History of the Bible


I read The History of the Bible this weekend and enjoyed it a lot. I have a little collection of books about theology now, not because of any interest in faith but because I think it’s an interesting vein of history and culture. The bible is so often quoted, wittingly or unwittingly, in popular culture and everyday speech. Here are some good excerpts from the book. The first I’ve included because I like the readings of the Old Testament that give God a personality.

Grapefruits are weird


With the exception of those weirdos like the finger lime, all other citrus fruits are derived from natural and, before long, artificial crossbreeding, and then crossbreeding the crossbreeds, and so on, of those three fruits. Mix certain pomelos and certain mandarins and you get a sour orange. Cross that sour orange with a citron and you get a lemon. It’s a little bit like blending and reblending primary colors. Grapefruit is a mix between the pomelo—a base fruit—and a sweet orange, which itself is a hybrid of pomelo and mandarin.

Historical Cookbook Database


A search for “cheesecake,” for example, will result in 189 references, including Robert Abbot’s 1790 recipe for almond cheesecake, Hannah Glasse’s 1805 recipe for lemon cheesecakes, and E. Smith’s 1742 recipe for potato or lemon cheesecake. If this research on the evolution of cheesecake makes you want to learn more about Robert Abbot himself, you’ll find that his 1790 Housekeeper’s Valuable Present or Lady’s Closet Companion also included instructions for how “to make very good wigs.

Bread Farmers


Subsistence farmers generally do not do this. Remember, the goal is not to maximize profit, but to avoid family destruction through starvation. If you only farm one crop (the best' one) and you get too little rain or too much, or the temperature is wrong that crop fails and the family starves. But if you farm several different crops, that mitigates the risk of any particular crop failing due to climate conditions, or blight (for the Romans, the standard combination seems to have been a mix of wheat, barley and beans, often with grapes or olives besides; there might also be a small garden space.

The London floor plan


For a city that’s long been the repository of vast commercial, imperial, and industrial wealth, this might seem a very modest template. However, it is one that can be easily scaled up, points out Edward Denison, associate professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture and author of The Life of the British Home: An Architectural History. “What’s extraordinary, in London in particular, is that you can find very grand houses in places such as Carlton House Terrace, with vast rooms and very high ceilings, that are still essentially two-up, two-downs with extra floors added,” says Denison.

British Slave Businesses


The history of Greene King gives a glimpse into some of these entanglements. Benjamin Greene started off as an apprentice to the leading brewing firm Whitbread in London, and would go on to inherit estates in the island of St Kitts, becoming one of many absentee slave owners living off their Caribbean property. Once emancipation happened he was one of the 4,000 people in Britain (20% of whom were women) who received compensation.

Off-Road Land Trains


By 1954, with the Cold War well underway, the U.S. government realized the quickest way to get a nuclear bomber from Russia to America was to go right over the Arctic Circle. If we wanted any chance of preventing a nuclear apocalypse, we needed to know if Soviet bombers were crossing the North Pole as soon as possible. The Army planned to build 63 manned radar stations in the high Arctic around the 69th parallel (200 miles north of the Arctic circle) as a result.

Larry Kramer, Public Nuisance


“I will never forget the day that article appeared in the Native,'' Tony Kushner told me not long ago. In 1993, Kushner received a Pulitzer Prize for his play Angels in America, which addressed the impact of AIDS on American society. “I was in graduate school at N.Y.U. in 1983, and I was in the second-floor lounge in the directing department. Stephen Spinella, who went on to perform the lead role of Prior Walter in Kushner’s dark epic, was sitting across from him on a sofa.

All the history I learned in my youth came from the American Girl doll books


I have no recollection of the books' literary merits, but I still remember that Kirsten, whose family immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden, lost her best friend to cholera, had to ride out a snowstorm in a cave with the frozen body of a fur-trapper, and then saw her family’s house burned down by the baby raccoon she rescued (Changes for Kirsten, indeed!). — All the history I learned in my youth came from the American Girl doll books, Jessie Gaynor in LitHub