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The root of the madder plant has, for centuries, been used to turn things red. Mostly, that stuff is of the variety of simple saleable goods. But it turns out that Rubia tinctorum also works on the bones of living creatures, as was discovered in the mid-18th century by John Belchier, a British surgeon who, it appears, had nothing better to do with his time. Thanks to Belchier’s Victorian curiosity, Brian Murphy got himself a sweet hook for his latest, The Root of Wild Madder: Chasing the History, Mystery, and Lore of the Persian Carpet. As the book’s subtitle suggests, Murphy’s tome has little to do with physiology. And its tracking of textiles is almost fascinating enough to make the reader forget about that initial creepy fact. Still, the question lingers: Why didn’t Murphy write a book about weird-ass British surgeons? Ask when Murphy reads at 3 p.m. at Olsson’s Books & Records, 106 S. Union St., Alexandria. Free. (703) 684-0077. (Mike Kanin)