For all the Tea in China (2010), by Sarah Rose, tells the story of how the British India Company sent a Scottish botanist to China to steal tea plants, seeds, and the secrets of the horticulture and manufacturing of tea, a drink burgeoning in popularity among the English. (Photo submitted)

Book Talk: The value of entertaining non-fiction

Few non-fiction authors can create fresh, original work that reveals the world like never before

Peter Critchley

For The Morning Star

A rare number of non-fiction authors possess the ability and talent to create fresh, original work that reveals the world like never before.

Salt: A World History (2002) by Mark Kurlansky, author of the award-winning Cod (1997), is the piquant story of a simple substance that created fortunes, sparked revolutions, drove entire economies, and greatly enlivened our food.

The author maintains that salt, one of the first international commodities and often used as currency throughout the developing world, shaped civilization. He traces the history of salt’s influence from prehistoric China and ancient Africa to Europe and the Americas and clearly shows how it influenced and affected wars, cultures, governments, religions, societies, economies, cooking, and foods.

And the cast of characters in this fascinating work includes fisherman, kings, indigenous Americans, and even Ghandi, who broke the British salt law that forbade salt production in India because it outdid the British salt trade.

The Bully Pulpit (2013) by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the acclaimed author of Team of Rivals (2005), is a brilliant chronicle of the Progressive era in the United States in the first decade of the 20th century. In this era, the gap between rich and poor grew wider than ever before, legislative stalemate paralyzed the country, corporations resisted federal regulations, the influence of money in politics deepened, bombs exploded in crowded streets, and small wars broke out far from North American shores.

The gripping story is told through the intense friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft — a close relationship that strengthens both men before it ruptures in 1912 when they engage in a brutal battle for the presidential nomination. This work is also the story of the muckraking press and the pivotal role it played to spark the spirit of reform that helped Roosevelt push the government to shed its laissez-faire attitude toward robber barons, corrupt politicians and corporations intent on exploiting natural resources regardless of the environmental cost.

The Bully Pulpit is a major work of history. The research is meticulous, based largely on primary sources, the style is engaging and accessible, and it illuminates the present almost much as the past.

For all the Tea in China (2010), by Sarah Rose, reads like adventure fiction. In 1848, the British India Company, faced with the loss of its monopoly on the incredibly profitable tea trade, sent Scottish botanist Robert Fortune to China to steal tea plants, seeds, and the secrets of the horticulture and manufacturing of tea, a drink burgeoning in popularity among the English.

Fortune confronted danger, prejudice, terrible weather, brigands, and crooks more than willing to dupe him. And the author recounts the odyssey magnificently, as well as touching upon fascinating facets about tea growing, history and the coolies (slaves) upon whom the tea trade depended. For All the Tea in China is a wondrous tale that lushly reveals a long-forgotten chapter of the past and the remarkable origins of tea, now an ordinary beverage we all take for granted.

These three titles are all available through your Okanagan Regional library www.orl.bc.ca.