this book is about without doing it a terrible injustice. It’s about many things: the place of humans in the world, about the dependence of human cognition on the natural environment, landscapes of language, interspecies communication. Lyrical, ethereal, philosophical, and important.


Winter Reading List, Part Deux

Snowstorms are conducive to being tucked in lots of blankets on the couch, fire blazing, tea in hand with a book (or 2 or 3). So I’ve assembled for you a list of books I’ve enjoyed that you may find delight in. (And one thing: if you click on the links to the books, it’ll take you to Amazon, but I’d like to recommend that you check your local and/or used book seller first.)

The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Buhner’s a great writer, and I’ve really been inspired about how he’s incorporated systemic thinking and complexity theory into human-plant relationships. In this book, he describes a variety of aspects of the flora kingdom’s role in the greater planetary picture–from biophilia to the ecological impacts of industrial medicine. Thought-provoking and beautiful.

The Genius Within: Discovering the Intelligence of Every Living Thing by Frank Vertosick

I just started reading this. I think how we characterize intelligence is a crucial issue, and informs how we order and classify life forms and determines how we treat other living things. So maybe how we define and frame intelligence deserves more consideration. Plant folks, you’ll love this! Read more

Winter 2011 Reading List

For those of us residing in the Northern hemisphere, Winter’s knocking on our door. Now that we’ve travelled, harvested and feasted, we’re ready to get cozy by the fire and do some serious reading and tea drinking. I tend to keep all the books I’m currently reading stacked next to the bed and piled on my desk. And I’m always reading many concurrently. So here’s what I’m reading now–for pleasure, research, and to inspire new thinking. (And one thing: if you click on the links to the books, it’ll take you to Amazon, but I’d like to recommend that you check your local and/or used book seller first.)

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

So, naturally you’re going to be doing some amazing cooking this season. Right? Great. Well, it’s high time to challenge your skills and expand your working repetoire of flavor combinations, and the Flavor Bible comes to your aid. It’s a culinary reference of flavor combinations and affinities. So you can look up ‘tomato’ and see season and energy affinities, and then 3 columns of ingredients that pair well with it. So you can adapt, say, a basic tomato soup recipe and make it a coriander-rosemary tomato soup with asiago (to name one example). And for someone who loves to cook with wild foods and fresh garden herbs, this book is one I open and refer to a lot. A bit pricey, but it’s a staple text for you foodies. Read more

On the History of Herbals

from the Pseudo-Apuleius Herbal

Some time ago I began working on what I’ve dubbed a working herbal. Er, maybe just a notebook of plant information…either way, I have a 18″ by 30″ monster of a moleskine notebook (my unrivaled favorite notebook). Each page is dedicated to an herb. At first I freaked out because the paper was unlined. I wanted all my information to be neat and easily accessible, unmerciful Virgo that I am.

But as I toyed with the layout, I found that it would be much more useful and authentic to not have the information embedded in this working herbal to be linear. I could divide up the page in strange and dorky ways, write in circles, use symbols, codes and pictures. I could have the most lavish illustrations and have the actual plants and tinctures on the page.  Information is transmitted in many ways. Plants, especially medicinal plants, and their interaction with the human being is a complex phenomenon. So, why in the dickens am I just using words? Rich and varied materials create a more rich and varied experience.

All of this musing about design of herbals has brought me deep into the history of herbals. In case someone reading were interested in similar topics, I wanted to provide some information and resources. I love old herbals, not only for their unique perspective of bodily processes, but also for their design and illustrations. Read more

Codex Seraphinianus: Luigi Serafini, 1978

This book, written in by Italian architect Luigi Serafini is a field guide of an alien world. An encyclopedia of the fantastical.There are sections on physics, chemistry, mineralogy (including many drawings of elaborate gems), geography, botany, zoology, sociology, linguistics, technology, architecture, sports (of all sorts), clothing, and so on. It’s difficult to find a copy, and when one does, they’re very expensive. But you can download a .pdf of it here. And if you can read the alien language, my hat’s off to you. Read more

Review: The Subsistence Perspective

This is a review I wrote last year about their book The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy for the Center for World Indigenous Studies’ quarterly journal The Fourth World Journal. It’s a little scholarly but don’t let that deter you.

Reading about global economics can be intimidating. Attempting to understanding it and possible alternative perspectives can be even more so. But in this book authors Maria Mies and Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen offer a structural overview of the neoliberal capitalist creed that has shaped the global economy and propose a new economic viewpoint. It is the subsistence perspective: a way of looking at the economy and development from the bottom-up.

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Edward Tufte: The Data Artist

Edward Tufte, lovingly called a "Pioneer of Visual Data Analysis,"  is an artist and statistician at Yale University. His sensitivity in the areas of visual literacy has provoked a number of works that are reshaping the dialogue on how information is expressed and presented.

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