You can never go wrong considering “bone” when choosing holiday gifts for the discerning and hard-to-please. Past December posts have described gifts from the ridiculously economical (Holiday Gift Guide for Frugal Bone Lovers) to the breathtakingly expensive (Extravagant Gifts for Bone Lovers). This year’s recommendations focus on books.

Written in Bone. Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind. Author Sue Black, 2020.

Sue Black, a British forensic anthropologist and anatomist, starts at the skull and ends 10 chapters later at the toes. She mixes interesting facts about how each of the bones in our skeleton forms and what they can (or cannot) reveal about the lives of the original owners. She makes it clear that forensic pathologists and forensic anthropologists lead grim lives. The former are called on to determine the cause of death that occurred in recent times. The latter are experts in examining remains regardless how old and opine regarding their human vs. non-human origins, sex, age, stature, and diet. The author explains how this is possible and enriches the descriptions with examples from her own worldwide experience. Some of the cases involve fingerprints, hair, teeth, and other non-osseous clues. At first, I was miffed by this apparent diversion from the title, Written in Bone; but when I accepted the title as an eyecatcher, then the subtitle accurately describes the book’s contents. This book is not for the faint of heart. Some of her findings and descriptions are outright grisly and macabre. If you like CSI, however, you fill find Black’s writing informative, engaging, and at times even humorous.

Fossil Men, The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind. Author Kermit Pattison. 2020.

Do your gift recipients take an interest in the study of ancient humans and their predecessors? Would they like to read about scientists’ interpersonal spats mixed in with the dangers and frustrations of Ethiopian tribal warfare and government instability? Would a non-fiction book that at times reads as if it had to be fabricated ring their bell? If so, this book might be a good pick. It recounts the ever-changing and at times infuriating mix of fossils, territory, research money, and Ethiopian governmental bureaucracy when paleoanthropologists were seeking and finding humanoid fossils older than Lucy, dated at 3.2 million years. At times Pattison goes into far more detail describing and comparing the lumps and grooves on individual bones than most general readers can manage, but they can scan these sections and still come away with a respect for the scientists who sweat their summers away in sand pits half way around the world with paintbrush and trowel in hand.         

Bones. Recipes, History, and Lore. Author Jennifer McLagan, 2005.

Can you believe that there is an entire cookbook devoted to bones? Well, at least to the meat with the bones still attached. The author, a professional cook and food writer, makes a strong case that beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, and game taste better when cooked on the bone. Unfortunately, we often sacrifice taste, texture, and presentation for the sake of convenience and choose boneless cuts. To remedy these gastronomic oversights, McLagan devotes individual chapters to each source of meat and describes both simple and complex preparations where the intrinsic flavors of the bones greatly enhance the dishes. Does an olive-crusted lamb rack or crown roast of pork sound good? Maple tomato glazed ribs? Coconut chicken curry? Halibut steaks with orange cream sauce? Duck legs with cumin, turnips, and green olives? Roasted marrow bones with parsley salad? The book is peppered with numerous full-color photographs of the final presentations, which makes the work suitable for residence on the coffee table when it is not at work in the kitchen. Should dinner conversation regarding the meal itself finally wane, McLagan salts the book with interesting facts including wishbone lore, fish bone superstitions, and interpretation of bones appearing in dreams. This book is probably not the best gift choice for vegetarians.

Bones, Inside and Out. Author Roy A. Meals, MD. 2020.

For readers who may not want to read a whole book about forensic anthropology, paleoanthropology, or cooking, but who would like broad information about the world’s best building material, this compendium is the obvious choice. The author describes the composition and structure of bone in nontechnical terms and demystifies how bones form, grow, break, and heal. He highlights medical innovations from the first X-rays to advanced operative techniques and the orthopedic giants who developed them. Meals goes on to describe the diverse roles bone has played in in the story of life and human culture, from paleontology and anthropology to religion and literature, including Adam’s rib and Yorick’s skull. Overall, Bones is informative, approachable, and entertaining, and it now available in paperback. Since you have read this far, the author will send a signed bookplate to giftees of your choice. Just click on “contact” in the upper right corner of the web page and indicate the recipients’ names and snail mail addresses. Each plate will arrive in early January so as not to spoil the recipients’ surprise and delight when you give them this treasure during the upcoming holidays. 

Happy Holidays!

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