Saturday, March 4, 2017

Books 2016

Here are the books I read in 2016 - there were 56 of them.  I'm pretty sure my ratings are getting tougher as time goes on.

20.5 of them were by female authors (37%).  5 were by non-white authors (9%).  Got some work to do to bring some diversity to my reading!  This year I am aiming for 50% female authors.

5 stars: 2 books (4%)

"Talking to my Country" Stan Grant. 5 stars. Must read for all Australians. Heart-breaking insight into being Indigenous. Tue Nov 29 07:42:47 +0000 2016
"Lighter than my Shadow" @KatieGreenBean. 5 stars. Gut-wrenching account of a journey through anorexia. Illustrations captured emotions. Wed Feb 03 10:26:02 +0000 2016

4.5 stars: 2 books (4%)

"The Art of Frugal Hedonism" Annie Raser-Rowland & Adam Grubb. 4.5 stars. How to live the good life on the cheap. Escape the grind! Mon Jan 30 10:13:16 +0000 2017
"Cloud Atlas" David Mitchell. 4.5 stars. Extraordinary scope and intricacy. Full meaning just out of grasp, but brilliantly told. Fri Sep 02 01:22:31 +0000 2016

4 stars: 13 books (23%)

"The Fool's Assassin" @robinhobb. 4 stars. Aaaah, so good to be back with Fitz and the Fool. Like a warm bath ... Tue Nov 29 07:50:02 +0000 2016
"Sapiens" Yuval Noah Harari. 4 stars. Concise and perceptive history of humankind with some valuable perspective on the here and now. Fri Nov 18 02:55:27 +0000 2016
"Grow A Little Fruit Tree" Ann Ralph. 4 stars. The best explanation I've read on how to grow and prune a fruit tree for the backyard. Sat Nov 12 04:38:46 +0000 2016
"The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down" Anne Fadiman. 4 stars. Fascinating account of culture clash, marvellous insight to the Hmong. Sat Nov 12 04:30:36 +0000 2016
"The Mandibles" Lionel Shriver. 4 stars. Post-financial apocalyptic - a new genre? Brings intangible ideas home. Mon Oct 24 10:11:36 +0000 2016
"Ghostwritten" David Mitchell. 4 stars. Similar, though less complex, structure to his later Cloud Atlas. Varied and unexpected. Mon Oct 24 10:15:52 +0000 2016
"Tehanu" Ursula Le Guin. 4 stars. Interestingly, I preferred the Tenar stories over the Ged ones. More intimate, less epic. Fri Sep 02 01:20:16 +0000 2016
"Day of the Triffids" John Wyndham. 4 stars. Eerie & gripping apocolyptica. Shows the existential worries of the post-war years. Tue May 31 10:15:08 +0000 2016
"Puberty Blues" Gabrielle Carey & Kathy Lette. 4 stars. If you thought kids & sex was a modern problem, read this. Some messed up stuff. Tue May 31 10:12:01 +0000 2016
"Aurora" Kim Stanley Robinson. 4 stars. Great tale of interstellar colonisation, with a strong lesson: there's no place like home. Tue May 31 10:08:00 +0000 2016
"Hyperion" Dan Simmons. 4 stars. Very effective narrative approach gradually reveals depth and weirdness of author's universe. Sat Apr 23 09:52:17 +0000 2016
"Wizard of Earthsea" Ursula Le Guin. 4 stars. Wonderful formal storytelling tone rarely used today. Sat Apr 23 09:49:37 +0000 2016
"Postcapitalism" Paul Mason. 4 stars. An unexpectedly Marxist revelation. A valuable perspective on history. Capitalism in its death throes?

3.5 stars: 15 books (27%)
"Fool's Quest" @robinhobb. 3.5 stars. Moves a bit slowly - could do with some tighter editing. Tue Nov 29 07:51:10 +0000 2016
"All That I Am" @annafunder01. 3.5 stars. The pain of watching your world fall apart. Touch wood ... Tue Nov 29 07:48:42 +0000 2016
"Z for Zachariah" Robert O'Brien. 3.5 stars. Nuclear apocalypse, self-sufficiency and an abusive over-bearing man. What's not to like? Sat Nov 12 04:46:19 +0000 2016
"The Amber Spyglass" Philip Pullman. 3.5 stars. A pleasing conclusion to the trilogy. Really pushes the fantastical side of the world(s). Mon Oct 24 10:18:01 +0000 2016
"Econobabble" @RDNS_TAI 3.5 stars. As always, Dennis cuts to the core of econo-speak. Must-read to understand what they're really saying. Mon Oct 24 10:09:04 +0000 2016
"The Subtle Knife" @PhilipPullman 3.5 stars. A step up in complexity, with the greater narrative becoming clear. Thoughtful inventive ideas. Fri Sep 02 01:28:59 +0000 2016
"The Wolf of Wall St" Jordan Belfort. 3.5 stars. Disturbing insight into the depraved meaningless lives of ultra-rich stock manipulators. Tue May 31 10:03:40 +0000 2016
"A Single Man" Christoper Isherwood. 3.5 stars. Well written - a pleasure to read. Not sure I got caught up in it's main message, though. Sat Apr 23 10:01:59 +0000 2016
"Flying Hero Class" Thomas Keneally. 3.5 stars. Great effort getting inside heads of aeroplane hostages. Some disturbing psychology! Sat Apr 23 09:57:44 +0000 2016
"The Tombs of Atuan" Ursula Le Guin. 3.5 stars. Much more intimately told than first book. Works well but lacking in scope. Sat Apr 23 09:54:02 +0000 2016
"Northern Lights" Philip Pullman. 3.5 stars. Enjoyable rollick through a magical Earth, with some confronting ideas. Sat Apr 23 09:48:01 +0000 2016
"Australia's Second Chance" @GMegalogenis. 3.5 stars. Hard sell on the value of migration, but assumes economic growth must (and can) go on! Sat Apr 23 09:45:45 +0000 2016
"The Book Thief" Markus Zusak. 3.5 stars. Use of Death as narrator was a bit awkward, but a touching story from Nazi Germany. Sat Apr 23 09:39:15 +0000 2016
"The Heroes" Joe Abercrombie. 3.5 stars. War. Bloody realistic war.
"The Mists of Avalon" Marion Bradley. 3.5 stars. The myth! The legend! The melodrama! Such tragedy! Very slow to get going, and overly long.

3 stars: 13 books (23%)
"The Gunslinger" @StephenKing. 3 stars. Trippy. Might have to read a sequel or two to decide if I like it. Mon Jan 30 10:21:25 +0000 2017
"The Alloy of Law" @BrandSanderson. 3 stars. Creative re-use of a fantasy world (he went Western). Lots of action, perhaps too much. Mon Jan 30 10:19:30 +0000 2017
"The Last Days of New Paris" China Mieville. 3 stars. Surrealism a bit beyond me, but the fascinated by the implications of the afterword. Mon Jan 30 10:16:14 +0000 2017
"Momo" Michael Ende. 3 stars. A bit eerie, and a good reminder to BE, not to DO. Wed Nov 30 22:25:18 +0000 2016
"Lab Girl" Hope Jahren. 3 stars. Scientists are crazily obsessed, and this one more than most. Paints a bleak picture of the research world. Sat Nov 12 04:35:57 +0000 2016
"Extreme Money" Satyadit Das. 3 stars. Detailed,disturbing expose of the dodgy workings of the financial system. Long-winded and scattered. Tue May 31 10:06:25 +0000 2016
"Ancillary Justice" Ann Leckie. 3 stars. Creative, but not striking, sci fi. Tue May 31 10:01:17 +0000 2016
"Fertility Without Fertilisers" Lawrence D Hills. 3 stars. Old school ideas on organic ag methods. Not much new for me except using comfrey. Sat Apr 23 09:40:49 +0000 2016
"Maskerade" Terry Pratchett. 3 stars. Sat Apr 23 09:36:04 +0000 2016
"Hero of Ages" @BrandSanderson. 3 stars. Felt stilted & cliched to start, but improved as Ruin's clever machinations were revealed. Wed Feb 03 10:20:10 +0000 2016
"Fight Like A Girl" Clementine Ford. 3 stars. Disturbing view from the trenches. Never thought of myself as an agent of the patriarchy!
"The Secret Chord" Geraldine Brooks. 3 stars. Great way to live some history.
"The Daylight Wars" Peter Brett. 3 stars. Unremarkable fantasy.

2.5 stars: 7 books (13%)
"Snow Crash" Neal Stephenson. 2.5 stars. Interesting vision of the cyber future but awkward mash of action, history and memetics. Tue Nov 29 08:00:35 +0000 2016
"Blood of Dragons"@robinhobb. 2.5 stars. Too many characters & dragons, not to mention teen love interests. Tue Nov 29 07:46:05 +0000 2016
"Banquet of Consequences" Satyajit Das. 2.5 stars. Debt & the GFC. Long-winded and contorted. Sat Nov 12 04:27:06 +0000 2016
"A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" @GeorgeRRMartin_ 2.5 stars. Harmless but enjoyable. A few too many Aegons and Aemons ... Fri Sep 02 01:24:00 +0000 2016
"The Farthest Shore" Ursula Le Guin. 2.5 stars. Unremarkable fantasy doesn't match her others. Tue May 31 10:09:48 +0000 2016
"Fasting, Feasting" Anita Desai. 2.5 stars. Engaging portrait of Indian family life, but two distinct parts uncomfortably bolted together. Sat Apr 23 09:43:42 +0000 2016
"QF32" @RichardDeCrep. 2.5 stars. Biographical chapters were surprisingly more interesting than the overly-detailed accident itself. Wed Feb 03 10:22:05 +0000 2016

2 stars: 3 books (5%)
"Kraken" China Mieville. 2 stars. Disappointing - way too long and hard to follow all the jargon. Sat Nov 12 04:33:51 +0000 2016
"Gardens of the Moon" Stephen Erikson. 2 stars. Too many characters, not enough character. Sat Apr 23 09:55:33 +0000 2016
"The Tide Watchers" Lisa Chaplin. 2 stars. Historic novel set in Napoleonic France. A bit lame. Sat Apr 23 09:41:54 +0000 2016

1 star: 2 books (4%)
"Stranger in a Strange Land" Robert Heinlein. 1 star. Terribly aged, unbearably misogynistic. I had to stop. Tue Nov 29 08:02:18 +0000 2016
"Soil" Jamie Kornegay. 1 star. Lame thriller sucked me in with its irrelevant, tacked-on restorative ag theme. Tue Nov 29 07:55:14 +0000 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Best books 2010-2015

I've got 6 years of book reviews under my belt now.  I thought I'd pull out the 5 and 4.5 star books. 5 star books I consider to be brilliant and/or opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.  I would heartily recommend all the books below to anyone, no matter what their interests.  Actually, there are a couple of exceptions if you're not into ag/gardening ...

5 stars: 11 books
"The Rosie Project" Graeme Simsion. 5 stars. Hilarious. Brilliantly done. Engrossing.
"A Place Of My Own" Michael Pollan. 5 stars. Boy can he write! A stunning account of building and architecture.
"Infidel" Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 5 stars. Wow. Eye-opening. Shocking. More than a little worrying! Compulsory reading.
"Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. 5 stars. Brilliant. Perfect mix of story telling and popular science. Will make you want to run ...
"The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman. 5 stars. The ultimate guide to market gardening. Some new ideas. Makes me want to try!
"Meat: A Benign Extravagance" by Simon Fairlie. 5 stars. A brilliant examination of livestock and farming systems. For the ag nerd.
"The Omnivore's Dilemma" Michael Pollan
"Wild Swans" Jung Chang
"In Defense of Food" Michael Pollan
"This Accursed Land" by Lennard Bickel
"The Black Swan" Nassim Nicholas Taleb

4.5 stars: 22 books
"Island Home" Tim Winton. 4.5 stars. At last! Captures the strength of place that is Australia. Spoke to me strongly. Wonderfully written. Wed Feb 03 10:14:28 +0000 2016
"This Changes Everything" @NaomiAKlein. 4.5 stars. Unashamedly left-wing view on climate change, extractivism & democracy. Change is coming! Thu Dec 17 01:07:57 +0000 2015
"The Martian" Andy Weir" 4.5 stars. What a cracker of a story! Totally over-the-top and with some dubious bits, but heaps of fun. Sun Apr 26 00:40:42 +0000 2015
"Farmer Boy" Laura Ingalls Wilder. 4.5 stars. Such a warm immersion in the wholesome world of 19th century farming. A lot of work though! Mon Mar 02 08:50:21 +0000 2015 
"Blood & Guts" Sam Vincent. 4.5 stars. Ouch, @seashepherd counter-productive, Australia shallow and Japan patriotic. Great analysis & prose. Fri Jan 09 06:10:20 +0000 2015 
"Radical Homemakers" Shannon Hayes. 4.5 stars. A manifesto for living a home-based, non-consumptive life. Domesticity == revolutionary!
"On The Trail Of Genghis Khan" Tim Cope. 4.5 stars. Seemless and enthralling, historical, cultural and personal. A staggering achievement.
"Down To This" Shaugnessy Bishop-Stall. 4.5 stars. Hard-hitting, revealing, intense look inside homelessness. 

"The Secret Garden" Francis Burnett. 4.5 stars. The gentle awakening touch of nature, the Magic of life. Rang true and pulled the heart ...
"A Storm of Swords" George RR Martin. 4.5 stars. Blimey, he really hits his straps in this one. Great to be re-reading these.
"Mindsight" Daniel Siegel. 4.5 stars. Clear and rational explanation for how the brain/mind/emotions work. Very helpful & revealing.
"The Australian Moment" George Megalogenis. 4.5 stars. Politics and the economy as never been so interesting! Must read for recent Aus h ...
"The Antidote" Oliver Burkmann. 4.5 stars. A superb synthesis of pragmatic philosophies for how to live well. Must read! 

"The Wise Man's Fear" by Patrick Rothfuss. 4.5 stars. I wonder where it will go but don't care. Getting there is such a pleasure. 
"2001: A Space Odyssey" Arthur C. Clarke
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" J. K. Rowling
"Del Del" Victor Kelleher
"Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding" Noel Kingsbury 

"Cooper's Creek" Alan Moorehead
"The Explorers" Tim Flannery
"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" Barbara Kingsolver
"Fooled by Randomness" Nassim Nicholas Tale

"1984" George Orwell
"Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" David R. Montgomery

Book reviews 2015

It's that time of year again.  Here are all the books I read in 2015.

No 5 star books this year!  It did feel like I was missing some high calibre reading.  Or perhaps I am getting more critical as time goes on ...

43 books in total - much the same as 2014.

4.5 stars: 5 books
"Island Home" Tim Winton. 4.5 stars. At last! Captures the strength of place that is Australia. Spoke to me strongly. Wonderfully written. Wed Feb 03 10:14:28 +0000 2016
"This Changes Everything" @NaomiAKlein. 4.5 stars. Unashamedly left-wing view on climate change, extractivism & democracy. Change is coming! Thu Dec 17 01:07:57 +0000 2015
"The Martian" Andy Weir" 4.5 stars. What a cracker of a story! Totally over-the-top and with some dubious bits, but heaps of fun. Sun Apr 26 00:40:42 +0000 2015
"Farmer Boy" Laura Ingalls Wilder. 4.5 stars. Such a warm immersion in the wholesome world of 19th century farming. A lot of work though! Mon Mar 02 08:50:21 +0000 2015 
"Blood & Guts" Sam Vincent. 4.5 stars. Ouch, @seashepherd counter-productive, Australia shallow and Japan patriotic. Great analysis & prose. Fri Jan 09 06:10:20 +0000 2015 

4 stars: 9 books
"Dirt Music" Tim Winton. 4 stars. Immersive and beautifully crafted, but climax was out of place. Okay, so maybe I can get into his writing. Wed Feb 03 10:08:13 +0000 2016

"Dark Emu" Bruce Pascoe. 4 stars. Shocking that Aboriginal agriculture is so unknown - a revelation! Sun Nov 08 03:05:48 +0000 2015
"The Wahls Protocol" Terry Wahls. 4 stars. Sums up my approach to health and chronic illness. Now just to get all 9 cups of vegies ... Thu Jul 23 08:30:41 +0000 2015
"Words of Radiance" Brandon Sanderson. 4 stars. Really suckered me in, even with its slow pace. Does everyone have to be a hero though? Thu Jul 23 08:29:25 +0000 2015
"Ishi in two worlds" Theodora Kroeben. 4 stars. The last "wild" Indian. Humble and accepting, despite losing everything. Such wisdom! Fri Jun 05 03:04:13 +0000 2015
"The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible" Charles Eisenstein. 4 stars. Amazing transformative ideas, but hard to stay engaged. Sun Apr 26 00:37:59 +0000 2015 
"The Third Plate" Dan Barber. 4 stars. A chef's unfolding understanding of the food system and how to make it sustainable. Mon Mar 02 09:00:13 +0000 2015 
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Roald Dahl. 4 stars. A joy to revisit this classic tale of fun and frivolity. I love Dahl's irreverence! Mon Mar 02 08:57:23 +0000 2015
"Healing Is Possible" Neil Nathan. 4 stars. Practical approaches to treating chronic illness and pain. Some good ideas and experience here. Wed Feb 04 05:12:45 +0000 2015
 
3.5 stars: 13 books
"We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" Karen Joy Fowler. 3.5 stars. Engaging read on family, psychology and animal rights. Thu Dec 17 01:09:33 +0000 2015
"Saturdee" Norman Lindsey. 3.5 stars. Evocative tale of childhood in late 19th century rural Australia. Fantastic language, and totally mad! Thu Dec 17 01:05:29 +0000 2015
"Limits to Growth Revisited" Ugo Bardi. 3.5 stars. Good explanation of dynamic modelling, but too much attention on responding to critics. Thu Dec 17 01:01:25 +0000 2015
"The Thousand Mile Summer" Colin Fletcher. 3.5 stars. A simple (but long) walk the length of California. Engaging & captivatingly beautiful. Sun Nov 08 03:07:53 +0000 2015
"The Way of Kings" Brandon Sanderson. 3.5 stars. Some good characters and ideas, addictive fantasy, but perhaps overly drawn out. Fri Jun 05 03:05:32 +0000 2015
"Railsea" China Mieville. 3.5 stars. Awesome and improbable concept, but unconvincing ending. Mon May 11 01:04:53 +0000 2015
"Little House on the Prairie" Laura Ingalls Wilder. 3.5 stars. Sweet pioneering story shot through with heartache of American Indian loss. Sun Apr 26 00:34:27 +0000 2015
"The Wayfinders" Wade Davis. 3.5 stars. A compelling argument for maintaining cultural diversity. Trad Polynesian navigation = incredible! Tue Apr 07 03:44:11 +0000 2015
"The Feel-Good Hit of the Year" Liam Pieper. 3.5 stars. What a sheltered life I have led. Many thanks to my boring conservative parents ;). Tue Apr 07 03:41:49 +0000 2015 
"Paradise Lot" Eric Toensmeier. 3.5 stars. A real-world small-scale food forest. Specifics not that applicable to Tas, but exciting concepts Tue Mar 10 02:06:48 +0000 2015 
"The Slow Regard of Silent Things" Patrick Rothfuss. 3.5 stars. Sweet, gentle and a little lonesome. Drifts along nicely with little intent. Mon Mar 02 09:02:18 +0000 2015 
"The Paleo Approach" Sarah Ballantyne. 3.5 stars. Dietary treatment for autoimmunity: no grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy OR nightshades! Mon Mar 02 08:48:50 +0000 2015 
"Red Mars" trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson. 3.5 stars. Brings the colonisation of Mars to life - amazing technology, difficult humans, Wed Feb 04 05:13:51 +0000 2015 

3 stars: 11 books
"The Giver" Lois Lowry. 3 stars. Maybe my mind was on holiday, but this didn't amaze me or get me thinking. Perhaps more relevant to youth. Wed Feb 03 10:18:00 +0000 2016
"The Good Man Jesus & the Scoundrel Christ" @PhilipPullman. 3 stars. A great idea but ultimately a strong message didn't come through. Wed Feb 03 10:12:09 +0000 2016
"The Well of Ascension" @BrandSanderson. 3 stars. Builds well on the first book. I like the way he resolves the plot, but it grows deeper. Thu Dec 17 01:11:05 +0000 2015
"All Joy and No Fun" Jennifer Senior. 3 stars. Well-rounded look at the rewards and challenges of modern parenting. Mon Jun 29 03:41:03 +0000 2015
"Caleb's Crossing" Geraldine Brooks. 3 stars. Fascinating slice of history that I was unfamiliar with - late 17thC colonial America. Mon Jun 29 03:39:55 +0000 2015
"Dodger" Terry Pratchett. 3 stars. Good characters and historical context, but didn't draw me in. Mon May 11 00:41:29 +0000 2015
"Dead Lucky" Lincoln Hall. 3 stars. Incredible mountaineering survival story, but lost in too much detail. Sun Apr 26 00:38:54 +0000 2015
"The E-Myth Revisited" Michael Gerber. 3 stars. Source needs to be more like McDonalds! Small business success through a franchising mindset Sun Apr 26 00:36:06 +0000 2015
"The Roving Party" Rohan Wilson. 3 stars. Brutal and gloomy. What a dark history we have. Tue Apr 07 03:45:07 +0000 2015
"English Passengers" Matthew Kneale. 3 stars. A good tale, but characterisation of historical figures too blunt and over-the-top. Tue Jan 06 03:26:00 +0000 2015
"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" Rachel Joyce. 3 stars. Largely unremarkable, but a pleasant read. A somewhat woeful end. Tue Jan 06 03:24:32 +0000 2015


2.5 stars: 3 books
 "Infamy" Lenny Bartulin. 2.5 stars. Tasmanian historical fiction. Too many characters, not enough plot. Sun Nov 08 03:10:03 +0000 2015
"The Final Empire" Brandon Sanderson. 2.5 stars. A simple good vs evil plot with some good ideas, but feels like a first novel. Fri Sep 25 09:44:30 +0000 2015
 "Trigger Warning" Neil Gaiman. 2.5*. Some good short stories, but mostly I missed the point of them and they weren't unsettling as intended. Sat Aug 15 02:28:47 +0000 2015

2 stars: 2 books
"Sand" Hugh Howey. 2 stars. Had potential, but not convincing. Sun Nov 08 03:04:12 +0000 2015
"The Guns of Navarone" Alistair MacLean. 2 stars. A bit of mindless action-packed war heroism. Thu Jul 23 08:26:58 +0000 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book reviews 2014

Here are the books I read in 2014.  45 in total, though nothing achieved 5 stars!  I suspect my ratings were a bit pessimistic in the latter half of the year ...


4.5 stars:
"Radical Homemakers" Shannon Hayes. 4.5 stars. A manifesto for living a home-based, non-consumptive life. Domesticity == revolutionary!
"On The Trail Of Genghis Khan" Tim Cope. 4.5 stars. Seemless and enthralling, historical, cultural and personal. A staggering achievement.
"Down To This" Shaugnessy Bishop-Stall. 4.5 stars. Hard-hitting, revealing, intense look inside homelessness.

4 stars:
"The Time Traveller's Wife" Audrey Niffenegger. 4 stars. Causal conbobulation, heartache ending. Brilliant concept hooked me in.
"The Wife Drought" . 4 stars. A damning and surprising revelation of sexual norms and roles. Kind of obvious in retrospect!
"Perdido St Station" China Mieville. 4 stars. Fantastic imaginings and conception, though plot a bit too action-thriller at times.
"The Great Disruption" . 4 stars. Concise & irrefutable presentation of challenge, but some holes in argument and response.
"The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton. 4 stars. Beautifully written and intricately assembled, but lost its punch towards the end.
"The Last Argument of Kings" Joe Abercrombie. 4 stars. Finishes off the trilogy very neatly, harshly realistic and with sustained action.
"A Long Way Home" Saroo Brierley. 4 stars. What a story! Not brilliantly told, but a hard to go wrong with a tale like this.
"Farther Than Any Man" 4 stars. Incredible and amazing story of Captain Cook. Hard to tell where fact stops and fiction begins though.
"The City & The City" China Mieville. 4 stars. Unlikely premise, but brilliantly executed.
"The Last Explorer" Simon Nasht. 4 stars. Sir Hubert Wilkins, the incredible Australian no one has heard of. What a life!


3.5 stars:
"Your Money or Your Life" Robin & Dominguez. 3.5 stars. Targeted at those stuck in consumer culture, but good ideas on work and meaning.
"The Resilient Farm & Homestead" Ben Falk. 3.5 stars. Impressive effort at building a self-sufficient permaculture homestead in northern US.
"The Rosie Effect" Graeme Simsion. 3.5 stars. Somewhat amusing, but nothing like the prequel. More painful, if anything!
"Capital in the 21st Century" Thomas Piketty. 3.5 stars. Wealth begets wealth, capitalism is inherently unequal - a threat to democracy.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" Betty Smith. 3.5 stars. Inner city poverty of 100 years ago - quite a different world! Didn't pull me in though.
"My Brilliant Career" Miles Franklin. 3.5 stars. Evocative of the time and place, but an infuriating main character!
"The Night Circus" Erin Morgenstern. 3.5 stars. A wonderful and evocative book, but not quite captivating.
"A Spot of Bother" Mark Haddon. 3.5 stars. God forbid my wedding turns out like this. A lesson in the need for honest open communication!
"The Blade Itself" Joe Abercrombie. 3.5 stars. Harsh and violent, with some good characters, and a rollicking climax.
"Shades of Grey" Jasper Afforded. 3.5 stars. Fun, quirky and intriguing. Good easy read.
"Mr Stuart's Track" John Bailey. 3.5 stars. Pedestrian writing but incredible history of a stubborn explorer.


3 stars:
"Totto-chan" Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. 3 stars. A charming account of life in an alternative school in Japan during WWII.
"Anna Karenina" Leo Tolstoy. 3 stars. What's all the fuss? Nicely written, but goes on a bit, and not clear to me what it's on about.
"Making Money" Terry Pratchett. 3 stars. Some light-weight fun, with a few good jabs at the financial world.
"The World Until Yesterday" Jared Diamond. 3 stars. Some interesting sections on child-rearing, constructive paranoia and multi-linguism.
"Honeybee Democracy" Thomas Seeley. 3 stars. An enthusiastic and passionate look at the extraordinary way bees choose a new home.
"The Painted Boy" Charles de Lint. 3 stars. Good young adult urban fantasy. Creative and contemporary.
"Before They Are Hanged" Joe Abercrombie. 3 stars. A good sequel, maintaining the momentum. Some fantasy plot cliches though.
"Dust" Hugh Howey. 3 stars. Better than Shift, but nothing special.
"The End of Oil" Paul Roberts. 3 stars. A good in-depth look at energy, but written when $30 oil was expensive, so a touch out of date!
"Botany of Desire" Michael Pollan. 3 stars. Somewhat hit & miss. Section on hemp was the best, the one on potatoes a hint of things to come.
"Old Man's War" John Scalzi. 3 stars. Quick easy but decent sci fi with some good ideas.


2.5 stars:
"Mini-farming" Brett Markham. 2.5 stars. Talks up backyard food production, but doesn't appear to walk the talk. Covers issues well though.
"Raising Steam" Terry Pratchett. 2.5 stars. Easy entertainment, but lacking some depth and good laughs.
"The Long War" Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter. 2.5 stars. Lack lustre sequel, with a forgettable climax and too many pointless plots.
"Why Shoot A Butler?" Georgette Heyer. 2.5 stars. Hides too much from the reader to be a satisfying detective tale
"Hominids" Robert Sawyer. 2.5 stars. Neanderthal appears from parallel universe. Amusing idea, but not a very good book.
"Altai" Wu Ming. 2.5 stars. Passably engaging historical fiction, but lacking real interest.
"MaddAddam" Margaret Atwood. 2.5 stars. Fine, but not a lot new going on.
"Tamam Shud" Kerry Greenwood. 2.5 stars. Fascinating real-life murder mystery, but lazily written. My grandpa gets a mention!

2 stars:
"Murder in Mississippi" John Safran. 2 stars. Too much like reading a diary, and not really a particularly interesting crime.

1.5 stars:
"The Burial" Courtney Collins. 1.5 stars. Wishy-washy, with a pointless dead-but-alive baby plot device.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Sufficiency levels of soil nutrients

After getting all excited about soil nutrients thanks to Steve Solomon's book The Intelligent Gardener, I banded together with a few local gardener types and got a bunch of soil tests done.  Having run the numbers through Solomon's worksheets, thought about the results a bit and read a little more widely, I've come to see that there are many perspectives on soil fertility.

Solomon preaches the base-cation saturation ratio (BSCR) method, which claims that there is an optimal ratio of cations in a soil (68% Ca, 12% Mg for a start).  He further believes that plants grown on such a "remineralised" soil will have a greater nutrient density than those grown on sub-optimal soils.  Now I haven't had the time to delve deeply into the evidence base for either hypothesis, but a quick look suggests that it is a bit thin.  Plant breeding appears to be a more likely culprit for decreased nutritional density over the years, hence applying fertilisers to reach some optimal ratio may be an unnecessary expense.

Having said that, there's nothing like trying something out for yourself to see what happens, which is exactly what I intend to do.

The conventional/mainstream agronomic view is that it is not the ratio of nutrients that is important, but rather the amount.  (This approach is either based on sound science, or biased by vested interests such as fertiliser companies, depending on your point of view.)  So they have come up with thresholds below which a nutrient can be considered deficient.  A strong argument against this approach is that such a threshold may be enough to avoid gross deficiency that exhibits visible symptoms, but not more subtle ones.  This is one reason for the growing use of plant tissue analysis to identify small deficiencies.  By testing both soil and plants, a farmer can gradually converge to a highly productive soil without resorting to broad-brush rules, be they thresholds or optimal ratios.  This seems to me to be a much more adaptive approach, allowing for variability in crops, soils, local climate and management.  However, a farmer will generally be managing for profitability (balancing inputs with production), whereas a home gardener may be more interested in maximising nutrient density.  A profitable crop is not necessarily a nutritious one (if soil fertility does indeed influence nutrient density).

Given that home gardeners and small-scale growers can't afford to do plant tissue tests, what are they to do?  They could follow the Solomon approach, but it might be quite expensive.  In particular, he advocates very high levels of phosphorus, which is an expensive nutrient.  Here is a summary of nutrient thresholds that I have found by scouring the internet.  I've also given the optimal range provided by AgVita on their soil reports.  AgVita is a Tasmanian testing lab that uses the Mehlich 3 method (unfortunately they are very expensive!).

Soil Acidity (pH)

pH is probably the most important thing to get right in a soil.  A slightly acid soil is most favourable to plants, and has the least risk of nutrient deficiencies and toxicities. The below just applies to acid soils - I'm not sure what to do with alkaline soils (pH >7.5).  Note that all pH values are as measured in a 1:5 water solution, not CaCl2 solution

Target: pH 6.5 (good for mixed veg)
Application rate: depends on soil texture.  According to Bill Cotching, 1t/ha of 100% NV lime will raise pH over 0-10cm as follows:
Sand: 0.5-0.7
Loam: 0.3-0.5
Clay: 0.2-0.3
Ferrosol: 0.04-0.1

Minimum application: 2.5t/ha
Maximum application: 7.5t/ha
Incorporate in top 10cm, response in 1-3 years.

Some similar figures, from Land & Water Australia:
Subtract soil pH from target.
Divide by conversion factor:
Clay: 0.3
Clay loam: 0.4
Sandy clay loam: 0.5
Sandy loam: 0.6

Surface applied lime only moves ~1cm/year down profile.  Need a big dose to get down to subsoil.

A nice table matching CEC to pH is given here.  Note that these are pH (Ca) values, and lime rates are to lift to pH (Ca) 5.5 in the top 10cm.


Another way is to use the buffer pH, which is a measure of how much the soil's pH changes per unit of lime.  An example for New York State is given here.  Note that I think these figures are calibrated for local conditions, so may not be applicable on your particular soil.

Example:
pH (water): 5.5
buffer pH (Mehlich): 6.6
CEC: 16
texture: sandy loam

Cotching: 2 t/ha
LWA: 1.67 t/ha
NSW DPI: 2.8 t/ha
NYS: 1.1 t/ha

So quite a lot of variability there!  I think I'd start with 2.5 t/ha and see how we go (since they are for 0-10cm, and we want to get down to 15cm).

Phosphorus (P)

The first thing to be aware of with phosphorus is that there are many ways of measuring available P.  Here is a table correlating the different methods (thanks to AgVita).


The short of it is that optimal P, as measured by the Mehlich 3 test, is 40-70ppm.  Since we're going for high production and nutrition, it can't hurt to aim towards the high end of that range.

50-100 ppm (UD)
56 ppm (Colorado)
AgVita: 40-90 ppm

Potassium (K)

160 ppm
90-180 ppm (UD)
70-140 ppm (NJ)
180 ppm (Colorado)
AgVita: 245-355 ppm (upper end of range may be CEC dependent, 4-6%)

Calcium (Ca)

Ca:Mg > 1:1 (reduced stability in heavy clays)
Ca:Mg 3-5 (AgVita, as measured in meq)

700-900 ppm (NJ)

AgVita: 1620-2700 ppm (appears to be CEC dependent, 60-70%)

Magnesium (Mg)

K:Mg < 1.5:1 (Spectrum)
K:Mg 0.3-0.5 (AgVita, as measured in meq)

70-150 ppm (NJ)

AgVita: 200-400 ppm (CEC dependent, 12-20%)

Sulphur (S)

12 ppm (Minnesota)
AgVita: 12-45 ppm

Boron (B)

1 ppm (Minnesota)
0.7 ppm (NJ)
AgVita 2.2-6 ppm

Zinc (Zn)

1 ppm (Minnesota)
1.5 ppm (Colorado)
AgVita: 2.2-11 ppm

Iron (Fe)

10 ppm (Colorado)
AgVita: 35-230 ppm

Copper (Cu)

5 ppm (Minnesota)
AgVita: 2.5-10 ppm

Manganese (Mn)

10 ppm (not Mehlich extract though ...)
Only use soil test if OM < 6%.  If OM > 6%, then Mn level is determined by pH:
< 6.0: high
6.0-6.9: optimum
> 6.9: low
(Wisconsin)
Foliar: 0.2-0.4 lbs/ac in 50-100 gal water (0.1-0.2 kg/200-400 L), 2-3 applications (Minnesota). Chelated form best.

Rutgers University uses an Activity Index:
      MnAI = 101.7 + 3.75Mn - 15.2pH

The index should be between 25-100 (ref).
They also have a table with sufficiency levels for different pHs, see here.  Anything above 8 ppm is fine, no matter what the pH.
Broadcast 20-30 lbs/ac or band 4-8 lbs/ac, or 0.5-1 lbs in 20 gal (0.2-0.5 kg/75L) water per acre (NJ).

AgVita: 18-70 ppm

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Old book reviews from late 2010

I found these written on a piece of paper - thought I'd record them here for posterity and completeness.

4.5 stars
"1984" George Orwell
"Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" David R. Montgomery


4 stars
"All Quiet on the Western Front" Erich Maria Remarque
"Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows" JK Rowling
"Three Cups of Tea" Greg Mortenson - since found out to be a fraud!
"Sword of Red Ice" JV Jones
"Watcher of the Dead" JV Jones
"The Name of the Wind" Patrick Rothfuss

3.5 stars
"Just Food" James E. McWilliams
"The Happy Economist" Ross Gittins

3 stars
"Family Friendly Farming" Joel Salatin
"Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince" JK Rowling
"Primal Blueprint" Mark Sisson
"Paleo Diet" Loren Cordain
"Why Men Are Necessary" Richard Glover
"Sword of Shanara" Terry Brooks
"Lifeboat Cities" Brendan Gleeson 
"The Totem Pole" Paul Pritchard

2.5 stars
"Public Produce" Damin Nordahl
"Back from the Brink" Peter Andrews

2 stars
"Amazon Adventure" Willard Price

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My top 10 transformative books

Here are my top 10 transformative books (in chronological order (of my life)):
1. Adventure, by Willard Price - for instilling a love of the natural world and adventure
2. The Belgariad by David Eddings - for opening me to the world of fantasy and epic reading sessions (honourable mention to Red Wall by Brian Jacques).
3. Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer - Alexander Supertramp, the wildest (and most naive!) of wildmen.
4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - such joy, optimism and stoicism in the face of terrible hardship
5. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - fertilised my interest in food systems and agriculture
6. Fooled by Randomness by Nicholas Nassim Taleb - brilliant paradigm-breaking ideas about systems and risk (if you haven't read Taleb before, jump straight to Antifragile)
7. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz - for unleashing experimentation in by kitchen
8. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman - a wonderful collection of pragmatic wisdom on how to be happy
9. The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding (currently reading) - for making me deal with the coming crisis on a visceral & emotional level


That's only 9! Ah well, I'm sure it will come to me in the next day or two ...