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Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights    by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins order for
Encyclopedia of the Exquisite
by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In her Introduction to Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights, Jessica Kerwin Jenkins offers her book as 'an ode to life's many luxuries that don't require much spending. It's about how knowing the royal lineage of a Bartlett pear or the origins of the top hat can make you feel rich, and about how learning the history of the Japanese kimono or of confetti can turn the world vast and strange.'

Jenkins' selected delights range from Aerostation ('The art of hot-air ballooning') to Xiguo Jifa ('A sixteenth-century text detailing memorization techniques of the Italian monasteries') and Yes ('A word used to express willingness or agreement' and whose incorporation in a work of art brought together John Lennon and Yoko Ono). Information provided on these topics include the fact that 'history's first aeronauts' were a duck, a sheep, and a rooster who were cooked for dinner after landing, on the orders of Louis XIV!

We also learn that 'champagne wasn't an easy sell in the beginning' - its bubbles were 'thought to be a flaw in the fermenting process'. Readers share recipes for blancmange (sounds good, plan to try it), Buontalenti Gelato, Catalan Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Roasted Almonds, and Truffles a la serviette. They learn about hotels built in the shape of elephants; the origin of high heels in 17th century Venice; that 'Ancient Romans ate omelets'; the art of string stems; how To Make a Thaumatrope; and much, much more.

What a delightful book, filled with extravagant tidbits to titillate the mind and make us wonder about our ancestors' and our own absurdity. If you can bear to give it away, it would make a charming gift.

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