03 AM | 20 Jul

100 New York Calligraphers

Cover of Book

Author: Cynthia Maris Dantzic

Publisher: Schiffer Publishing 

ISBN: 9780764348983

Date of Publication: July 2015

Date of Review: July 2015

“100 New York Calligraphers” by Cynthia Maris Dantzic exquisitely catalogues 100 renowned and promising New Yorker calligraphers. Each artist profile includes a picture and a small bio regarding their work and prestige. Most importantly, the calligraphers’ works are lovingly reproduced, enabling the reader to enjoy the creativity and expressiveness of the calligraphers’ art.

The literal “written word” is often thought of as basic and utilitarian. Today in particular, we focus on typeface and font—mere pixilation of language. Calligraphy is the manifestation of something basic turned into something artistic. As this book exemplifies, letters themselves sometimes mean more than the text alone, as Michele Barnes’ work teaches us. Imagine “Star Wars” without John William’s score. Like movie score composers, calligraphers provide additional nuances, which can evoke thoughts and feelings that the words alone cannot do.

Christopher Calderhead, author of “The World Encyclopedia of Calligraphy,” is featured with the up-and-coming Laura Di Piazza, whose copperplate is exceptional. Ted Simcha Kadin’s “Hamlet soliloquy, Shakespeare” is as mesmerizing as Shirin Neshat’s work is arresting. Just about every type of calligraphy and script is included, including examples of Suhas Tavkar’s “Nakha Chitra” (fingernail embossing) and Eleanor Winters’ overlay work.

Calligraphy enthusiasts should not overlook this book for both inspiration and reflection. This is not an instructional book on calligraphy. Though technique is briefly touched on, the purpose of this book is not to educate the reader in replicating the works of these 100 calligraphers. What this book set out do to, and succeeds at doing, is highlight the magnificent artwork of 100 New York artists who are often underappreciated because their art form is undeservedly less celebrated.

I am grateful to have received an advanced copy from the publisher and NetGalley.

 

10 PM | 03 Jan

Baking

Author: James Peterson

Publisher: Ten Speed Press

ISBN: 1580089917

Date of Publication: Sept. 29, 2009

Date of Review: March 7, 2012

Rating: 1 Star

1stars

Baking is by far the most disappointing cookbook I own. So far I have tried 12 recipes, some of them I’ve tried twice or more. Generally, I’ve encountered extremely inaccurate baking times, grossly underestimated proofing and rising times, bizarre textures and consistencies of intermediate stages of recipes, and unusual looking final products. As other reviewers have stated, the lack of weight measurements, and sudden and intermittent use of them, is frustrating and confusing. Below I’ve highlighted specific instances where this book has failed in the kitchen:

Both Madeline recipes burned to a crisp far before the 20 min baking time stated in the book. I checked my oven temperature with two thermometers because I thought it had to be me. It wasn’t the oven; it’s the recipe. I looked through several of my other baking books and all of them stated an 8-10 maximum baking time, less than half the time stated in this book. When I went “off the book” the Madelines were not burnt but they did lack flavor (Orange zest instead of lemon zest, really?)

The Bread Stick recipe should be relabeled “how to throw away ingredients.” The dough was stiff and took extreme effort to work. My kitchen aid professional mixer even struggled to work this dough. And, it took more than double the stated time to rise (total of 12hrs!). I bake bread 3-4 times a week. My yeast was not the problem. Worse still, the Bread Stick recipe lists the ingredients by volume measurement; that is until you reach the “4 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated.” I suppose one could buy 4 ounces and grate it, but what if you already have a large amount of grated cheese at home? Fortunately, I have a scale so I wasn’t bothered. But, that brings me to a whole other question: Wouldn’t it make more sense to list the weight measurements for all of the ingredients? If weight measurements are the standard in baking, why does “Baking” revert to volume measurements? Many baking books offer both weight and volume measurements. (Consider, (The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook A James Beard Award Winner (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks))

The Pastry Cream recipe was tasty, but it’s a very basic recipe that can be found in many other baking book.

The pie/tart dough recipes tasted great, but most dough recipes were unmanageable to work. Particularly bad is the Sweet Crisp Tart/Pie Dough, which tended to shrink down the sides of the tart pan while I blind baked it (Yes, I used weights and even tried docking it). I had to go off book and disregard the pictures in the book to make a tart crust that held up.

The Puff Pastry Dough ingredients and methods were a surprise. “All-purpose flour” as the only flour for pastry dough? No pastry flour or a blend of flours? Most puff pastry recipes I’ve encountered do not rely solely on all-purpose flour. And, most other books teach a very different method for folding in the butter. The method in this book almost guarantees unrecoverable mistakes. I’ve made several puff pastries and none (not even my first pasty dough) came out as blah as this recipe.

The Puff Pastry Case directions were ok, if you had read the entire chapter on puff pastry.

The Alsatian Apple Tart tasted like the rotten bottom of an apple bin. The filling was awkwardly thin and the apples were disgusting. I made this tart two times hoping to get it right, then I realized that apples cooked to a “deep brown” taste like they look. (Yes, I used the recipe’s suggested Golden Delicious).

The Bottom Line: I’ve made enough of these recipes to know that I cannot trust this book as my primary baking reference. The pictures are helpful, but only if they teach a good method (see my Puff Pastry Dough and Sweet Tart Dough comments). I am extremely dissatisfied with this recipe book. I suggest Professional Baking or an older edition (Professional Baking, Trade, 3rd Edition) before I’d suggest this book. For good recipes without many pictures consider: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook A James Beard Award Winner (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks), The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks), King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks), Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book, or The joy of baking.

In conclusion: “Tell It to the World” is an important and great read, and should be read because of the events it documents and the international judicial response that followed; however, the reader should read this book, as every book, with a critical eye keen not to blanket-accept every principle that is written.

10 PM | 03 Jan

The Ardennes 1944-1945: Hitler’s Winter Offensive

Author: Christer Bergström

Publisher: Casemate Publishers

ISBN: 978-1-61200-277-4

Date of Publication: September 19, 2014

Date of Review: January 2, 2015

Rating: 4 Stars

 

Four Stars

Christer Bergström’s The Ardennes 1944-1945: Hitler’s Winter Offensive is an excellent reference book on The Battle of the Bulge. Exquisite photos well paired with the material they appear near, are on nearly every page, portraying the faces, machines, and landscapes of this brutal assault. Hats off to Bergström for also including brilliantly executed maps, which masterfully show the positions of the troops, important topographical information, key landmarks, and the ultimate movements of the offensive and defensive lines of attack. Furthermore, The Ardennes 1944-1945 contains charts and graphs that help clarify dense text full of details.

Bergström clearly knows weapons, often using the full names of the weapons, physical descriptions of the weapons and their mechanisms, and the impact of the weapons both in the immediate sense and in the battle (and sometimes the war) as a whole. For example, Bergström goes into great detail about the Nebelwerfer’s tactical, psychological, and statistical impact in battle. Still another example of the detail regarding military weapons comes from a caption under a picture of a U.S. tank destroyer on page 144: “A U.S. M18 Hellcat tank destroyer is made ready to open fire on approaching German tanks. With its 76mm M1 anti-tank gun in a turret, the Hellcat was a most dangerous opponent to the German tanks, especially since its high speed enabled it to quickly maneuver in the side of the German tanks, where these were not as heavily armored. A weakness of the Hellcat was its own weak armor, not more than a 25mm frontal armor.” This caption under a picture is essentially a distilled version of a more detailed description of the M18 Hellcat and the 76mm M1 anti-tank guns. I personally loved that Bergström often gives the degrees of the sloped armor in addition to the thickness of the armor. (Learn more about sloped armor here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sloped_armour).

The author admirably keeps track of which troops and divisions are involved in each skirmish. He tells the reader the divisions’ names (both sides), provides a history of divisions, details their leader(s), explains their level of training and battle expertise, and goes over each division’s prior battle engagements. For example, on page 79 Bergström states: “The 62. Volksgrenadier-Division, which stood against mainly U.S. 424th Infantry Regiment, was provided with two tasks on this day of the offensive…” Later the author states, “Unlike the 18. Volksgrenadier-Division, the 62. Volksgrenadier-Division was an old and experienced German division, basically it was the 62 Infanterie-Division, which had participated in the war since the invasion of Poland in 1939.” The level of knowledge Bergström commands for both the Allies and Axis’ divisions is inspiring, and really helps the reader understand the unique challenges and strengths of each division. This leads me to another critical point and strength of this book; both sides of the “bulge” (Axis and Allies) are covered in great detail. At the end of The Ardennes 1944-1945, you will not be thinking, “I wonder how it was for the Germans?”

Bergström doesn’t shy away from controversy, arguing that it is a common misperception that the Germans suffered from a sever shortage of fuel and low productivity of military weapons throughout the offensive. Rather than lacking fuel and supplies, Bergström relies on countless sources to support his claim that the German’s suffered from a lack of maintaining adequate supply routes, particularly supply chains to the frontlines. (This idea is developed throughout the book, especially in the beginning and on pages 145-149)

A personal pet peeve of mine is text littered with phrases like “more on this later,” “we shall see,” “as highlighted in a future chapter,” and so forth. An occasional “more to come” is perfectly fine and can be justifiable, but I found Bergström too often baiting me on with promises for more information when he could have very easily summarized the important bits here and now. Funny enough, I also found the author repeating himself, sometimes spending several paragraphs re-describing something already well established just fifteen pages prior.

As for making the reader wait, it took until page 73 (Chapter 4: “Panzerarmee: Panzer March Towards the Meuse!”) to actually get to the start of the German offensive. Chapters one through three thoroughly establish the events leading up to “one of the most carefully prepared military operations in the entire war.” (p. 35); however, the reader must get through nearly 1/5th of the book before he or she reaches the start of the offensive.

Paintings and drawings by Horst Helmus, a German artist who served in the Unteroffizier in the 26. Volksgrenadier-Division, are used throughout The Ardennes 1944-1945. I found the inclusion of his art to be particularly compelling because of its beauty, simplicity, and because of the source. Bergström didn’t shy away from using art by the Germans, instead his inclusion of Helmus’s drawings, and other German art and pictures, helps to make the enemy all that more human. Frequently, pictures of war-torn Americans are juxtaposed with similarly destroyed German soldiers. While the colossal amount of detail in the text can at times feel alienating, the pictures alongside the text made this bloody battle real, relevant, and at times eerily relatable.

The photos, art, maps, charts, and graphs make Christer Bergström’s The Ardennes 1944-1945 Hitler’s Winter Offensive, a book worth checking out at the library. For military buffs looking for an excruciatingly detailed book covering both sides of the Battle of the Bulge, this may be what you’re looking for. If you’re working on your own project (writing a book? Thesis? Movie?) that involves this seminal battle, you would be remiss to overlook this book, if for no other reason than to check out its copious sources and pictures. I am a fast reader, yet this book took me several weeks to finish, both because of the high level of monotonous detail, and because the prose wasn’t compelling. For a reader looking for a fast paced, easy read on the Battle of the Bulge, this is probably not the book for you because of its immense detail, complicated terminology, and tedious prose. Overall I am giving Bergström’s The Ardennes 1944-1945: Hitler’s Winter Offensive a four out of five star rating: In several ways it earns five stars for being exceptionally well researched and full of remarkable photographs, maps, and charts; however, the actual prose is wearing and not well edited, leading me to give this book an overall rating of four stars.