Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 600s

669: The Arsenic Century by James Whorton


669.75094109034: Whorton, James C. The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. 359 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-957470-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 669: Metallurgy
  • 669.7: Other nonferrous metals
  • 669.75: Antimony, arsenic, and bismuth
  • +0941: Great Britain and United Kingdom
  • +09034: 19th Century

It’s an absolute wonder that as many people survived 19th century England did. There was arsenic in everything—in the food, in the paint, on the wallpaper, in wine barrels, in beer, in medicine, in wrapping papers, in clothing, in makeup, in everything. Once arsenic trioxide (a byproduct from purifying gold or copper minerals) was found to be highly marketable to dye and chemical manufacturers, the race was on to cut it into everything imaginable to lower costs and increase profits. James Whorton’s The Arsenic Century looks at the toll arsenic took on 19th century England, and how that shaped current legislation and health science.

Arsenic poisoning was nearly a health epidemic in Victorian England, and because many of the symptoms mirrored those of cholera, it was hard at first to prove death by arsenic. This was a boon for would-be poisoners. Then, began the arms race for chemical tests. Starting with the Marsh test touted by famous chemist Mathieu Orfila and evolving into more and more precise reactions, many British chemists were employed in the pursuit of making sure that arsenic did not slip into too many products, but that did not stop cutthroat merchants and manufacturers. In many cases of arsenic poisoning, each side would blame the other of tampering so no one could be proved at fault. Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers lay at home with gut-wrenching pains, slowly dying by the hand of shady dealers.

The book, while not a rip-roaring read, is a very interesting one. I was generally aware of nefarious manufacturers trying to reduce their costs by using inferior products, but the prevalence of arsenical compounds throughout Victorian England was just mind-boggling. Moreover, the tedious pace by which the government acted to prohibit arsenic use was just laughable. Anybody interested in both history and chemistry should have a good time with this one.


692: Hiring Contractors Without Going Through Hell by Ellis Levinson


692.8: Levinson, Ellis. Hiring Contractors Without Going Through Hell: How to Find, Hire, Supervise, and Pay professional Help for Home Renovations and Repairs. New York: Walker & Company, 1992. ISBN 0-8027-7381-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 690: Buildings
  • 692: Auxiliary construction practices
  • 692.8: Contracting

When you’re a homeowner, there are few things more daunting than the prospect of remodeling or house repairs. You can either go it yourself and invest a lot of time in YouTube videos and gumption, or you can rely on the services of contractors. Ellis Levinson’s Hiring Contractors Without Going Through Hell deals with the reality, and sometimes the surreality, of dealing with the latter situation. He uses humor and sometimes a fatherly hand to help guide the reader through a bevy of contractor-related scenarios.

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679: The Good Cigar by Jeffers and Gordon


679.72: Jeffers, H. Paul & Kevin Gordon. The Good Cigar: A Celebration of the Art of Cigar Smoking. New York: Broadway, 1997. 193 pp. ISBN 0-7679-0036-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 670: Manufacturing
  • 679: Other products of specific kinds of materials
  • 679.7: Products of tobacco
  • 679.72: Cigars

The cigar is almost as old as Columbus’s landing in the Americas. Indigenous peoples would smoke the dried leaves of the tobacco plant in clay pipes and every European explorer to reach the Americas brought some back with them. Modern cigars have been around since the early 19th century and come in many different varieties, shapes, and qualities. H. Paul Jeffers’s and Kevin Gordon’s The Good Cigar is an ode to the cigar aficionado that explores the history, manufacture, and personalities surrounding the classic cigar.

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687: Jeans by James Sullivan


687.1: Sullivan, James. Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon. New York: Gotham Books, 2006. 265 pp. ISBN 1-592-40214-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 680: Manufacture of products for specific uses
  • 687: Clothing and accessories
  • 687.1: Specific kinds of garments

Despite how advertisers keep treating as a new and exciting clothing, jeans, and the denim they are made from, have been around for hundreds of years. Blue jeans are named after their place of first import, Genoa, Italy, and denim comes from the material serge de Nimes, a cotton blend from Nimes, France. Materials for jeans arrived in the America almost right after the Pilgrims did. Denim jeans have been part of the social and manufacturing landscape for so long that they seem almost ineffable. James Sullivan’s Jeans, however, goes a little deeper into the history of jeans to find a chronicle of rebellion and globalization.

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677: String by Adam Hart-Davis


677.71. Hart-Davis, Adam. String: Unraveling the History of a Twisted Piece of Twine. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2009. 187 pp. ISBN 978-1-60652-024-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 670: Manufacturing
  • 677: Textiles
  • 677.7: Cordage, trimmings, and allied products
  • 677.71: Ropes, twines, and strings

Somebody has written a book on the manufacture and uses of string and twine throughout history. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and so it has. Adam Hart-Davis’s String looks at not only the history of string and twine, but the intricate ways that humanity has engineered it to fit its needs. From the oldest cotton strings to modern polymerized nylon, string exists in our collective history as a largely unrecognized product, but Hart-Davis does his best to bring it to the light.

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660: Shrinking the Cat by Sue Hubbell


660.65: Hubbell, Sue. Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 160 pp. ISBN 0-618-04027-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 660.6: Biotechnology
  • 660.65: Genetic engineering

Every living thing on the planet has been genetically modified. Each generation forces changes on the next. Most of the time, this modification is natural and inevitable, but sometimes a helping hand intervenes. Ever since humans learned how to grow food, they have been selectively breeding crops that begat more and more resources. In Shrinking the Cat, Sue Hubbell looks at the history of genetic engineering through four species—the corn plant, the silkworm, the cat, and the apple—to get a better sense of the ethics and benefits of human tinkering.

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653: Gregg Shorthand Manual Simplified by John Robert Gregg


653.42: Gregg. John Robert. Gregg Shorthand Manual Simplified. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956. 315 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 650: Management and public relations
  • 653: Shorthand
  • 653.4: Handwritten systems
  • 653.42: English-language systems


One of the things that has always fascinated me about newspaper reporters is their ability to take handwritten notes of a meeting or an interview in real time, without interfering the flow of the conversation, and then reproduce it word for word in print. You can’t just write down the whole thing verbatim and expect to keep up. Turns out, they use a stenographic method called shorthand, and Gregg shorthand is one of the most used styles in the world.

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