One of my favourite sources for ideas of what to read is the Literary Review. You can be sure that amongst the latest Irvine Welsh or tedious study of the Bloomsbury set, will be lurking reviews of unusual publications.

The eclectic mix is shown by my discovering, (in the same issue), a fascinating insight into the Italian theatre of battle during the Great War and a few pages later, this work, The Big Necessity.

It covers a subject of which we’re all familiar on a day to day basis, but of which we have but a superficial knowledge: human excrement. Once flushed it’s usually forgotten, but as the author warns, we do so at our peril. A gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses and 100 worm eggs for example and that 2.2 million people die from poo-related diseases each year.

We learn so much in its pages: how many years a person spends on the loo, that Martin Luther ate a spoonful of his own waste daily and that even in wealthy Ireland, a fifth of its towns risk infection through poor waste water treatment.

Rose George enthusiastically explores the sewers of New York; the public conveniences of Japan and the UK and their not so salubrious cousins in the Third World. She is a fervent advocate of recycling effluent and of ensuring everyone has access to better facilities and that we all become more interested in her chosen field of study.

Buried amongst our technology sections, not far from those tedious workshop manuals, this is a book that deserves a wider readership.


Ellerslie in the rain

Yes, I went to Ellerslie in the rain and the wind and the hail and it was still beautiful. Wednesday night at my place featured very high winds and I kept thinking this will blow all the exhibits to pieces but gardeners must be extremely resourceful as there was absolutely no sign of damage yesterday. How did they manage to protect the displays of flowers? I don’t know but somehow they did and there they all were in their brilliant profusion, holding their heads up and looking perky.

I am the most resolute of non-gardeners (the trick is to live on a section so steep you can’t see the garden when you look out the window) but skill should be celebrated wherever you find it and there is skill here in spades (sorry). Those who come away resolved to turn over a new leaf (I can’t help myself) will find inspiration on Christchurch City Libraries gardening events page.

If you’re planning a visit don’t miss the scuplture garden and Solid Energy’s Wild West Coast garden – it should have won everything. Shangri-La Schmangri-La. Don’t make loud remarks of any kind about the exhibits as the exhibitors may be nearby. And watch out for the mobility scooters.

Rocks rock

Are you a real geek? Do you find geology fascinating? Indulge your geekiness; here are three great books about geology.

The first is A continent on the move: New Zealand geoscience into the 21st century. This is an encylopaedic book about New Zealand geomorphology and the work of New Zealand geologists, covering all sorts of topics from forensic geology to plate tectonics. A thinking person’s coffee-table book.

The second book is The mountains of Saint Francis : discovering the geologic events that shaped our earth
by Walter Alvarez, about Italian geology. Alvarez is a great writer, managing to cover several subjects almost simultaneously. Geologic time scales, the history of geological inquiry in Italy, explanations of terms such as ignimbrite, and what he ate in the restaurant in Gubbio. This is Alvarez’ second book, his first the wonderfully-titled T-rex and the crater of doom about the discovery of a giant impact crater buried deep inside Mexico, the impact of which probably killed the dinosaurs. I haven’t read this yet, but have ordered it.

If all scientists wrote as well as these guys, the world would be all the better for it. Passion, knowledge and clarity, who could ask for more?

Necrology – March 2, 2009 to March 9, 2009

Necrology – a list of notable people who have died recently. Now a regular feature on our blog.

  • Philip José Farmer, 1918-2009
    Author of science fiction and fantasy in which he drew on figures such as Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes
  • Horton Foote, 1916-2009
    Playwright who celebrated small-town America and wrote the screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Deborah Riedel, 1958-2009
    Warm voiced Australian soprano
  • Jose Torres, 1936-2009
    Puerto Rican professional boxer and author