Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines
James E. Wilson (Author), Hugh Johnson (Foreword)
Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (February 1, 1999)
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0520219368
Dimensions: 10.7 x 8 x 0.9 inches
Our price: £45.

There's a large amount of mystique around the world of wine appreciation, and a number of recent experiments - for instance, that assessment of the nature of a wine correlates with the taster's belief about its cost or its colour - might lead to the nihilistic view that some differences in wine may be illusory. Nevertheless, there are agreed-on major differences in quality and nature of wines, and this book is a fascinating analysis of French wines in terms of "terroir" (a French word meaning "the total elements of a vineyard") by James E Wilson.
Why do the fine wines of France grow where they do? How can two seemingly similar sites, even within a single vineyard, produce wines of different quality? How much credit goes to the winemakers and how much belongs to nature itself? Who better to ponder these questions than a geologist and wine-lover in equal measure? James E. Wilson is a firm believer that "terroir" - the interplay of natural elements that make up the myriad environments in which vines grow - is the key to understanding why fine wines are produced where they are. This in-depth study, the result of years of meticulous research, reveals the relationship between rocks and grapes. Here is natural history and social history, little-known fact and anecdote, woven into the tale of how geology influences the quality of wine.
While the central thrust is geology - Wilson's view is that the varied geology of France is the primary driver of its variety of wines - this is not a dry geological text, but a rich travelogue of the French wine-growing regions, and you'll come away from this book knowing a great deal about the history, scenery and atmosphere of France.

The Topsham Bookshop has one copy in good condition at £45. The price reflects its scarcity, but we feel it's good value and an excellent addition to the bookshelf on any enthusiast of the history and culture of wines.

Damned by Destiny

Damned by Destiny (David Williams and Richard P. De Kerbrech, Teredo Books, 1982, 350pp) is a fascinating and long out-of-print book about the surprisingly large number of major passenger liners (20,000 tonnes and up) that never made it to their intended purpose, or at least didn't last long in it:
A complete account of all the World's projects for larger passenger ships, which, for one reason or another, never entered service. Some were still-born, some met with disaster after launching, and some were diverted to other purposes during war. Potentially, some were the greatest liners ever conceived and would have surpassed the most famous, not only in speed and splendour, but in their very size and appearance. They were victims of circumstances.
The examples range from the 19th century to the late 20th century, starting with Victorian mega-liners: the ill-fated SS Great Eastern (aka Leviathan), the planned Spirit of the Age, and a number of examples of off-the-wall ship designs, such as Knapp's Roller Boat and Darius Davison's experimental cigar-shaped steamer, that started off the technological race for ever-larger passenger ships.

Some of the nearly 200 featured ships include the unfinished White Star Oceanic III; the SS Justicia (built as a replacement for the Lusitania, but immediately requisitioned as a troopship and torpedoed after a few trips); the Principessa Jolanda, that sank at launch; the Kashiwara Maru and Izumo Maru, that became the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carriers Jun'yō and Hiyō; the never-built President Washington and Cunard "Q3"; and many more. Though the book ends in the 1980s, the story looks likely to continue; there's an addendum about a planned 'floating city' catamaran built by the Finnish shipbuilders Wärtsilä to its SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) design.

This is a superb book, exhaustively researched, well-illustrated, and well-regarded by the cognoscenti of maritime history; if you're interested, there's a good-condition copy currently (18th April 2012) in the window of The Topsham Bookshop, priced at £12.