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The Telling Room: A Tale of Passion, Revenge and the World’s Finest Cheese, by Michael Paterniti, Canongate RRP£12.99/The Dial Press $27.99, 368 pages
The journalist and author Michael Paterniti has spent his life looking for the perfect story, the one that has you hooked. In Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, a cheesemaker from the Castilian village of Guzmán in Spain, he has found one of the greats.
As they sit in the contador or telling room, a building that was once used for counting goods in and out of the family bodega or cave below but now offers a space for drinking, eating and sharing stories, Ambrosio waxes lyrical about his cheese among other things. But what at first appears to be a heartwarming tale of an artisan and his produce is revealed to have turned sour. Paterniti relocates to Spain with his family to uncover why Ambrosio no longer makes his fabled cheese.
The Telling Room is a masterly, joyous piece of non-fiction storytelling that revels in its subject and provides a strangely gripping and moving tale about life, love, friendship, family, place – and cheese.
Review by Carl Wilkinson
Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound, by Trevor Cox, Bodley Head RRP£20, 320 pages
Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer with a soft spot for strange noises, has spent years tracking down the “sonic wonders” of the world.
He’s been to the most reverberant places on earth (an oil storage complex in Scotland comes top) along with the quietest (a flotation tank in California). His accounts of braving an echoing sewer, or wading through a peat bog in a silent corner of the English countryside, recording equipment in hand, are underpinned by a dry humour. But he also makes a serious point: in a visual culture, are we at risk of losing the art of listening?
Cox likes to stress his work’s scientific foundations but some of the book’s most compelling writing deals with what he calls our “subjective perception”. We often respond most strongly not to beautiful noises but ones that we could enjoy every day if we used our ears properly. It seems a shame that this intriguing book doesn’t come with a CD.
Review by Orlando Bird
The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, John Murray RRP£8.99, 368 pages
Can the internet really save the world? That may be an exaggeration of the claims made in The New Digital Age but not by much. Written by Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, head of the company’s in-house think-tank, it lays out a mainly optimistic case for why the world’s tyrants should tremble in the face of universal internet access.
If there’s a single belief that underpins the book, it is summed up in this sentence: “Generally speaking, connectivity encourages and enables altruistic behaviour.” Most people, they argue, reject the extremism that can destabilise societies: just let them connect to others like themselves and the world will be a better place.
Schmidt and Cohen are right to point to the disruptive effects of the internet either to liberate or to destabilise. But attempts by states to exert their control over the virtual world have only just begun. It is far too soon to predict how this story will turn out.
Review by Richard Waters