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September 28, 2008|Susan Salter Reynolds | Brigitte Frase is a critic and reviewer.

A Little History

of the World

E.H. Gombrich, translated from the German

by Caroline Mustill

Yale University Press: 284 pp., $12.95 paper

The LEGENDARY art historian E.H. Gombrich wrote this history of the world for young readers in 1935. He was just 26 years old. Toward the end of his life (he died in 2001) he revised it, taking into account more recent events. It was translated into English in 2005 and is now available in paperback, with heavy cream paper and woodcuts by Clifford Harper. It is history to read aloud, on a cold evening, preferably by a fire. "[T]his book is not, and never was, intended to replace any textbooks of history that may serve a very different purpose at school. I would like my readers to relax, and to follow the story without having to take notes or to memorise names and dates." It is history told with larger-than-life characters; pharaohs, Greek gods, emperors and kings, and vivid battles (though the Nazis banned the book when it was first published in 1936 for being too pacifistic). Its 40 chapters cover the Stone Age to World War II, the birth of Communism and the atom bomb. "The history of the world is, sadly, not a pretty poem," the author writes. It may not be the way we study history today, but stories make it endlessly thrilling, heroic, wrongheaded and tragic.


Marcella Remembers

Marcella Hazan

Gotham Books: 320 pp., $27.50

Marcella HAZAN, doyenne of Italian cooking, author of "The Classic Italian Cookbook" (1973) and founder of her own cooking school in Bologna and Venice, has written her memoirs. Hazan was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and moved in early childhood to Cesenatico, a small fishing village on the northern Adriatic Sea. A fall on the beach when she was 7 left her with a hand that curled inward in a "clawlike shape." Her family spent World War II in a farmhouse on Lake Garda, where Hazan was first made aware of the preciousness of food -- staples like salt and coffee and polenta were scarce. She studied zoology at university, married Victor Hazan and moved to New York, where she was appalled by the food (especially ketchup!). After their son Guiliano was born, the couple moved back to Italy to recharge ("the spirit had gone out of our lives"), returning to New York after several years for Victor's work. It was a Chinese cooking class she took in 1969 that inspired her to teach Italian cooking. New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne wrote a story on Hazan's classes, and the rest is history. What is striking about this memoir is the quiet way that preparing food, something Hazan almost took for granted in her first 30 years, became the thing she had to offer the world.

M.F.K. Fisher

Among the Pots and Pans

Celebrating Her Kitchens

Joan Reardon

University of California Press: 170 pp., $24.95

It HELPS to have a previous appreciation of M.F.K. Fisher's legacy, though the charm and timeless inspiration of her way of life are immediately accessible in this gorgeous volume. The small watercolors by Avram Dumitrescu of various houses Fisher lived in -- Whittier, the Beach House in Laguna, Le Paquis in Switzerland, Bareacres in Hemet and Last House near Glen Ellen, where Fisher died in 1992 -- are simple and beautiful. Reardon, who has written several books on Fisher, has also chosen unusual, evocative recipes from Fisher's oeuvre. But the most wonderful thing about this book is the idea of Fisher spinning memorable meals in unthinkably simple kitchens. We don't need gewgaws to make good food.

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