There is a certain satisfaction in reading deeply on one topic, which is why I love microhistories. For our purposes, microhistories are nonfiction books which view history and its larger themes through the examination of a singular object, event or idea. Here are a few recent titles to get you started – see a list of 25 such titles in our Library catalog.
Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey
Dickey set out to understand why pit bulls are so maligned in our culture, and seven years later ended up with a book that covers both the science and the emotion behind the perception of pit bulls. Along the way she covers everything from the creation of the breed and genetics, to how dog bites are recorded, breed panics, and the 24-hour news cycle.
Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
Pastry chef, test kitchen editor, and food writer Khosrova takes the reader on an historical and gustatory tour of butter. She covers the use of butter in religious and medicinal practices, how industrialization changed the butter industry, and how different environment produce different butter tastes. Bonus – learn how to say butter in over 50 languages, and then make some butter-based pastries.
Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky is one of the titans who helped make microhistories a recognizable subgenre, with books such as Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. Paper is a history of the appearance of paper, writing, and printing in societies across the world, and the impacts on people across the globe. This is a great introduction to the topic, but if you’re hankering for even more you’re in luck: Alexander Monro’s 2016 title The Paper Trail goes even more in-depth.
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This wide-ranging history of the gene begins with Mendel in his pea-flower garden and brings us up to the current state of genetic research, always with an eye on the complex social, cultural, and ethical effects of genetics research. Mukherjee also wrote the brilliant book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
Mary Roach is another of the biggest names in microhistories, writing about everything from sex (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex) to the gastrointestinal system (Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal) and more. In Grunt, Roach explores the science behind modern warfare and keeping soldiers safe and sane in war.
Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar
by Brad Tolinski and Alan Di Perna
Organized around 12 landmark instruments, music journalists Tolinski and Di Perna tell the fascinating story of the development of the electric guitar and its impact on the 20th century. This highly readable history covers how guitar makers and innovative guitarists evolved sound, the use and evolution of amplifiers, and the mythology of the electric guitar in youth and protest movements.
~ posted by Andrea G.