BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, 1-5 March 2021
‘A wide-ranging, gloriously obsessive odyssey . . . a wonderful insight into the history, culture and sheer hard work taken to make this most fundamental of human foods. This book reminds us of bread’s special significance and importance’ Jenny Linford, author of The Missing Ingredient
Over the course of a year, Robert Penn learns how to sow, harvest, thresh and mill his own wheat, in order to bake bread for his family. In returning to this pre-industrial practice, he tells the captivating story of our relationship with bread: from the domestication of wheat in the Fertile Crescent at the dawn of civilization, to the rise of mass-produced loaves and the resurgence in home baking today.
Drawing on the wisdom of farmers and traditional bakers from around the world – from the Welsh mountains to the Great Plains of the USA – Penn reconnects the joy of making and eating bread with a deep appreciation for the skill and patience required to cultivate its key ingredient. This timely reminder of the real cost of great-tasting bread celebrates the everyday miracle of an ancient craft.
‘People keep rediscovering the joy of bread. In truth it never went away; it was just subverted by pappy cheaper bread . . . Robert Penn celebrates what we can do to reverse this culinary serfdom’ Tim Lang, author of Feeding Britain
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
‘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
The wrong kind of snow
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
‘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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