The first time I read Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, I was blown away. Kurlansky manages to turn a book about an everyday object—one that you and I have seen in every kitchen, every restaurant, and on every table we’ve ever sat down to eat at, throughout our lives—into an utterly fascinating page-turner. I was hooked and have since reread Salt many times and moved on to his other microhistory books, like Cod, Paper, and the latest Milk!: A 10,000 Year Food Fracas. Funny and endlessly fascinating, all of these books have interesting stories, historic recipes, and enough facts to make any reader “Did you know?” royalty.
And Kurlansky’s books are just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many great microhistories, ranging from subjects like butter and cotton to champagne and the color indigo. Check out this list of 50 must-read microhistory books for hours of enjoyment.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
“It is the subject of countless poems and paintings; the top of the weather report; the source of the world’s water. Yet this is the first book to tell the story of rain. Cynthia Barnett’s Rain begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans, and builds to the storms of climate change. It weaves together science—the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains—with the human story of our ambition to control rain.”
Broliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature by Marion Rankine
This book is absolutely delightful! “Brolliology is a beautifully designed and illustrated tour through literature and history. It surprises us with the crucial role that the oft-overlooked umbrella has played over centuries—and not just in keeping us dry. Marion Rankine elevates umbrellas to their rightful place as an object worthy of philosophical inquiry . . . She tackles the gender, class, and social connotations of carrying an umbrella and helps us realize our deep connection to this most forgettable everyday object—which we only think of when we don’t have one.”
Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
“Drawing together many histories—of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores—Rebecca Solnit creates a fascinating portrait of the range of possibilities presented by walking. Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers.”
Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert
“The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Sven Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.”
Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden
“As entertaining as it is incisive, Stoned is a raucous journey through the history of human desire for what is rare, and therefore precious. What makes a stone a jewel? What makes a jewel priceless? And why do we covet beautiful things? In this brilliant account of how eight jewels shaped the course of history, jeweler and scientist Aja Raden tells an original and often startling story about our unshakeable addiction to beauty and the darker side of human desire.”
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
I can’t resist a Crate and Barrel or a Williams Sonoma. If you’re the same way, then this book is for you. A fascinating and fun history of the tools we use in the kitchen, and how these tools “have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson takes readers on a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of objects we often take for granted.”
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
“The codfish. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious than gold. Indeed, the codfish has played a fascinating and crucial role in world history. Cod spans a thousand years and four continents . . . Mark Kurlansky introduces the explorers, merchants, writers, chefs, and of course the fishermen, whose lives have interwoven with this prolific fish.”
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
The big one from Mark Kurlansky. If you’re only going to read one book from this list, it should arguably be this one. “The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Salt is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.”
Those are just some of the great books that made my list. Check this post out in full on Book Riot.
My boyfriend and I visited Nashville earlier in the summer (How is it August already?) and we had the most amazing time. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (see Elvis’s gold Cadillac), RCA Studio B for a studio tour, the Ryman Auditorium, and Belle Meade Plantation. And for me, we of course stopped off at the Nashville Public Library (see the great book statue in front of the library) and Parnassus Books, an indie bookstore co-founded by author Ann Patchett. We also had some truly amazing meals. We visited Husk, Nashville from Chef Sean Brock and had this interesting and mouthwatering Southern meal and Chauhan Ale and Masala House from Chef Maneet Chauhan, an Indian restaurant with some influence from Nashville and southern cooking. It was our favorite meal of the trip!
I visited Kansas City, MO for work earlier this summer and absolutely loved the city! It’s a really beautiful, architecturally interesting city with the nicest people! Although I was mostly busy working, I did have a chance to visit the gorgeous Kansas City Public Library and I highly recommend the hotel I stayed in, The Hotel Philips. It’s got a 1920s/1930s art-deco Great Gatsby feel and I had some mouthwatering meals at the Italian restaurant in the hotel. (Literally, some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had.)
Prepare yourself for some particularly droolworthy upcoming food and cookbook releases this spring!
Vegan cookbooks are so hot right now, and out of all of the amazing vegan cookbooks coming out this spring (notably: Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics and Vegan 100: Over 100 Incredible Recipes from Avant-Garde Vegan) I’m most interested in Sweet Potato Soul from NYC-based blogger, personal chef, and cooking instructor Jenné Claiborne. Claiborne’s food looks amazing—comforting and substantial with beautiful colors, textures, and flavors.
Fermentation Revolution: 70 Easy, Healthy Recipes for Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Kimchi and More by Sebastien Bureau and David Côté (March 15th)
Fermentation is a continuing trend in cookbooks from 2017 and I can’t get enough of it! Kimchi is a must-have in my house and I make it in 8-lb batches way more often than I’d like to admit. (I use Maangchi’s recipe for anyone interested.) Fermentation Revolution is more than just fermented vegetables, but a wide range of recipes and techniques for fermenting fruits, sugars and honeys, grains, and more.
The Modern Kitchen: Objects That Shape the Way We Cook, Eat, and Live by Tim Hayward (April 3rd)
Think about all of the objects in your kitchen, from the much-loved wooden spoon to your fancy, pastel-colored Kitchen-Aid mixer; all of these items have a story. Through 100 familiar kitchen objects, The Modern Kitchen examines notions of gender, class, and more and provides a “portrait of our domestic lives.” It might seem a little obsessive for some, but the photographs and extensive information will hit the sweet spot for the kitchen collector or food geek who loves to stroll through the aisles of Crate & Barrel or Williams Sonoma.
The Perfect Cake: Your Ultimate Guide to Classic, Modern, and Whimsical Cakes by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen (March 27th)
It wouldn’t be a real foodie-worthy list without a book from the editors at America’s Test Kitchen, and this one takes the cake! (Sorry, not sorry) The recipes range from sheet cakes and special occasion cakes to cupcakes, cake pops, and cheesecakes.
The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris by Jackie Kai Ellis (March 6th)
The jacket copy of The Measure of My Powers likens the book to Eat, Pray, Love, H is for Hawk, and Wild. That got my attention! Jackie Kai Ellis journeys to France, Italy, and the Congo to find herself, her happiness, and a path for a different kind of future. It sounds amazing, particularly her time at pastry school in Paris. Ellis is the founder of Vancouver’s Beaucoup Bakery and the leader of The Paris Tours, a culinary excursion group.
Feast: True Love In and Out of the Kitchen by Hannah Howard (April 1st)
Another powerful memoir coming out this spring is Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen by Hannah Howard. Feast is a “compulsively readable memoir of a woman at war—with herself, with her body, and with food—while working her way through the underbelly of New York City’s glamorous culinary scene.” It looks like an incredibly heartbreaking must-read.
Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes from a Refugee Chef’s Isan Thai & Lao Roots by James Syhabout with John Birdsall (January 23rd)
Chef James Syhabout has created an amazingly vibrant and personal cookbook dedicated to recipes for cooking home-style Thai and Lao dishes. With recipes ranging from sticky rice and Lao beef noodle soup to Lao minced pork salad, every single recipe looks exciting and delicious.
Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers (February 6th)
Wow. Wow. Wow. This powerful and astounding cookbook is not about fusion cooking. It’s about the intersections of the African and Asian diasporas and how they have “criss-crossed cuisines all around the world.” Alexander Smalls and JJ Johnson have built this unique understanding of the Afro-Asian-American flavor profile in their renown and historic Harlem restaurants, Minton’s and The Cecil, and are now sharing over 100 recipes in Between Harlem and Heaven with readers and home cooks.
I love globe-trotting botanists! The Food Explorer tells the true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer and botanist who traveled the world and introduced plants and crops such as kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, avocados from Chile, pomegranates from Malta, cotton from Egypt, and the cherry blossom tree from Japan, all to America.
Prosecco Made Me Do: 60 Seriously Sparkling Cocktails by Amy Zavatto (April 3rd)
This fun and beautifully illustrated collection of recipes will have you serving up some seriously sparkling cocktails. Also includes purchasing and serving tips and a guide to cordials, syrups, and liqueurs. It would make a really fun gift for the bellini lover in your life.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.