So, two books I've finshed recently -
First, The Aritst and the Mathematician: The True Story of Nicholas Bourbaki, the Genius Mathematician Who Never Existed, by Amir D. Aczel.
This book covers some fascinating topics, but I hesitate to recommend it to anyone, because it's rather poorly written. Not terribly written, let me point out; I'd be more than pleased with this level of structure and flow from, say, one of my senior IB students, or even a college undergraduate. But it's puzzling from a professionally published book by a professor; in some ways, it reads as if it were a translation of a very good book by a competent but novice translator. The author has a tendency to repeat himself, and there are several places where he tries to give a general overview explanation of a mathematical (or, in some places, linguistic, artistic, or anthropological) concept that really doesn't take well to a generalized layman's explanation, leaving me as the reader almost as in the dark as I was before (or, in the case of some of the set theory and topology that I did already know, annoyed that he didn't explain it better).
At any rate, the book is about the history of the Bourbaki Group, a loose collection of French mathematicians from the 30s to the 60s who revised French mathematics (in the wake of the collapse of German mathematics over the 30s and 40s, especially) and set it on new, more rigorous footing. It's an interesting period; there's a shift from a very nationalistic sense of mathematics in Europe to a much more global outlook over that timeframe, and it's that shift that eventually kills off Nicholas Bourbaki (the pen name under which the group published) in the '80s. In the meantime, Bourbaki's big idea, the notion of mathematical structure, influenced the entire academic atmosphere in postwar France. It's a portion of the history of mathematics that deserves more attention than it gets (British and the tumultuous remains of German mathematics tend to get all the academic notice for the period). I'm just not sure this book, with its own structure problems, does it justice.
Second, Cheap. Fast. Good!, by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross.
First, if you're a working parent cooking for children, you don't have major food sensitivity issues in the family, and you don't already have Mills & Ross's previous book, Desperation Dinners, go get it. Half-Price Books stores will often have a couple of copies in the Cooking section, unless someone else in the area has already discovered it. (They also have a book called Desperation Entertaining, which is worth picking up if you can get it cheaply, but isn't as generally useful as the other two.) It doesn't rank up there with Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book in terms of absolutely lifesaving stuff - Skid Row Stroganoff is still the world's best comfort food, even if it looks like dogfood (although all skillet meals sort of look like dogfood) - but it's very good indeed. And you don't have to have a family for it to be useful, even though all the recipes are sized for four; anyone who arrives home at 6:30 and just wants dinner on the table without having to venture back out or eating after 8:00 will find it useful, and the extras can be lunches down the line.
Anyway, Cheap. Fast. Good! is the result of both authors having career wobbles due to the slow-motion collapse of the newspaper industry (they're both food columnists, and DD is largely a collection of recipes from their column together). When they suddenly found themselves with less discretionary income, at much the same time as their toddlers and elementary school kids turned into middle-schoolers and teenagers, they turned from focusing on getting meals done as soon as possible (the focus of DD, which specializes in 20-minute meals, and, to a lesser extent, DE) to getting them done in a reasonable amount of time without breaking the bank. The contrast with their earlier books is interesting, and instructive; they still use convenience foods, but they tend to stick with one or two per recipe instead of three or four. CFG has a larger focus on less-processed ingredients, too, including seasonal ones. They also have some helpful tips about bulk shopping, storing, and cooking ahead when you can.
There are a few issues; the biggest one is that anyone with food allergies will find large swaths of the cookbook simply unusable. If you're lactose intolerant or cooking for someone who is, for instance, you'll have to do a lot of modification for the book to be much use at all. (Gluten or nut allergies will require less modification, but there will still be a substantial number of recipes you won't be able to use as-is.) Similarly, if you're just fussy, you'll have to do a certain amount of adjusting; I substitute frozen green beans for canned every time they come up, for instance, even if they are a bit more expensive. I hate bell pepper, too, and they're quite fond of it, but so far substituting an equal amount of chopped celery (or, if it's only one of several vegetable ingredients, just omitting it) seems to be working out. And one of the authors must have a ketchup-loving kid, because it shows up with alarming frequency.
Still, overall, a worthwhile buy. Highly recommended, especially for those of us who are trying to eat out less but get home too late to sweat over an hour-and-a-half dinner.