Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Cochineal Red

cochineal redLast summer I wandered into a book shop in the Metro Centre while visiting with my mother before heading off up to Scotland.  I was looking for something non-fiction to read that wouldn’t tax my brain but would be interesting at the same time.  Since I was off on my travels a travelog of some sort seemed appropriate.

So imagine my delight at finding a book with this title!  Yes, yes, yes I know how shallow it is of me to buy a book based on it’s title (let alone it’s cover) so would you like me to put a little effort into making it sound like I had more lofty reasons?

Oh ok then…  Well I read the blurb on the back which mentioned the Nasca Lines and Machu Picchu and how this was an ‘immensely personal and accessible guide’.  The little review quotes were all glowing, but then if you’re publishing a book you’re hardly going to include excerpts from unflattering reviews.

I’ll admit I stood at the shelves for quite a while debating between this book and one about a guy walking across Afghanistan.  Then I remembered my one and only foray into the South American area of the British Museum.  It did not end well.  In fact it ended rather badly with me high tailing it out of the museum and refusing to go back inside the building.  Instead I found a little cafe and sat there for the rest of the afternoon.  What happened is a bit of a mystery even to me.  The only way I can describe it is I suddenly came over all funny and every fibre of my being wanted to be elsewhere.  The desire to ‘not be there’ was so strong my legs moved without any conscious decision that I can remember.

When all this came flooding back I quickly decided that the Afghanistan book was the one to get, made my way to the till, paid, and left for some more shopping with my mother.  So I was more than a little perplexed when I opened my bag later that evening to discover the Peru book, not the one I thought I’d bought.

All that said, I’m glad I ended up with this book as I’ve really enjoyed it.  Thomson doesn’t just explain the current theories on the development of Andean cultures but carrys you along with himself on a personal journey of discovery.  The book has many facts and explanations but most of all he approaches them from a very pragmatic view point.  He looks at how views have changed and evolved, even talking about how his own ideas have shifted in ways he never expected.

I warmed to the subject and peoples he described, and, by the end I felt a fondness for the book that had nothing to do with it’s title.  So would I recommend this book?  Yes.  Am I going to go back to the British Museum? No.  But this book has earned itself a permanent slot on my bookcase.

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