Cozy history
October 28, 2023 8:29 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite pop-history books on everyday life?

Looking for food, design, clothing, games, that sort of thing.
Looking specifically for books—no videos, blogs, etc.
A really good podcast might cut it.
posted by signal to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. Bryson is a witty, entertaining and smart writer.
posted by lizard music at 8:44 AM on October 28, 2023 [11 favorites]

Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life?
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:44 AM on October 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium by Lacey and Danziger.

It's set around The Julius Work Calendar, and each chapter is a month, and starts with a delightful handdrawn scene from the original calendar. Has an index and copius bibliography and index (so is a great way into this period for the novice), but is also just a lovely read, especially when the world seems mad.
posted by unearthed at 11:25 AM on October 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain was great.
posted by lilac girl at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2023

Hmm. I'm not totally sure it fits in, but the first thing that popped in my mind was the beastie boys book. It's so... Day in the life... Across 30 years, and the style (each member wrote a chapter and the other rebutted in another color on the same page, and then any 3rd party folks got a page for their own recollection)

I guess it's not pop history per se. But I kinda think it might fit the bill anyway.
posted by chasles at 12:11 PM on October 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
posted by eponym at 12:30 PM on October 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

Old style, like me, but a number of volumes from my collection of yard-sale Blue Pelicans might scratch the itch. Pelicans were chosen to sell loadsa stock at bottom end prices, so they are defo _pop_ history.
Medieval People (1937 and later eds) by Eileen Power.
English Society in the Early Middle Ages (1951) by Doris M Stenton.
A History of the Cost of Living (1969) by John Burnett.
Family and Kinship in East London (1957) by Michael Young & Peter Wilmott.
The Greeks (1951) by HDF Kitto. It was from this book that Robert Pirsig got all the philosophy included in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Home: A Short History of an Idea and The Most Beautiful House in the World by Witold Rybczynski. Amazon doesn't have them, so possibly out of print.

Home is about the history of the concept of "home" and how it's changed and things like what "comfort" means and how we use our domestic spaces. It's possible I have a copy floating around if you're interested and can't find one.

The Most Beautiful House is then kind of a practical application of those concepts into describing the designing of the author's own house, with a lot of diversions into other relevant topics.

Rybczynski was an architecture professor at McGill.
posted by LionIndex at 2:16 PM on October 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Ruth Goodman, How to Be a Tudor. She has a couple of others about other periods, but I haven't read them.

Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveller's Guides.
posted by paduasoy at 2:21 PM on October 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

Possibly also Dorothy Hartley's Food in England, though like the reviewer here (who is Bee Wilson mentioned by eponym above), I had remembered it as having more historical narrative. It is in the Internet Archive.

And two about knitting - Esther Rutter's This Golden Fleece, and Penelope Hemingway's Their Darkest Materials.

Though I am slightly wondering whether I'm misreading the question and you want histories of things that are specifically part of modern life, in which case I may be a bit beside the point.
posted by paduasoy at 2:35 PM on October 28, 2023

Our Forgotten Past: Seven Centuries of Life on the Land
Looks at the last seven centuries of agriculture, tells how farming methods have changed, portrays the life of the peasant, and discusses rural folklores.
Lavishly illustrated (it's classified as an 'art' book), and fascinating on every page.
posted by jamjam at 2:42 PM on October 28, 2023

Ordinary Lives: A hundred years ago by Carol Adams "surveys a century of astonishing changes in our everyday lives". It's on my TBR pile but I haven't read it yet, sounds like it might fit the bill though! Note: published in 1982 so the 'century' is a few decades past now.
posted by goo at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2023

I’m currently reading The Gardens of the British Working Class and, despite it touching on famine and political oppression, it’s one of the more wholesome books I’ve been reading in a while.
posted by Hypatia at 4:45 PM on October 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great, thank you. I do wish for more about cultures outside of the UK and Europe, if you know of any.
posted by signal at 7:51 PM on October 28, 2023

I haven't read this yet, but it's on my list -- America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.
posted by NotLost at 7:57 PM on October 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Never Done: A History of American Housework by Susan Strasser and The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking from 1843 to 1900 by Jacqueline WIlliams are both fascinating!
posted by mulcahy at 8:00 PM on October 28, 2023

I do wish for more about cultures outside of the UK and Europe.
To take this literally: Plain Tales from The Raj (1975) editted by Charles Allen. One of a series incl. ditto South China and ditto Dark Continent. The culture in British India differed significantly from that in British Britain.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:07 AM on October 29, 2023

Some more about sewing and cloth. Clare Hunter's Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle. Review and another review. Victoria Finlay's Fabric: The Hidden History of the Material World. Review and another review. Both of these do cover countries outside Europe, as part of the history of textiles, though I think it would be fair to say that both authors start from British perspectives.
posted by paduasoy at 4:10 PM on October 29, 2023

Mod note: [btw, this post has been added to the sidebar and the Best Of blog]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:00 AM on October 30, 2023

Just remembered Shire Books. These are short - I've got the one on bookmarks here and it is 31 pages - and illustration-heavy. There's tollgates, samplers, sundials, the 1950s, gardens, 1960s fashion, 1970s childhoods, legendary beasts, the Victorian obsession with ferns, lawnmowers, hat pins ... 514 in total, listed here.
posted by paduasoy at 2:26 PM on October 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

Many of my recs have already been recced, like The Year 1000 and its sequels (1215 is also great!), Ian Mortimer, Ruth Goodman, Victoria Finlay (I liked her book on colors).

Not yet recommended: anything by Liza Picard, whose books are similar to Ian Mortimer's, mostly panoramas of London at specific periods. Start with Restoration London.

Also, The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski, a history of books and how they are stored. Includes helpful tips for shelves that won't bow.
posted by verbminx at 2:34 PM on October 30, 2023

Oof! Also A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela, which is exactly what it sounds like, and very charming.
posted by verbminx at 2:36 PM on October 30, 2023

I loved Jane Austen's England. Despite the title, it doesn't talk about Austen much at all.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

The Making of Home by Judith Flanders considers what makes (and made) a house a home, in northern Europe and North America, over the past 500 years or so. It's very readable, and very interesting. Those familiar and oh-so-realistic Dutch interiors, in paintings by the likes of Vermeer? Turns out there was an awful lot of artistic licence going on there.

Medieval Woman by Ann Baer invites you to experience a year in the life of a peasant woman in a mediaeval English village. Strictly speaking, it's fiction, and I've shelved my copy as a novel, but it was a toss-up as to whether I put it there or in with the history books. It's not a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end; it's a journal written by someone who happens not to have existed. Anyway, however you categorise it, it made me feel very glad of my electric lights and central heating.

Finally: a cautious recommendation because I haven't read it yet myself, but Everyday Life in Traditional Japan by Charles J. Dunn is aimed at the general reader, and describes "how each class lived [in Tokugawa Japan]: their food, clothing and houses; their beliefs and their fears".
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2023

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