recommend me more books like this....
January 21, 2021 5:54 PM   Subscribe

one of my favorite non-fiction books of the past few years is "salt: a world history." recommend to me books in that vein that i will love just as much!
posted by megan_magnolia to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 107 users marked this as a favorite
The World in a Grain by Vince Beiser
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Any of the Mary Roach books
Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
posted by shesdeadimalive at 6:05 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

Maybe The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski, which was a surprise bestseller in the 90's.

He has written some other books like this, such as The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They Are.
posted by thelonius at 6:13 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]

I always hear about how good Guns, Germs, and Steel is, though I admit I haven’t read it myself.
posted by ejs at 6:15 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

Kassia St Clair's The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:20 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

Oranges by John McPhee.
posted by Rash at 6:26 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]

A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield.
posted by overglow at 6:30 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

The Story of Maps
posted by effluvia at 6:34 PM on January 21

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
posted by nickggully at 6:39 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Bill Brysons. A Short History of Nearly Everything.
posted by wwax at 6:49 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

The Works: Anatomy of a City
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:55 PM on January 21

Longitude by Dava Sobel. Also, Galileo's Daughter, by the same author.
posted by SPrintF at 7:37 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Seconding overglow's suggestion of A Perfect Red-really fascinating. You might also enjoy A History of the World in Six Glasses and Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail
posted by LadyNibbler at 7:41 PM on January 21

any of Mary Roach's single-topic books: Stiff, Gulp, Bonk, Packing for Mars, ...
Rust: The Longest War
Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic
The Birth of the Pill
The Emperor of All Maladies
...and slightly farther down the list:
Color: A Natural History of the Palette
Cod by Mark Kurlanski
posted by introp at 7:49 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

Not purely non-fiction but very interesting: A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes.

I haven't read Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the World yet, but it's on my list.
posted by Rash at 8:02 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton.

It sounds similar to The Story of Maps which I haven't read, but will probably read now that I've heard of it. The basic idea is to take an important map and discuss what it tells us about history and how the people during that time understood geography.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:12 PM on January 21

Surprised no one's mentioned Sweetness and Power, which may have invented the genre.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:12 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

My suggestions have already been noted (anything by Mary Roach and Consider the Fork). But, in case it is helpful, this type of book--where the author takes something small or ordinary and uses it to weave a larger look at the world--is called a microhistory.
posted by verity kindle at 8:12 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]

Guns Germs & Steel is something very different, not a microhistory of those items at all.

seconding A History of the World in Six Glasses.

great Ask!!!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:17 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Bill Bryson’s “At Home”.
posted by lovableiago at 8:39 PM on January 21

Can you describe why you liked the book? Are you mostly interested in histories of familiar topics?

One of the best history books I've ever read (and I'm a historian) is Nature's Metropolis by William Cronon. It's long but very readable (it is intended for a popular audience), the research is rich, and it will absolutely change how you view Chicago (and cities, really).

Another example of a really good (in terms of very solid research + very readable and mind-opening) is Gay New York by George Chauncey.
posted by coffeecat at 8:56 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Mark Kurlansky also wrote Cod.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:26 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

The Devil’s Cup by Stewart Lee Allen should be a good one! Global history of coffee, very engaging writing. It’s very White Guy Having Adventures, but it’s good enough that I could deal with that.

The same author wrote a history of food taboos called In the Devil’s Garden. Also great.
posted by centrifugal at 9:40 PM on January 21

I haven't read either of them myself but I can confirm that a friend who absolutely loved Salt: A World History, and similarly to you used it as an archetype for searching for other books, also liked Color: A Natural History of the Palette mentioned by introp above. (Wish I could remember more of his library, sorry!)
posted by XMLicious at 10:16 PM on January 21

Much Depends on Dinner, by Margaret Visser- a history of dining & foods & table manners & all the weird customs developed around eating together.
posted by cabin fever at 10:19 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

The Seine.
posted by BibiRose at 4:29 AM on January 22

Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J.E. Gordon
posted by jquinby at 5:57 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman
posted by paradeofblimps at 7:14 AM on January 22

These are my favorite kind of audio books. So I'm just going to give you a list of the ones not mentioned that are on my account. Some are better than others, all were at least good. Particular shout out to Sonia Shah and Thomas Hager though. After Salt and Rust, they wrote my favorites of this type of book.

Sonia Shah: The Fever (about malaria) and Pandemic (half about a future pandemic, half about cholera). Thomas Hager: The Demon Under the Microscope, the Alchemy of Air, Ten Drugs. Nine Pints by Rose George. Oxygen by Nick Lane. Why Did the Chicken Cross the World by Dennis Holland. Banana by Dan Koppel. The Most Perfect Thing by Tom Birkhead (about eggs). Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean (about air). The Triumph of Seeds and Feathers by Thor Hanson. Junkyard Planet by Adam Mintner. Scurvy by Stephen Brown. Pit Bull by Bronwen Dickey. The Box by Marc Levison (about container shipping). Paper by Kurlansky. Rain by Cynthia Barnett. Uranium by Tom Zoeller. Polio by David Oshinsky. Lesser Beasts by Marc Essig (about pigs). Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert. Coal by Barbara Freese. The Remedy by Thomas Goetz (about tuberculosis). The Speckled Monster by Jennifer Lee Carroll (about smallpox).

One more, that is sick an obscure subject that you'll either be really into it or bored silly: Ignition by John Clark. It's about the development of liquid propellant for rockets.
posted by Hactar at 7:29 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]

List at Goodreads:
Microhistory: Social Histories of Just One Thing
posted by cda at 8:17 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]

The Secret Life of Lobsters is compelling. Lobsters are so weird.
posted by esoterrica at 9:12 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
posted by Beardman at 12:30 PM on January 22

Response by poster: holy crap, y'all are amazing! thank you!!
posted by megan_magnolia at 4:57 PM on January 22

I came to recommend Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the World, too. It was written by Simon Garfield. I have read Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, which I recommend. I haven't read any of his other books, but they are probably worth checking out.

Simon Winchester has written a wide-ranging collection of books. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary and The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology are probably closest to your criteria, but feel free to explore.

Also, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee is a classic.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:16 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

Also, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture by Johan Huizenga. See also. I recommend this book highly as well.
posted by y2karl at 4:50 PM on January 23

The Four Fish by P Greenberg is also a culinary history/deep dive into about salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. It reads much like a collection of long New Yorker articles, which too me is a good thing.
posted by zenon at 7:52 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

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