Michael Powell,
Back in the Day
(Barnes & Noble, 2006)

There was a time when we might take for granted that everyone knew how to do certain things, tasks that were vital to everyday survival. Many of those abilities have been lost with the development of modern society, where everyone specializes in something and people tend to hire someone for everything else.

Michael Powell must miss those olden days, and Back in the Day -- subtitled "101 Things Everyone Used to Know How to Do" -- goes a long way toward bringing them back.

OK, so browsing through this 191-page book is not going to make you an expert of -- well, anything. But it does give you the information you need to get started on a whole host of satisfying hands-on activities. I mean, sure, ice cream is readily available at every corner convenience store, but it must taste so much sweeter when it's made by your own hand.

The book goes on to provide basic instructions for everything from building a basic log cabin to carving a wooden canoe, milking a cow, churning butter, baking bread, keeping bees and brewing mead. Some of these activities are definitely worth a try.

On occasion, Powell leaves out important details. For instance, the very first entry on using a bow and arrow instructs readers to be sure the index fletch on the arrow faces away from the bow while never defining the index fletch. (And, for the record, the illustration shows an archer with the index fletch facing toward the bow.)

And some of these items will likely never prove useful to anyone. Sure, I might someday want to sweep a chimney or thatch a roof, but I doubt I will ever need instruction in how to fight a duel, lay siege to a castle, defend a castle under siege or joust. (And anyone who tries to joust based on these two pages of instruction is an idiot.) It's nice knowing how to roast chestnuts over an open fire, and it might someday prove useful knowing how to treat a battle wound, but I never expect to mummify a relative or build a 16-acre pyramid with 100 million cubic feet of rock.

But, all in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. Some of these entries may prove useful, and I sort of wish more of them were.

review by
Tom Knapp

25 August 2007

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