10 Must-Read Microhistory Books

Even the smallest, most everyday objects have some immense histories behind them. These microhistories share a passion for examining history and its larger themes through the study of a singular object, event or idea, and will make you realise that there is so much more than meets the eye.


There Plant Eyes by M. Leona Godin

From Homer to Helen Keller, from Dune to Stevie Wonder, from the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, M. Leona Godin explores the fascinating history of blindness, interweaving it with her own story of gradually losing her sight. There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocularcentric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” A genre-defying work, There Plant Eyes reveals just how essential blindness and vision are to humanity’s understanding of itself and the world.

The Library: A Fragile History by Arthur der Weduwen and Andrew Pettegree

In this, the first major history of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen explore the contested and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. Along the way, they introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world's great collections, trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanours committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts.

Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

The heart lies at the centre of life. For cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar it is an obsession.

In this fascinating history he interweaves gripping scenes from the operating theatre with the moving tale of his family's history of heart problems - from the death of his grandfather to the ominous signs of how he himself might die.

Jauhar looks at the pioneers who risked patients' lives and their own careers, and confronts the limits of medical technology, arguing that how we live is more important than any device or drug we may invent. Heart is the all-encompassing story of the engine of life.

The Book by Keith Houston

In The Book, Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, thread, glue and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the words on its pages-of civilisations, empires, human ingenuity and madness. In an invitingly tactile history of this 2,000 year-old medium, Houston follows the development of writing, printing, the art of illustrations, and binding to show how we have moved from cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls to the hardcovers and paperbacks of today. Sure to delight book lovers of all stripes with its lush, full-colour illustrations, The Book gives us the momentous and surprising history behind humanity's most important-and universal-information technology.

The History Of Magic by Chris Gosden

Three great strands of practice and belief run through human history: science, religion and magic. But magic - the idea that we have a connection with the universe - has developed a bad reputation.

It has been with us for millennia - from the curses and charms of ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish magic, to the shamanistic traditions of Eurasia, indigenous America and Africa, and even quantum physics today.

Drawing on his decades of research, with incredible breadth and authority, Gosden provides a timely history of human thought and the role it has played in shaping civilization, and how we might use magic to rethink our understanding of the world.

The Handshake: A Gripping History by Ella Al-Shamahi

Friends do it, strangers do it and so do chimpanzees - and it's not just deeply embedded in our history and culture, it may even be written in our DNA. The humble handshake, it turns out, has a rich and surprising history.

So let's join palaeoanthropologist Ella Al-Shamahi as she embarks on a funny and fascinating voyage of discovery - from the handshake's origins (at least seven million years ago) all the way to its sudden disappearance in March 2020. Drawing on new research, anthropological insights and first-hand experience, she'll reveal how this most friendly of gestures has played a role in everything from meetings with uncontacted tribes to political assassinations - and what it tells us about the enduring power of human contact.

Mother: An Unconventional History by Sarah Knott

When acclaimed historian Sarah Knott became pregnant, she asked herself this question. But accounts of motherhood are hard to find. For centuries, historians have concerned themselves with wars, politics and revolutions, not the everyday details of carrying and caring for a baby. Much to do with becoming a mother, past or present, is lost or forgotten.

Using the arc of her own experience, from miscarriage to the birth and early babyhood of her two children, Sarah Knott explores the ever-changing habits and experiences of motherhood across the ages. Drawing on a disparate collection of fascinating material - interrupted letters, hastily written diary entries, a line from a court record or a figure in a painting - Mother vividly brings to life the lost stories of ordinary women.

Major Labels by Kelefa Sanneh

Kelefa Sanneh, one of the essential voices of our time on music and culture, has made a deep study of how popular music unites and divides us, charting the way genres become communities. In Major Labels, Sanneh distills a career's worth of knowledge about music and musicians into a brilliant and omnivorous reckoning with popular music--as an art form (actually, a bunch of art forms), as a cultural and economic force, and as a tool that we use to build our identities. He explains the history of slow jams, the genius of Shania Twain, and why rappers are always getting in trouble.

This is a book about the music everyone loves, the music everyone hates, and the decades-long argument over which is which. The opposite of a modest proposal, Major Labels pays in full.

The Ghost by Susan Owens

Ghosts are woven into the very fabric of life. In Britain, every town, village, and great house has a spectral resident, and their enduring popularity in literature, art, folklore, and film attests to their continuing power to fascinate, terrify, and inspire. Our conceptions of ghosts - the fears they provoke, the forms they take - are connected to the conventions and beliefs of each particular era, from the marauding undead of the Middle Ages to the psychologically charged presences of our own age.

The ghost is no less than the mirror of the times. Organized chronologically, this new cultural history features a dazzling range of artists and writers, including William Blake, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Donne, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Hilary Mantel, and Sarah Waters.

Food: The History Of Taste edited by Paul Freedman

Since earliest times food has encompassed so much more than just what we eat – whole societies can be revealed and analysed by their cuisine. In this wide-ranging book, leading historians from Europe and America piece together from a myriad of sources the culinary accomplishments of diverse civilizations, past and present, and the pleasures of dining.

Ten chapters cover the food and taste from the hunter-gatherers and first farmers of Prehistory to the contemporary situation where everything from slow to fast food vies for our attention. Throughout, the entertaining story of worldwide food traditions provides the ideal backdrop to today’s roaming the globe for great gastronomic experiences.