28 June 2012

Review: Birdseye by Mark Kurlansky

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Mark Kurlansky's work. I've read almost everything he's written. Thus it was a given that I wouldn't miss his biography of Clarence Birdseye.

Although most of us immediately associate the name Birdseye with frozen vegetables, we rarely think of light bulbs, gardening, whale hunting, and fox breeding. Clarence Birdseye, it turns out, had an eclectic curiosity and held patents for many inventions besides flash-freezing foods. We remember him for revolutionizing (really starting) the frozen food industry because his methods profoundly changed how the world eats.

In Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Mark Kurlansky delves into the amazing life of a man who was part adventurer, part inventor, part naturalist, and part entrepreneur. Forced to leave Amherst because of financial issues, Birdseye, nonetheless never stopped learning. He pursued almost everything that caught his attention and was always looking for some way to put his ideas to use for the betterment of humankind or as a business venture.

As his fans have come to expect, Kurlansky has made even the most complicated of Birdseye's inventions accessible to the lay reader. Although the biography is organized chronologically, Kurlansky deftly reminds us of earlier events when they become important for understanding how Birdseye's interests developed into an important concept or new discovery. Just because Birdseye spent most of his life working on experiments doesn't mean he was incapable of connecting with others, and we also learn about his home life, hobbies, adventures, and marriage.

The best description of Birdseye came from his wife, who would tell her children: "Dad was born ahead of his time. There is so much going on in his head the world can't even catch up" (p. 146). Don't miss this gem of a biography.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio; 5 hr, 57 min) read by Jon Van Ness. Van Ness is a new-to-me narrator, and as far as I can tell (correct me if I'm wrong), this is his debut audiobook. His inexperience is evident in some awkward pacing and emphasis issues. In addition I sometimes felt Van Ness was a little too enthusiastic in his performance, pulling me out of the book. I suggest you listen to a sample before deciding whether to read or listen to Birdseye.

Buy Birdseye at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Random House / Doubleday, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780385527057
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Harvee 6/28/12, 7:29 AM  

Now I know where the frozen veggie brand Birdseye comes from. Sounds like an interesting biography.

Daryl 6/28/12, 7:46 AM  

Thanks as always for an insightful review ... I am not an audio book fan, they lull me to sleep ... but I know someone who would love this book so again thanks for the review!

bermudaonion 6/28/12, 9:10 AM  

This book sounds fabulous to me! I had no idea Clarence Birdseye was into so many different things.

Hillary 6/28/12, 9:49 AM  

This sounds like an interesting book! I will have to check it out.

Kailana 6/28/12, 1:18 PM  

I missed your love of this author. I will have to investigate. This sounds good, though!

Sandy Nawrot 6/28/12, 1:24 PM  

I would love this. What a totally cool guy to learn about! Appreciate the advice on the narrator as well. I can appreciate being new, but these little quirks might get on my nerves.

Howard Sherman 6/28/12, 6:06 PM  

Reading your review of Birdseye I immediately thought of the similarities he seems to have with Howard Hughes. For that reason alone, Birdseye is a book I have to read.

Julie P. 6/28/12, 7:58 PM  

How interesting! I bet this is a good one but I think I'd prefer to read it.

Vasilly 6/28/12, 10:02 PM  

This book is so popular at my local library! There's a huge holds list for it. Glad to know that it's worth it. I think I'm going to read it.

caite 6/29/12, 7:17 AM  

I had no idea he was into all this different stuff..but I was familiar with the frozen food connection...Seabrook, NJ was very big in the growth of frozen food during WWII

Peppermint Ph.D. 6/29/12, 12:25 PM  

This kind of read really interests me! I especially like getting to know so much about the person behind the product. Adding this one to my Wishlist :)

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