Greetings, Intrepid Travelers!
For this year's Prairie Home cruise in the Mediterranean Sea, we will once again have educators of multiple stripes aboard to offer a truly eclectic menu of activities. As always, we have naturalists — a bird guy, an ocean gal, and a plant guy — as well as three new lecturers who will help you readily connect with the places through which we travel. We'll explore some of humanity's most significant works of art, we'll learn about the history of the Roman Empire, and we will delve into the significance of the Roman Catholic Church and the new pope, too.
To help you get the travel bug under your skin (as if it weren't there already), we offer you a slew of resources. The list is wide-ranging, including: fiction, history both human and art, field guides, films, and much more. Each of us on the team has provided a whole bunch of our favorites. It is a long list, so keep reading to the end and you will surely find something that suits your fancy.
Why not pick up a few of these great books and bring them along! That way, when you kick back on the deck chairs under the warm Mediterranean sun with a good book in your lap, there will be a semblance of purpose other than snoozing.
Happy reading and we look forward to sailing together.
— Natalie, Rich, Lytton, Myriam, Jack, and John
Consider the following selections suggested by naturalists Rich MacDonald and Natalie Springuel:
Mediterranean Seafood, by Alan Davidson
Much more than a cookbook! Sure, this book covers how to prepare all the common Mediterranean fish, but it also contains tons of details about the fish species, from natural history to how it was caught to its name in multiple languages and much more. This is a great overview to help you navigate the wealth of seafood choices you'll see in our port-of-call cities.
The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, by David Abulafia
"Connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millennia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced, and absorbed one another." (From the Amazon.com description)
Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, by Paul Greenberg.
This is an engrossing historical and contemporary account of the human relationship with four fish species (salmon, tuna, bass, and cod). Particularly relevant for our cruise is the story of the European sea bass, a species central to the culture and ecology of Mediterranean coastlines starting back in the antiquities through to today.
Salt, by Mark Kurlansky
"Until about 100 years ago, salt, the only rock we eat, was one of the world's most sought-after commodities. Wars were fought over it, other wars were financed with it, colonies were settled to get it. It secured empires and spurred revolutions. Then, fairly suddenly, it lost its value." (From Kurlansky's website)
Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names (1997), by Derek Nelson
This book is, quite literally, all over the map, including places we will encounter along our cruise route. If you have a penchant for tossing out arcane bits of geographic trivia in casual conversation, this book is sure to help you add to your repertoire.
Earth's Insights: A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback (1997), by J. Baird Callicott
If you have ever wondered what other, non-Western cultures think about environmental issues, this is the book for you. Callicott, a philosopher, begins with an introduction to environmental attitudes and values, discussing their rootedness in Western society, then moves through a number of cultures, including Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and more. He also explores the perceptions of several indigenous cultures. A good book to expand your horizons.
Environment and Ecology (2012), edited by Recep Efe, Munir Ozturk, and Shahina Ghazanfar
For those who want to delve deep into the science, but still want to maintain a broad-brush approach, this weighty book offers a variety of papers encompassing natural communities, habitat destruction, fire, urbanization and fragmentation, and biodiversity. A Ph.D. is not required to read this, but there will be a lot of jargon.
And of course, we naturalists would be remiss if we did not include a few field guides...
Sea Fishes of the Mediterranean, Including Marine Invertebrates, by Lawson Wood
With fantastic underwater photography, this is a great field guide to all the critters that swim beneath our ship's cruise route. A perfect resource if you chose to go snorkeling on a shore excursion, or even if you are just curious about the Mediterranean's rich marine life.
Mediterranean Sea, by Angelo Mojetta
Much more than a typical field guide, this comprehensive overview covers oceanographic, geological, and even historical forces that have shaped the Mediterranean Sea and the flora and fauna that call it home. The maps alone are worth checking out!
The National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World
Cruise naturalist Natalie Springuel says, "No matter where I travel in this world of oceans, hands down this is my favorite guide to whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and other marine mammals."
Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World (2006), by Hadoram Shirihai and Brett Jarrett
This title from Princeton Field Guides is a favorite for identifying the charismatic megafauna of the marine world. Organization is great and size is perfect for bringing aboard.
Birds of Europe (2000), by Killian Mullarney, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterström, and Peter J. Grant
In the opinion of cruise naturalist Rich MacDonald, this is the field guide that sets the standard. It not only has excellent color plates of the nearly 850 birds of Europe, it also shows a wider variety of plumages than most, and the text is far more detailed than that of typical field guides. Best of all, they have packed all of this into a size that fits in most coat pockets. (This is the version published in the United States; the same book was published in Europe by HarperCollins under the title Bird Guide.)
Flight Identification of European Seabirds (2003), by Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife, and Niklas Holmström
Seabirds, such as those we are likely to see from the ship, come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. This is the guide to study to help tell your skuas from your storm-petrels.
Wild Flowers of the Mediterranean, by Marjorie Blamey
"You cannot truly understand birds without knowing something about botany." So says cruise naturalist Rich MacDonald. And this is a good field guide for identifying wildflowers.
Today's youth are multimedia mavens. So, for them, a few Internet resources:
They can noodle around the National Geographic Kids site to learn all sorts of entertaining stuff about Italy. When they are done there, see if they can find their way to the page on France. Or check out some of the other countries they cover, too.
Not as media intense as the National Geographic Kids site, check out The Free Resource for Kids to learn some interesting facts about Mediterranean forests.
Cruise botanist Lytton Musselman suggested the following botany inspired titles...
Making cordials from native plants:
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all (2011), by B.T. Parsons
Lytton writes, "I love this award-winning book that traces the manufacture and uses of bitters, especially their value in the Victorian age."
The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Greatest Drinks (2013), by A. Stewart
"By the author of the popular Wicked Plants, this is a delightful volume dealing with the plants used to make alcoholic drinks."
Why are so many herbs Mediterranean?
Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices (2000), by A. Dalby
"This is my favorite book on the topic, tracing the discovery and aura regarding well-known and obscure spices."
World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth (2010), by S. Pyne
"Fire is a hot topic in present-day ecology, and Stephen Pyne's series of books add a great deal of light to the topic. This book helps explain the role of fire in the Mediterranean."
There was no apple in the Garden of Eden:
Enticed by Eden: How Western Culture Uses, Confuses, (and Sometimes Abuses) Adam and Eve (2013), by L.S. Schearing and V.H. Ziegler
"A well written survey of how the image of the Garden of Eden perfuses Western culture including the apple myth."
Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and Quran (2007), by Lytton Musselman (yes, that Lytton, our very own cruise botanist!)
In describing this book, Lytton writes: "Shameless self-promotion — though the forward by Garrison Keillor is worth the price of the book."
Cruise lecturer Myriam Springuel is our resident art expert. Here are her suggestions...
For those who would like to understand how to look at art and what makes a work of art great, consider these books:
Bruce Cole's The Informed Eye: Understanding Masterpieces of Western Art introduces the reader to great art. Many of the examples discussed are in museums and churches in the APHC tour cities. Each short essay focuses on one work of art. The author explains how the art was made, how it functioned in society, and how it embodies the ideas and ideals of the culture in which it was produced.
Simon Schama's The Power of Art includes a chapter on Bernini and one on Caravaggio. Or you might enjoy watching the BBC episodes of the same title.
John Walford's Great Themes in Art introduces art from all periods in World art. The chapters on Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art are full of examples from the museums we'll visit in Italy. Walford explores these periods through the themes of spirituality, the self, nature, and the city.
Joshua Taylor's Learning to Look was written in 1957. It remains one of the most readable books on how to look at works of art and understand what you are seeing.
Those who are newer to exploring art history might enjoy the Eyewitness Books on art history, in particular:
Eyewitness: Renaissance by Alison Cole
Eyewitness Art: Perspective by Alison Cole
Eyewitness Art: Sculpture by Mary-Jane Opie
The Getty Museum has a wonderful series of books that look at art through various themes. Many of them include examples of the art we will find in Italy. For example:
Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso explores the history of the garden from the medieval garden that suggests paradise to the use of gardens to celebrate the power of kings and popes to 19th-century public gardens.
Food and Feasting in Art by Silvia Malaguzzi will be of interest to the foodies on the cruise.
Music in Art by Alberto Ausoni provides an overview of music, musical instruments, and musical performance from ancient sculpture to Renaissance paintings to modern art.
For those looking to organize their visits to port cities around famous works of art, the following titles will prove useful:
Ann Morrow and John Power's Art for Travelers Italy: The Essential Guide to Viewing Italian Renaissance Art will help you organize your visits to major museums, churches, and galleries. The guide includes background information for the art discussed.
Maria Laura Della Croce's beautiful photo book Masterpieces of Italian Art will provide ideas about what you might see.
Bernard Denvir's Art Treasures of Italy is organized by time period and covers works in major Italian museums with text and photos.
Michelin the Green Guide Italy has very useful basic introductions to painting, sculpture, and architecture in addition to literature, music, cinema, and fashion. You can rely on their recommendations on what not to miss in Italian museums, churches, and galleries.
For those interested in reading art history books to prepare for the trip, the following standard art history texts all provide good background. Whichever one is handy will be useful. For our trip, focus on the chapters about ancient Rome and Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Italy.
Gardner's Art Through the Ages is the book most of us read in our first college art history class. It's been updated in multiple editions.
Frederick Hartt's Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture
Marilyn Stokstad's Art: A Brief History
Jacques Thuillier's History of Art
For those who want to delve deeper into specific periods of art, you might consider the Oxford University Press series, including:
Mortimer Wheeler's Roman Art and Architecture
Andrew Martindale's Gothic Art
Germain Bazin's Baroque and Rococo
Or consider Thames & Hudson's World of Art series, with books such as Peter and Linda Murray's The Art of the Renaissance, Nigel Spivey's Etruscan Art, or R.R.R. Smith's Hellenistic Sculpture.
Finally, in the spirit of the long tradition of traveling to Italy to see great art and the roots of Western civilization (and in the process, learn about ourselves), I offer some travel books:
A Room With a View (1908), by E.M. Forster
E.M. Forster's A Room With a View is ostensibly a love story, but reminds us how travel opens up our hearts and minds to new experiences. Our heroine learns about Italy by reading her Baedeker travel guide as she visits great Italian sites and churches.
Eat, Pray, Love (2006), by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert's search for modern enlightenment includes four months in Italy, where she comes to understand Rome and Italian culture in Eat, Pray, Love.
The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, by Mark Twain
Mark Twain's essays about Italy in The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad provide humorous insights still relevant today.
Cruise lecturer Jack Bryce is our Roman historian. Here are some of his suggestions:
The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome (1995), by Chris Scarre
A very brief survey of Roman history focused on the major sites and monuments. (Jack writes further: "IMHO, the negative comments on the Amazon site are based on misconceptions about the purpose and scope of this extremely useful book.")
The Complete Pompeii (2007), by Joanne Berry
A very detailed account of the culture and the site at the time of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.
The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150 - 750 (1989), by Peter Brown
A brilliant account and interpretation of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, and early Islam, with fabulous photographs.
Ravenna in Late Antiquity (2010), by Deborah Mauskopf Delyannis
A detailed description of the history and monuments.
Jack also offers some "wonderful historical novels, brilliantly researched, that will put you into the heart of Roman history while also providing compelling good reads":
Augustus: A Novel (2004), by John E. Williams
A novel on the Emperor Augustus and the origins of the Roman Empire.
Pompeii: A Novel (2005), by Robert Harris
On the early Imperial Roman culture and the eruption of Vesuvius.
The Dream of Scipio (2003), by Iain Pears
An ingenious tale of Provence in southern France, intertwining fifth-century Roman Provence, 11th-century medieval France, and Vichy, France, under the Nazis.
Cruise lecturer John Thavis is our Vaticanista, an expert on all things Vatican. Here are some of his suggestions:
Treasures of the Italian Table, by Burton Anderson
Anderson, a Minnesota native, has been the best writer on Italian wine for many years. In this book, a true labor of love, he brings keen insight to the typical and traditional foods of Italy. The reader meets fascinating people along the way.
Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar
An ingenious first-person historical narrative that portrays this important figure in Roman history with psychological depth.
The Companion Guide to Rome, by Georgina Masson
This is a classic, and deserves to be. It was written as a walking guide to the city, but can be read in one sitting anywhere in the world. Chock-full of great stories about Rome and the significance of places that one would otherwise never notice.
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, by Joe McGinniss
The author's attempt to write about a minor-league soccer team leads to a cultural bond, and then some crazy surprises. This is a look at southern Italian culture, warts and all.
Gomorrah, by Roberto Saviano
This exposé of organized crime in the Naples area is disturbing reading, but it explains much about the local culture and economy. When you finish it, you will understand why the author is under 24/7 police protection.
And though John himself didn't recommend it, we couldn't resist adding his own recently published book to this list:
The Vatican Diaries, by John Thavis.
On his website, John is quoted as saying: "One reason I wrote this book is that journalists tend to focus exclusively on the Vatican's power and its institutional impact. I wanted to chronicle the human side of the Vatican — warts and all — that makes it such a fascinating place."
Visit our journal of daily updates to see the highlights from this year's cruise — including videos, photos, and all our Cruise News notes — or relive your time aboard the ms Ryndam »