What's A Microhistory? 9 Nonfiction Books About Super Specific Topics

by Melissa Ragsdale

History is all around you. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the blood running through your veins — everything has its own story. So, readers and history-lovers, what happens when we zoom in a little and focus on the stories told in these incredible microhistory books?

Even the smallest, most everyday objects have some pretty large histories behind them. From the history of the umbrella to the evolution of breakfast, you might be surprised to see that there are entire books written about some of these things. But the second you crack open one of these books, you'll realize that there is so much more than meets the eye.

Human history is one giant puzzle, every piece fitting into each other, sometimes influencing each other in unexpected ways. Then, each one of those puzzle pieces can be broken down into its own puzzle, and so on, and so on. That's where the microhistory comes in: It's an investigative exploration into a specific event or small unit of research.

The nine microhistory books on the list below are so fascinating, you're going to find yourself talking about them at parties, on dates, and really to anyone who will listen. Take a look:

'The Library Book' by Susan Orlean

On August 28, 1986, a fire at the Los Angeles Public Library destroyed a whopping 4,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Susan Orlean (author of The Orchid Thief) uses this event as the anchor for an exploration of the broader history of libraries and librarians. Yet, The Library Book is also a bit of a true crime book, and it circles two questions: Was the fire set on purpose... and if so, by whom?

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'Plucked: A History of Hair Removal' by Rebecca M. Herzig

Every follicle of hair on (or removed from) your body is part of a long, riveting history. In this book, Rebecca M. Herzig explores hair removal and the cultural beliefs surrounding it. It will definitely give you something to think about the next time you reach for your razor.

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'Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood' by Rose George

In this compelling read, Rose George explores the history of blood, from ancient blood-letting practices to modern medical technology to the taboo around menstruation. Even if you're squeamish about blood, this is a compelling and illuminating book you don't want to miss.

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'Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature' by Marion Rankine

You might not think twice about grabbing your umbrella before heading out into the rain, but this seemingly mundane object has a fascinating history. Marion Rankine examines crucial role the umbrella has played throughout the centuries, and explores the gender, class, and social connotations of carrying one in Brolliology.

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'Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure' by Samira Kawash

Embrace your inner Willy Wonka with this delectable read. In this book, Samira Kawash investigates how candy has found its place in today's diets and how it has evolved from a luxury item to a "junk food" staple.

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'Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells' by Helen Scales

Helen Scales's nonfiction book on seashells will give you a lot to think about on your next beach day, particularly concerning how humans have used the shells to different ends throughout history.

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'Face Paint: The Story of Makeup' by Lisa Eldridge

You put it on your face every day, but how much do you really know about make up? While the modern idea of "makeup" has only existed for the last past hundred years or so, the history of its creation is centuries old.

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'Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World' by Aja Raden

While you might not think much about that locket around your neck or those earrings in your ears, jewelry has had an enormous impact on the world. Aja Raden takes readers through the long history of humanity's obsession with precious gems, and how it has impacted some of history's largest moments.

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'Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating' by Moira Weigel

In this engrossing read, Moira Weigel investigates dating and how it evolved into the app-fueled hellscape it is today. Understanding the history of dating may even change your outlook on your current love life.

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