Reading, Writing and very little Arithmetic.

My tulips,  April 2010

Some of my tulips, April, 2010

Most days, I can read, or I can write.  Lately, I’ve been doing a little of both.  However, I suspect much of what I read has little appeal for many, so I don’t do many in-depth book reviews on my blog.  Lately, while others were reading The Gone Girl or Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, I’ve been reading the Empire of Cotton, a 600 page history book by Sven Beckert, a professor of world economic history. Listed by Amazon as the number one read among Agricultural Economists, I had to have it.  Thus, I ordered the Kindle, Audio, and hardcover editions. The hardcover will go to a granddaughter Joy who loves to read.

I love history, and over time have read several books that link an ideology like communism or Protestantism, a mass migration (Jewish, African Diasporas), or a commodity across time.

The history of a commodity can be fun. Among others, I’ve read, about precious at one time the word ‘salary’ was derived from it; the color blue (Napoleon used it for army uniforms because it was less distinct against the blue sky than the bright red uniforms of other armies); and tulips.

Take Anna Pavord’s book Tulip, a botanical tome for the most part, but she interjects history from other sources.

Tulips, a favorite spring time bulb for many people, are associated with the Dutch, but are really native to Anatolia, modern day Turkey. According to British historian Simon Schama, in the sixteenth century (Embarrassment of Riches), Dutch fortunes rose and fell on the tulip market.

I’m only about 10 percent into Empire of Cotton, but I can tell its going to be an unforgettable book. Okay, I know, I’m a little nutty, but I have always liked cotton, and at one point wrote a research paper on Manchester England where capitalism was indelibly linked with the fortunes of cotton production.


Kathy came by with a brochure about a farm in Maine that houses heirloom animals.  In December, when my granddaughters and I had tea at Kathy’s house, she and Joy had an exciting discussion about heirloom animals, and Joy’s upcoming trip to Germany to visit farms that have these animals.

Although David told me Kathy was painting the Sistine Chapel, Kathy says she’s working on a wood panel portrait of a mare whose brother won the Kentucky Derby.  Kathy’s panel, painted on styrofoam will depict a background of wood from an old barn door in PA where the horse was stabled until she was sold. The painting is destined for a teenager who raised and is a bit despondent over the sale of the mare, and will hang on her bedroom wall.

Apparently, the couple who commissioned the painting saw one of Kathy’s paintings hanging a local restaurant.

Pompeii art on wall panel by Kathy.

Pompeii art on wall panel by Kathy. Originally hung in a local Italian restaurant.

20 thoughts on “Reading, Writing and very little Arithmetic.

  1. I do miss seeing tulips in Hawaii. I only see them at the supermarket in spring, but it’s not the same thing. Kathy is a very talented lady. That Pompeii artwork is very impressive.


  2. You have so many interests and that will keep you young. I hated Gone Girl so much that I stopped reading fiction for about two months;))! But am definitely not quite up to most of what you are reading. But Tulip sounds like something I could enjoy.


  3. Kathy has great talent. Napoleon was a very smart man, brilliant in fact. Gregg is reading about him. We have wonderful discussions in the evenings and I can’t wait until he finishes the book so that I can start it. History is absolutely marvelous for the things one learns.


    • Kathy’s Irish and from Boston. She’s earned her living with her art all her life. She studied in Europe when she was younger, and taught Art in San Diego many years ago. Two of her brothers won the Bronze medal for service with the Navy. I think one of them was on the U.S.S. Cole. She says the mare’s name is Moon Rising Too and she was a race horse like her brother who won the Kentucky Derby.

      As for Napoleon. A very interesting fellow.


  4. Slow down! You’re blogging faster than I can read them.

    As for this post, au contraire, I think the book on cotton sounds fascinating. No doubt much about the civil war will be revealed as you read through it.

    I don’t know who Kathy is, but she seems quite the artist.


    • Kathy is my neighbor who is also the neighborhood dog nanny. When we fall down or are otherwise indisposed she earns a little money by helping us with the dogs. Like most artists, she gets by on what she can earn doing things other than art.

      Yes, you would probably like this book which will cover the U. S. Civil war as its already discussing the Atlantic slave trade. A tough history, but aren’t they all?


  5. Ah, but that depends on where you lived and how well off you were. For instance, in Lancashire (England), it might have been a Lancashire ‘rag pie’, which was made from suet pastry, and filled with a mixture of meat scraps. And when I say meat scraps I mean fat, sinew and all the gristly bits which the gentry didn’t want (they were sold by the pound to the poor, at one time). This is why social history is so interesting – everyone thinks of bread, cheese, and perhaps a flagon of cider or ale when we say ‘ploughman’, but in fact cheese was quite costly, and often, even if you kept a cow you probably had to sell or trade most of the dairy product to get by.

    Thanks for the book recommendations – I shall look for them!


  6. There also a field called The Sociology of Music. People in that line of work study the effects of music on society, and vice versa. It’s interesting to see how music changes over time, too.


  7. Those tulips make me smile. My favorite flower.

    My dad was a cotton farmer, a really good cotton farmer. His cotton always got top dollar because it was such high quality. Then I went on to work for a cotton growing magazine after college, finally landing at a cottonseed oil mill for 13 years before becoming a teacher. I still love the cotton industry and enjoy watching the crop grow each year as we travel back and forth to San Francisco. Have you seen the latest cotton harvester? It’s pretty amazing.


    • If its a labor-saving device, that’s good news. I’ll bet your dad grew the long-staple American cotton and you would enjoy this book. Thanks for sharing your interesting background. I had a brief stint in a textile factory when I was younger as an inspector.


  8. I always tell people I don’t have much interest in history, but it’s not really true. Mostly, it’s just that my interest in history is purely in social history, as opposed to political history which bores me rigid. It sounds as if I’d enjoy the sort of books you are talking about – the history of salt sounds fun!

    Tulips .. that reminds of The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas, which I read an awfully long time ago, but I remember contained information about the way colours were bred. These days I grow Princess Irene tulips in memory of a beautiful, gentle greyhound I had, whose registered name was Lovely Irene. We called her Renie.


    • Social history is okay, but politics surround everything. I originally trained as a sociologist. When I studied history, I found that where sociologists see patterns, historians often don’t, unless of course they studied Marx.


      • True, but to me, the fascination is in the detail; what did people DO? How did they actually live their lives? What cutlery did they use in 1106, and where did it come from, and how much did clothes cost? That sort of thing. Their lives may have been informed by who was on the throne and who didn’t want them to be there for much longer, and by those in power locally, but I want to know what they took for lunch when they went a-ploughing! And – perhaps more interestingly – how and why they suffered for their daily bread. What poisons were in the chemicals they used to tan hide, or to dip sheep, and what illnesses did they develop as a result? Why could you sometimes tell who did what from sixteen paces? Etc.


      • Two thoughts. If you are interested in France in the sixteenth century, I hope you read, ‘The Return of Martin Gurre.’ Nineteenth Century? try ‘The City of Dreadful Delight,’ about London and by by Judith Walkowitz. I suspect the ploughman took a ploughman’s lunch with him. Mostly bread and cheese and maybe warm beer, all made by a female in the house..his wife or mother.


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