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The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead

Warren Berger. Bloomsbury, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63286-956-2

Journalist Berger (A More Beautiful Question) repackages familiar business advice for the inquisitive and the reflective. The author, who considers himself a “questionologist,” guides professionals to think deeply about how they can use questions to improve decision making and to inspire creativity, connect with others, and cultivate leadership skills. He believes that the urge to question is gradually socialized out of people as children, when they’re praised for the “right” answer and scolded for the “wrong” one, even though questions are the best way to develop ideas and goals. As to how to foster a “questioning habit,” he advises, “Try to ask at least one naive question before noon tomorrow.” The questions range from the concrete to the lofty, and sometimes include the hackneyed. These are interesting enough thought exercises to help readers in a rut, but as a whole, this is just a run-of-the-mill leadership book with slightly different framing, offering questions instead of answers. Introspective readers, or readers who feel like they can’t get off the hamster wheel, will find this helpful; others will feel they’ve read it all before. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Big Whiskey: Kentucky Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, the Rebirth of Rye and the Distilleries of America’s Premier Spirits Region

Carlo DeVito, with Richard Thomas and Emily West. Cider Mill, $29.95 (480p) ISBN 978-1-60433-776-1

A former publishing executive, DeVito takes a deep dive into the spirit in this dazzling study, offering profiles of distilleries like Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Ky. (home to Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and the Parker’s Heritage lines), as well as craft distilleries and some of the key players who make bourbon such an intoxicating subject, such as Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve and Jim Beam’s Booker Noe. Readers expecting bottle-by-bottle ratings and rankings won’t find that, as DeVito acts more as a tour guide and historian than purveyor, but the book is filled with enough recommendations for bottles and bars, barroom trivia and arguments (can Tennessee whiskey be classified as bourbon?) to keep the conversation going until the wee hours. If the book has a flaw, it’s the small type. Those who can muscle though are bound to appreciate DeVito’s clear love for the topic and informative entries, not to mention the book’s reverential portraits of its subject, the terroir, and the men and women behind some of the best bottles on the market. This is an entertaining accompaniment to a healthy pour and a nice cigar. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Single Malt: A Guide to the Whiskies of Scotland

Clay Risen. Quercus, $29.99 (318p) ISBN 978-1-68144-107-8

Similar in tone and approach to his 2013 American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye, New York Times deputy op-ed editor Risen covers everything in this entertaining and immersive guide to one of the world’s favorite liquors. The volume is organized alphabetically, with Risen offering brief but specific tasting notes for more than 330 single malt whiskies (blends aren’t covered) , along with profiles of distilleries, price ranges, and ratings. What sets Risen’s work apart from similar references is the specificity of his reviews: Aarberg An Ora, for example, displays “a burst of menthol and wood char up front, followed by milk chocolate, grilled meat and sea salt.” Not all reviews are glowing: Bladnoch’s Samsara receives two out of four stars, but Risen notes that it’s “overpriced and under-polished” for the price. Risen’s entries go deep, enabling readers to find the bottle that’s right for them or a friend (recommendations for budget bottles, introductory scotches, and gifts for aficionados are included), even if it’s from Trader Joe’s, which he gives one and a half stars. Regardless of where the whiskeys fall on the single malt spectrum, Risen and his tasting panel have created a definitive reference on the topic. This is a must-have guide for novices and aficionados alike. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Out There: A Scientific Guide to Alien Life, Antimatter, and Human Space Travel (for the Cosmically Curious)

Michael Wall. Grand Central, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2937-3

With a humorous, accessible tone, Wall, a senior writer for Space.com, answers questions about alien life and space travel. He draws on the opinions of various experts—for instance, on the question of “Will Aliens Kill Us All?” he shares both the concerns of Stephen Hawking and the optimism of others like Doug Vakoch, president of METI (“messaging extraterrestrial intelligence”) International. Wall does remind readers that, as on Earth, extraterrestrial life will be “mostly microbes,” and returns several times to the subject of ALH 84001, the Martian rock that, in 1996, researchers reported had signs of life. After discussing these and other questions, such as “Could We Talk to ET?” (possibly not—the gulf between species might be too vast), Wall turns to human space travel. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos get their obligatory mentions in the chapter on colonizing the Moon and Mars, while Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre and his theoretically possible warp drive leads off the chapter on interstellar travel. Readers of Michio Kaku’s The Future of Humanity will find some overlap, but this should appeal to anyone who has ever looked up into the sky and wondered what is out there. Agent: Matt Latimer, Javelin. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Universal Life: An Inside Look Behind the Race to Discover Life Beyond Earth

Alan Boss. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-19-086405-7

While the hunt for Earth-like planets has been rewarding, it’s also been anything but easy. In this dense and detailed history, Boss, an astrophysicist and chair of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group, takes readers along on the roller-coaster saga of modern planet-hunting. The story begins with the Kepler Space Telescope, NASA’s exoplanet-finding workhorse satellite, launched in 2009. Kepler’s sensitive photometer measured the dimming in stellar brightness when an orbiting planet “transited” or passed in front of its star. That dip in light level allows astronomers to determine the planet’s distance from the star, and its surface temperature. A planet in the “habitable zone” is warm enough to have liquid water on its surface: the right environment for life to evolve. Other telescopes joined the search, from the Hubble Space Telescope and the European satellite CoRoT, to ground-based radio telescopes. More a history than purely about science, Boss’s work gives readers a visceral sense of the highs and lows of modern research, from the distractions of interagency competition to the frustrations of shifting political interest and unpredictable funding. With clear writing and compelling characters, Boss’s story is as much about how modern science gets done as it is about the fascinating results. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Staub Cookbook: Modern Recipes for Classic Cast Iron

Francis Staub and Amanda Frederickson. Ten Speed, $32.50 (240p) ISBN 978-0-399580-82-6

Staub, founder of the French cookware company that bears his name, together with Frederickson, a recipe developer and blogger (A Life Well-lived), show cooks how to get the best out of various skillets, as well as the classic enamel Dutch oven, “the darling of top chefs worldwide” and centerpiece of Staub’s product line (pans for each recipe are “guides, not absolutes,” so home cooks can swap out other brands of similarly sized pans). Readers looking for classic cocotte-friendly dishes like coq au vin and beef bourguignon will find them, but the authors also include some surprising recipes, such as mejadara rice with lentils and fried shallots. Indulgent chocolate babka buns or kale shakshuka with feta, garlic, and lemon are examples of the hearty brunch fare the authors present. Sides and salads feature creamy parmesan and hazelnut leek gratin, as well as oven-roasted root vegetables with tangy mustard sauce. Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead cast-iron bread recipe along with an innovative oven-baked asparagus risotto are included, and among the soups and stews are short ribs and Dungeness crab stew with fennel and citrus. For dessert, Frederickson suggests a maple-spiced pear crumble or a giant buttery toffee blondie. The company hard sell is apparent; still, cooks of all levels will enjoy preparing these solid, quality dishes. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Season: A Year of Wine Country Food, Farming, Family and Friends

Justin Wangler and Tracey Shepos Cenami, with Tucker Taylor. Cameron, $50 (304p) ISBN 978-1-944903-37-4

This high-end farmer’s almanac pairs seasonal food with Jackson Family wines. The company boasts over 40 wineries in California and more around the world. After a top-heavy section of introductions and forewords by six people, recipes appear in seasonal order. Winery chefs Wangler and Cenami refer to basing culinary choices on a wine foundation as “reverse engineering,” with a pairing suggested for each dish. For spring, lamb belly is seasoned, rolled into a log, then braised and served with an intense merlot. The autumn harvest is celebrated with oysters with bacon, a persimmon tart, and served with a Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Late Harvest Chardonnay. Sidebars dedicated to concepts like edible blossoms and how to create a cheese platter are helpful. Influences are largely Italian, French, and contemporary American, with a few Asian accents via recipes such as Dungeness crab onigiri, paired with a Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton Brut Rosé, which brings out the subtle flavors of the crab and rice. Desserts include cheesecake soufflé with a grape gastrique and monkey bread with caramel sauce. Flavors are clean and clear—apt for showcasing wines—and while the many cheery photos of people enjoying themselves sometimes make this feel as much catalogue as cookbook, the entire package is an appealing advertisement for not just wines and food, but for the California wine country lifestyle. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Rose’s Baking Basics

Rose Levy Beranbaum. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-544-81622-0

Beranbaum (The Cake Bible) offers solid baking guidance in the form of step-by-step photos and detailed written instructions. The precision-minded author instructs readers to measure cupcake batter on a scale for even distribution; and, for the same reason, she suggests (perhaps too exactingly) cutting raisins in half when making rugelach. A list of potential problems and their solutions start each chapter (the cookie chapter, for example, details how not to burn the bottoms), and Beranbaum provides measurements for each recipe in both grams and volume, because she believes weighing ingredients is more reliable. Many of her recipes are straightforward and accessible for bakers of all skill levels. Chapters on cookies, cakes, pies, and tarts overflow with precise steps for American classics: double-crusted apple pie, zucchini bread, and two thumbprint nut cookies with jam. The cookies section includes a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with both browned butter for flavor and golden syrup for chewiness, as well as “brookies,” a cross between a brownie and a cookie. Beranbaum suggests using canola or safflower oil rather than butter for a layered carrot cake so that the layers can tolerate refrigeration once cloaked in cream cheese. She presents a recipe for chocolate-spangled angel food cake (“Not only is it a favorite party cake, it is also an excellent vehicle for any leftover egg whites you might have in the freezer”); for pies, there is an apple galette (“a free form tart that can be used with many fruits or berries”) and a key lime pie, for which she admits to preferring regular limes to key limes. Beranbaum’s hand-holding is invaluable, especially for those apprehensive about baking. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The New Filipino Kitchen

Edited by Jacqueline Chio-Lauri. Agate Surrey, $28 (248p) ISBN 978-1-57284-258-8

In this cookbook anthology, U.K. restaurateur Chio-Lauri delivers heartfelt stories and solid recipes from 30 chefs, professional writers, food workers, and home cooks from around the world who are well-versed in Filipino cuisine. The two- to six-page essays with recipes are filled with family tales, particularly maternal ones. White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford, perhaps the best known of the authors, offers a short but sweet homage to her mother, then presents a sweet and sour fish dish, escabeche-inspired fried snapper, with a sauce that calls for banana ketchup. San Jose poet Janice Lobo Sapigao extends the motif with her long prose poem, “Eight Ways to Cook Like Ma,” before tendering a bowl of tinola, a classic Filipino chicken soup, with ginger. Adventures in food service is another favorite subject, and Chio-Lauri contributes a delightful piece on the topic, harkening back to being a single woman on the “quest for Mr. Right,” while running a restaurant that catered to couples. The recipes, generally rendered in family-size portions, run the gamut from crispy pata, a pork hock entree with more than 20 ingredients and a four-hour prep time, to the simpler sous vide fried chicken breasts, where hot-water immersion decreases the frying in oil time by 75%. Remembrances of kitchens past are paired with ideas for tomorrow’s dinner in this sentimental exploration of a wildly diverse cuisine. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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New England Invite: Fresh Feasts to Savor the Seasons

Kate Bowler. Globe Pequot, $29.95 (248p) ISBN SBN 978-1-4930-3467-3

Lifestyle blogger Bowler (of Domestikatedlife) presents the basics of cooking for friends and family with more than 85 seasonally inspired recipes reflecting New England seasons . Each one features menus for different occasions: in spring, for example, a Garden Luncheon includes a seasonal vegetable crudité platter, as well as a mushroom, asparagus, pea, and leek risotto; and for an Easter Egg Hunt Brunch, Bowler suggests honey almond granola, deviled eggs with chives, and baked breakfast strata with goat cheese and Italian sausage; a Farmer’s Market Dinner Party includes crispy crab cakes and seared scallops. Summer features a classic New England clambake (clams, mussels, lobsters, corn, potatoes, and kielbasa);s; and menus for Berry Picking Potluck (including blackberry naan flatbread, strawberry orzo salad, and blueberry cobbler), and Grilled Pizza Party (simple pizza sauce, roasted garlic, pizza antipasto salad). Autumn brings pumpkins, apples, maple-based dishes, and a Thanksgiving dinner menu with sweet potato–stuffed mushrooms and skillet apple-sausage-corn bread stuffing. Winter’s holiday menus for Christmas Open House and New Year’s Day luncheon offer such appetizers as an apple-walnut baked brie and pear-and-Gorgonzola bites for effortless entertaining. Though this is not a traditional regional cookbook, Bowler’s “just stick with the basics” planning techniques and love of New England deliver an inspiring and comforting cuisine. Her meticulous details, and chatty style are sure to please her fans. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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