The man who made things out of trees

The man who made things out of trees


BBC Radio Four ‘Book of the Week’, December 2015

‘This book is bound for great things’ – Sophie Morris, Independent

Robert Penn cut down an ash tree to see how many things could be made from it. After all, ash is the tree we have made the greatest and most varied use of over the course of human history. Journeying from Wales across Europe and Ireland to the USA, Robert finds that the ancient skills and knowledge of the properties of ash, developed over millennia making wheels and arrows, furniture and baseball bats, are far from dead. The book chronicles how the urge to understand and appreciate trees still runs through us all like grain through wood.

‘A eulogy to the importance of ash throughout human history . . . Fascinating’ – Tobias Jones, Guardian

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It's all about the bike

It's all about the bike


‘Gem of a book’ – The Economist

It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels is Robert’s journey to design and build his dream bike. En route, he explores the culture, science and history of the bicycle. From Stoke-on-Trent, where an artisan hand-builds his frame, to California, home of the mountain bike where Robert tracks down the perfect wheels, via Portland, Milan and Coventry, birthplace of the modern bicycle, it’s the narrative of our love affair with cycling. It’s a tale of perfect components – parts that set the standard in reliability, craftsmanship and beauty. It tells how the bicycle has changed the course of human history, from the invention of the ‘people’s nag’ to it’s role in the emancipation of women, and from the engineering marvel of the tangent-spoked wheel to the enduring allure of the Tour de France. It’s the story of why we ride, and why this simple machine remains central to humanity today.

‘A rare and precious portal to the heart and soul of bike culture and its surprising footprint–tireprint?–on all of culture’ – The Atlantic

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The wrong kind of snow

The wrong kind of snow

The Complete Daily Companion to the British Weather

Endlessly fascinating… well researched and written with flair and a feel for the drama of the moment’ – Financial Times

It is a fact universally acknowledged that the British are obsessed with the weather. This is not surprising as no country in the world has such unpredictable weather, with such power to rule people’s lives. THE WRONG KIND OF SNOW is the complete daily companion to this national phenomenon. From the Spanish Armada to the invention of the windscreen wiper, each of the 365 entries beautifully illustrates a day in the weird and wonderful history of the British and their weather.

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The Sky Is Falling On Our Heads

The Sky Is Falling On Our Heads


‘A contender for the most entertaining travelogue cum rite of passage book of the year’ – Richard Bath, Scotland on Sunday

Rob Penn travels the length and breadth of the Celtic fringe (from the wilds of Scotland, via Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man to the heart of Brittany) on a quest to get to the bottom of his Celtic roots. Along the way, dressed in a kilt, and clutching a blackthorn stick he endeavours (with mixed and hilarious results) to become a Celtic poet. His odyssey takes him from standing on the table in the corner of an Irish pub, struggling to be heard over the shouts of the drinkers, to the stage at Lorient in Brittany where he must perform his less-then-spectacular poetry in front of an audience of 40,000. He is aided and abetted on his journey by a cast of colourful characters, including a Cornish lady with a penchant for men in kilts, the winner of the Whitest Buttocks in the Isle of Man Competition, and a crystal-clutching Californian.

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  • Guardian Review

    ‘Artfully, Penn turns his quest for new hardware… into a worldwide spin around cycling and its culture.’ William Fotheringham, Guardian Review.

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  • Sunday Telegraph

    ‘It is difficult not to be swept along by Penn’s enthusiasm… He writes with authority, humour and refreshing candour.’ Charles Starmer-Smith, Sunday Telegraph.

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  • Copenhagen Cycle Chic

    ‘What I’m left with after consuming the book is a sense of poetry. A distinct and lingering feeling of elegance, design history and aesthetics. It made me look at the hundreds of thousands of bicycles I pass every day in Copenhagen in a completely new light. It made me wonder what my perfect bicycle would look like.’ Mikael Colville-Andersen,

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  • Financial TImes

    ‘[His] adrenalin charged enthusiasm… delivers a good ride… The social history is snappy and his almost religious quest for ultimate craftsmanship is full of wit.’

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