Earth Then and Now Book Review



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Review:

Here’s a book that really demonstrates the truth of the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words. Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World, by Fred Pearce is an eye-opening collection of before and after photographs demonstrating the startling ways the world has changed in the last 200 years. The book is divided into six sections:

  • Environmental Change – dealing mainly with the effects of climate change, pollution, and natural disasters
  • Urbanization – before and after photos of cities
  • Land Transformation – photos of dams, deforestation, mining and resource extraction, urban renewal, and more
  • Forces of Nature – photos of volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches, hurricanes, and more
  • War and Conflict – before and after photos of war zones, including images of both destruction and recovery
  • Leisure and Culture – a variety of images, including restored archaeological remains, various major construction projects, and much more

A very interesting book to browse through.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Baryshnikov At Work Book Review



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Review:

If you have even the slightest interest in ballet, you’ve probably heard the name of the legendary Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1974 and has lived and worked primarily in the United States ever since. First published in 1976, while he was still in his prime as a dancer, this big, coffee table book includes black and white photographs of 26 of Baryshnikov’s roles, taken during rehearsal, performances, and in the studio. Some of the pictures are higher quality than others, but there are many excellent ones. As someone who took ballet classes for many years myself but could not be said to be naturally talented, a bunch of them made me want to weep with envy over the perfect technique and form on display by both Baryshnikov and his partners. Also – not going to lie – some of them are sexy as hell. Heck, most of them. Dancers have the most beautiful bodies.

The photos are accompanied by text written by Baryshnikov himself (with Charles Engell France), discussing each role and some of the thought processes that went into his interpretation of it. I found this a very interesting peek into the mind of a great dancer, but it will likely be more interesting to people with at least some dance experience, as he does use some technical terms. Some of his comments are even pretty funny. For example, he describes his early efforts to prepare for “Pas de Duke” with Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison as “a cow on ice.”

My rating: (5 / 5)

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats Book Review



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Review:

Another wonderful and thought-provoking book by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Though not exactly in the same series as Material World and Women in the Material World, Hungry Planet does visit a few of the same families, including the Namgays in Bhutan, the Ukitas in Japan, the Batsuuris in Mongolia, and the Natomos in Mali and it’s fun to revisit them and catch up on the news, so to speak. Other countries include France, Greenland, Egypt, and the Philippines. This time, each family is photographed surrounded by a week’s worth of food, and it is no less fascinating than their possessions.

Again, some of the contrasts are shocking (even the difference between the meager allotment granted to a Sudanese refugee family in Chad and the diet of a local family in the same country was painful to contemplate) but one of the most notable lessons of the book for me was that wealth correlated with more food, not necessarily healthier food. The Namgays, a poor farming family in rural Bhutan that got their first electric light bulb during the same period the book was being photographed, appear to have one of the healthiest diets in Hungry Planet, while the book’s introduction notes that several of the Western families (including the Revises, one of three families from different ethnicities in the USA) were so appalled by how they really ate that they changed their diet after being photographed for the book!

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My rating: (4 / 5)

Women in the Material World Book Review



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Review:

A companion book to Material World: A Global Family Portrait that is just as eye-opening and thought-provoking as the original! In Women in the Material World, Peter Menzel and his partner Faith D’Aluisio returned to many of the same families visited in the original book to focus on the lives of the women, with more extensive interviews about their lives.

As in the first book, the similarities between the different women’s hopes and dreams is beautiful and inspirational, but the differences in their day-to-day lives is frequently shocking. This book was my first introduction to the practice of bride kidnapping, for example, a horrific but common practice in Ethiopia in which a man literally kidnaps and rapes the woman he wants to marry in order to force her family to acquiesce to the marriage, regardless of her own wishes. (For more about this practice – and some hopeful progress towards ending it – see this excellent article: Kidnapped. Raped. Married. The extraordinary rebellion of Ethiopia’s abducted wives.)

Most of the interviews are incredibly honest and revealing as the different women share struggles including unplanned pregnancy, loveless marriages, sudden widowhood, the death of a child, past abortions, raising a disabled child, single parenthood, and more. At the same time, there are also stories of success and inspiration, including beautiful portraits of family happiness and love even in the most trying circumstances. The affection that the photographers developed for many of the women and families that they interviewed also comes through loud and clear.

Highly recommended.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Material World: A Global Family Portrait Book Review



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Review:

One of the coolest and most eye-opening coffee table books ever! Photographer Peter Menzel and his team found a statistically average family in 30 different countries around the world, including Ethiopia, China, Thailand, Brazil, United States, Mexico, Haiti, Germany, Spain, India, and Israel, and photographed them in front of their home with all their possessions around them. The photographers also lived with each family for a week and interviewed them to learn more about their lives, possessions, hopes, and dreams.

Some of the contrasts are pretty shocking. In Mali, for example, a family of 11 (husband, two wives, and eight children) lives in a mud-walled house with little more than a radio, a bicycle, some blankets, and a bunch of cooking utensils, while a family of 5 in Kuwait has, among other things, four cars, two antique Chinese urns, a Tiffany lamp, and a 45 foot long sofa. But there are also many similarities across cultures, especially in each family’s list of hopes for the future.

Because the book was originally published in 1994, some of the information about the countries is now out of date. However, because it was made when it was made, Material World is also able to present a fascinating picture of lives in upheaval in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and the war in Bosnia, plus portraits of life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Humans of New York Book Review



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Review:

I have been to New York City only once, when I was 7 years old. I barely remember it. On top of that, as a lifelong resident of “flyover country” I’ve always felt a certain resentment at the amount of screen and page time devoted to stories about the city, at the expense of almost every other American city but LA (and perhaps Washington DC), and even worse, the common (though not universal) attitude of New Yorkers themselves that their city is the center of the world and anyone not lucky enough to live there (or at least visit regularly) is blighted, uncultured, and backwards. I mean, I’d like to go back some day, just so I can say I have, but it’s substantially lower on my list than, you know, visiting all 59 national parks or something like that. I have exactly ZERO interest in living there, even for a year. Big cities are not my forte to begin with and New York is both populous and compact. The very thought of all that humanity piled on top of itself practically makes me break out in hives.

So it was much to my own surprise that I found myself pulled in by the popular blog Humans of New York, by photographer Brandon Stanton. I think what makes the blog so wonderful (for me) is how it distills the essence of all that humanity – the wit and wisdom, the beauty and eccentricity, the stories – without the stench and noise and claustrophobia of it all.

If the blog is distilled essence of humanity, the book is distilled essence of blog – 400 of Stanton’s best and favorite photos from his first three years of photoblogging. It’s a beautiful book – by turns uplifting, thought-provoking, and funny. Not bad to look at either.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

Real Whales App Review

REAL WHALES  Find the cetacean. (AppStore Link) REAL WHALES Find the cetacean.
Developer: PROPE Ltd
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Review:

My one and only whale watching cruise was memorable in both good and bad ways. I got seasick and threw up over the side of the boat, but we also got to see several whales, including a pair mating, and a couple pods of dolphins. Overall, it was a fun experience and I’d like to give it another shot some day. Meanwhile, there’s Real Whales.

Real Whales is an immersive game with realistic graphics and ambient sounds, so it feels like you’re really on a boat. You earn points by photographing whales and dolphins of more than 20 different species in various locations around the world as they breach, spy hop, slap their tails, and more. You get more points for rare species, multiple whales in one shot, and better timing (for example, snapping a whale mid-air while breaching gets more points than catching the splash as it hits the water), and you can save your favorite photos to a gallery. The points are used to purchase new locations with different whale species. (You can also get new locations faster with in-app purchases.)

An enjoyable game that requires a certain amount of patience to get a great shot, just like real life. If you enjoy whale watching, nature photography, or realistic simulations, you’ll love it!

My rating: (4 / 5)

Note: a paid version without ads is also available:

REAL WHALES  Find the cetacean! (AppStore Link) REAL WHALES Find the cetacean!
Developer: PROPE Ltd
Rated: 4+5
Price: $4.99 Download from the App Store