Good books about small scale history
April 23, 2016 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Please suggest pop-history books about day to day life, objects, design and culture.

I'm looking for things like history of objects people used, what they ate, what music they listened to, what dances they danced, what sort of jobs they had, etc.
I'm not interested in large scale, military, religious or political history (except as a background to the sort of stuff I am interested in).
I've read and liked 'The Design of Everyday Things', but this doesn't need to be limited to design.
posted by signal to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed The Pencil, if that's the kind of thing you're looking for? The author has a number of other books of a similar nature, though this is the only one I can speak to personally.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:54 AM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

These are great large-scale histories of domestic tech; I found them both to be fantastically readable:

Food in History - by Reay Tannahill
Women's Work, the first 10,000 years - by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might like some of the books in Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series.
posted by dizziest at 9:50 AM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Fires of Vesuvius by Mary Beard is about these topics for Pompeii. I found it fascinating as historians have lots of knowledge about some parts of life in Pompeii but almost none for other parts. The author discusses a lot about what the possible interpretations are and why she agrees or disagrees with some of the theories out there. The chapters are well defined so you could skip the ones on politics and religion.
posted by carolr at 10:00 AM on April 23, 2016

I loooved Home by Bill Bryson so much I've read it twice. It's a history of all the rooms in your house and why they're there, as well as random other bits of related history, such as why we have pepper next to the salt on our table rather than some other spice.
posted by skycrashesdown at 10:30 AM on April 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

Maybe The Memory Palace by Edward Hollis. It's focused on interior design of famous buildings and how those have echoed down into the design if things in everyday life.
posted by nangua at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2016

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors by Henry Petroski (same author of The Pencil referenced above)
Mark Kurlansky has quite a few single-subject books that are primarily food history: Salt, Cod, The Big Oyster, Birdseye
Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America by Amy Sutherland
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:55 PM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project.
posted by standardasparagus at 2:02 PM on April 23, 2016

This book by Henry Petroski, The Book on the Book Shelf, is a great history of books and shelving. If you like libraries, there's also Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles which has a lot of library stories. If you like Petroski he's written a lot of books about engineering and design (I just finished reading To Forgive Design which is about design failure and how people work on understanding failure into design culture, fascinating). If you're into furniture stuff you might like this older book The Shaker Image by Julia Neal Elmer Pearson which talks about the things they made and how their design and lifestyle were integrated so fully into one another.
posted by jessamyn at 4:21 PM on April 23, 2016

My husband has similar interests and has really enjoyed the "A History of Private Life" series, which is a tad on the scholarly side of "pop" history.

Volume I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium

Volume II: Revelations of the Medieval World

Volume III: Passions of the Renaissance

Volume IV: From the fires of revolution to the Great War

Volume V: Riddles of Identity in Modern Times
posted by permiechickie at 4:43 PM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

History of the World in Six Glasses
posted by PJMoore at 6:29 PM on April 23, 2016

I just read "How to Live Like a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman and loved it. It's a very rigorously researched history and description of every aspect of domestic life during the Victorian era. it's structured around the hours of a day. How people woke up, washed, what clothes they put on, what they ate for breakfast, etc. The same author just came out with "How to Live Like a Tudor" which has gotten great reviews.
posted by primate moon at 8:54 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Check out Ian Mortimer's "Time Traveler's Guide" books. He has one for medieval England and one for Elizabethan England.

If you want to go beyond books, check out Tudor Monastery Farm (it's on YouTube) and any of Ruth Goodman's other living history shows.
posted by delight at 11:09 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History is a good one.

A couple of food ones:
CCCP Cookbook: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine has stories along with the recipies
The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York is a book I love; full of recipies along with the stories of the Jewish diaspora the recipies come from.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:26 AM on April 24, 2016

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