In keeping with the ghost of Christmas blog posts past I will once again offer a humble list of potential gifts. I’ll also offer a bit of safe and sane advice: buy yourself something really nice for Christmas (Hint: you should do the same for your birthday). To expect friends and family to know exactly what you want is the essence of folly and frustration. Personally that yuletide gift to self is almost always a good book. And if we’ve learned anything this year, we all need to read a bit more. I digress… With that in mind, here is an assortment of books I’ve read over the past year to ponder along with two completely delightful non-book gift ideas. The first could be a necessity for modern life…
Riedel Vinum XL Martini Glasses
The Vinum XL Martini glass could be Riedel’s finest hour. Yes, I know all about those amazing—and enormous–Sommelier Burgundy and Bordeaux glasses, but the XL Martini glasses are far more durable and arguably as versatile. Packed in a set of two, the XL glasses stand over seven inches tall with a capacity of just over nine ounces. But more than anything, they are simply beautiful to behold. If your spirit animal is a Negroni, these glasses are for you.
Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, by Tim Ferriss
Although just released on December 6th, literally a couple of weeks ago, Tim Ferriss’ new book Tools of the Titans has quickly become one of my favorites of the year. Ferris is author of the Four Hour Workweek and one of the top bloggers around. He routinely posts podcasts of extended interviews with top people from a myriad of different industries and walks of life. Tools of Titans is filled with valuable and thoughtful strategies and advice from the best. Highest recommendation.
The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen
I first met Adam Gazzaley several years ago during the initial stages of my tasting project. Gazzaley is head of the neuroscience program at the University of San Francisco. In recent years he’s been at the forefront of research on the brain and aging. Larry Rosen is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. In Distracted Mind they explore brain anatomy and function to show how and why the combination of electronics and never ending social media is an incredible challenge for us to deal with. The book also outlines strategies to help focus and function in a highly distracted world.
I Taste Red: The Science of Tasting Wine, by Jamie Goode
This is one of two wine books I’m recommending for holiday reading and beyond. I’m a big fan of Jamie Goode and his ability to bring science to wine. His previous book, The Science of Wine, From Vine to Glass, is now in its second edition and should be on every professional’s bookshelf. Goode’s new book focuses on the science behind tasting. As always, Jamie does an excellent job making the complex simple and understandable. Highly recommended.
Appetites: A Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain
Appetites is no ordinary cook book. The cover is by legendary artist Ralph Steadman of Hunter S. Thompson fame and easily the best book cover of any kind this year. Inside the recipes reflect a combination of Bourdain’s childhood, his 30 years-plus in restaurant kitchens, and most recently his world travel. All the dishes are imminently make-able. His major critic for any recipe to be considered for the book? His eight-year-old daughter Ariane. Enough said.
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton
I’ve been on Atlas Obscura’s Facebook feed for quite some time and never cease to be amazed and impressed with the strange, often bizarre factoids, curiosities, and places posted. From the “The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral” in the UK to the “Moonhole” on Bequia, Grenadines, the info in Atlas Obscura book is guaranteed to fascinate and delight.
Drinking the Devil’s Acre: A Love Letter from San Francisco and her Cocktails, by Duggan McDonnell
Historically the “Devil’s Acre” was a single block in Barbary Coast San Francisco filled with bars and mayhem. Just a few short blocks away the city’s elite drank the finest cocktails in the poshest hotel bars on the West Coast. Both combined to create the city’s legendary night life as well as a host of the most historic mixed potables known to civilized man. Longtime San Francisco bartender/mixologist Duggan McDonnell’s Drinking the Devil’s Acre is nothing short of a love letter dedicated to this history. The book’s chapters are comprised of a series of essays devoted to specific cocktails, their colorful origins, and best recipes. My favorite chapter in the book? The Negroni, of course.
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is also one of the top science fiction-fantasy-horror writers of the last 20 years. His commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the Philadelphia Academy of Art called, “Make Great Art,” is one of the best—and most viewed ever. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is one of my favorites of the year. First released in 2009, the book won both the Newbury Medal and a Hugo Award. Technically it’s a work intended for young adults but so skillfully written it’s enjoyable by all. In the story a toddler boy’s family is murdered and he raised by ghosts in a centuries-old graveyard nearby. The rest is in the telling and no one does it better than Gaiman.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli
Sometimes astonishing things come in very small packages. Such is the case with Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist and head of the quantum gravity group at the Centre de Physique Théorique at the Aix-Marseille Université. In the scant 96 pages of his Seven Brief Lessons, Rovelli artfully explains the cornerstone concepts in physics including Einstein’s theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and more. But what impresses is Rovelli’s passion for his subject and how he manages to take the most complex subject matter and make it imminently understandable for anyone. Each short chapter is like sipping a Fernet while listening to a master physicist unravel the mysteries of the universe. Even if you’re not a science fan this book is still completely wonderful.
Foundation: The History of England Volume I, by Peter Ackroyd
Peter Ackroyd is one of England’s top social historians. His book Foundation Volume I spans an enormous range of time in English history, from earliest beginnings to the dawn of the Tudor dynasty in the 15th century. Throughout Ackroyd skillfully weaves history as fascinating narrative. To read is to learn so much about England, the English, and their language. What stands out for me is how incredibly ancient the country is and why, to no one’s surprise, ancient Druid, Roman, and Saxon ruins are constantly being discovered. It’s as if every square inch of the country has been traversed and much of it inhabited for millennia.
The Winemaker, by Richard G. Peterson
Before the Wine Spectator, 100-point scores, and Napa Valley’s world fame there was a California wine industry. And one of its most influential figures was Richard Peterson. After getting his PhD in chemistry at Cal Berkeley Dick Peterson was hired by Gallo. He spent ten years there at a time when the winery was the most technologically advanced facility in the country. From Gallo, Peterson succeeded the legendary André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyard in Napa and then continued a long and successful career. To read Winemaker is to glimpse back into the window of California wine history at a time when the industry was still recovering from prohibition and trying to find its way in a world where beer, spirits, and sweet jug and fortified wines held the stage. I think Winemaker should be required reading for anyone in the industry under 30.
Taking my own advice, I gave myself two books for combined Birthday-Christmas presents. And they are BIG remarkable books indeed.
Wonderland, by Kirsty Mitchell
I first came across Kirsty Mitchell’s work several years ago and was immdediately impressed. The U.K.-born Mitchell initially studied art history, photography, and fine art in London going on to train in performance costume at the London College of Fashion. In 2007 everything changed when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and as she put it, “my world fell apart.” Her mother died in November 2008 and Mitchell wrote that photography “engulfed me, becoming an overwhelming passion that I could not stop.” She found herself producing works echoing memories of childhood stories her mother read to her; images in which she designed and made everything. The costumes, props, sets and accessories all became a vital part of the process, as important as the finished photograph. The results are simply remarkable. Her “Wonderland series” created between 2009 and 2014 is the stuff of magic and dreams. In an age where one suspects any and every image to have been manipulated by the likes of Photoshop, Kirsty’s photographs are true works of art. In 2015 she published a volume dedicated to the project; it quickly sold out. This past fall a second edition was released. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen and can be ordered through Amazon.com U.K. or through Mitchell’s website. If you are a photography fan this is a must-have.
Gustav Klimt: The Complete Paintings, by Tobias Nutter
Nobody does books like Taschen. The German publisher has a reputation for producing books on a wide range of subjects that can only be described as state of the art. Tobias Nutter’s Gustav Klimt is no exception and could be the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen–and easily the most beautiful book I own. It’s also one of the largest weighing in around 10 pounds at 18 X 3 inches in dimension. As with all things Taschen, it’s spectacular in design, detail, and production. In a word, amazing.
Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, directed by Ron Howard
Ron Howard’s documentary on the Beatles’ touring years is revelatory. For those of us who remember those first few years when the group toured and released their first six albums the movie serves to remind us of what we already know: in a mere 15 months the Beatles changed popular music and popular culture forever. For everyone else, the movie is a brilliantly rendered primer that follows the group from basement tavern in Liverpool to the stages and stadiums of the world. If you have a Blu Ray player this is by all means a must-have.
Cheers and Happy Holidays!