Using his own home—an 18th-century English parsonage—as a guide, Bill Bryson brought us a room-by-room examination of the most quotidian of objects in his 2010 At Home, transforming them into an astonishingly illuminating history of domesticity, a modern spin on Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Now that runaway bestseller is back with a strong visual component. At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Illustrated Edition (Doubleday, $40) presents some 200 lovingly chosen full-color images that will make a first (or even a second or third) reading of Bryson’s classic a deeply engaging experience.
The Golden Age of Botanical Art (Univ. of Chicago, $35), edited by Martyn Rix, features 250 rare plates drawn primarily from the collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The main delight of this book is its fascinating intertwining of art, botany, and the histories of exploration, colonization, and travel. You will no longer see botanical illustration as dutiful, static representation (if ever you did!) but will be amazed at each specimen’s role in the long saga of globalization, intrepid journeying, and the thrills of discovery. The volume begins in the 16th century, surveying English herbals, Islamic botany in Turkey, and the work of Leonardo da Vinci. It continues through the Victorian Age, with a strong focus on India, before proceeding to today’s state of the art. Along the way, side trips follow missionaries in China, the rise of horticultural journals in 18th-century South America, and Josephine Bonaparte’s surprising contributions to the field. This is a fascinating, insightful angle on the history of several centuries, and a beautiful volume that makes a passable substitute for an actual visit to Kew Gardens.
Yotam Ottolenghi has done it again. Or more precisely he already did it, again. Written six years before his blockbuster, Jerusalem, but only now released in the U.S., Ottolenghi (Ten Speed, $35) presents a collection of well-tested and well-loved recipes from the chef’s eponymous London restaurants. This is a very different cookbook from Jerusalem; where that one was a document of social history and exploration, Ottolenghi offers approachable, weeknight cooking. It’s less complex but also a lot less daunting. The ingredients are more familiar, but it offers the same focus on freshness and unexpected flavor connections that thrilled home cooks in Jerusalem. And while there’s an illuminating section on the baked goods that his restaurants are famous for, the stars in Ottolenghi’s repertoire will always be the vegetables. His combinations are the best in the business, and he usually adheres to a happy trinity, with a main ingredient and two surprising counterpoints: baked okra with tomatoes and ginger, cucumber and poppy seed salad, crushed new potatoes with horseradish and sorrel.