A new genre of history book seems to have become immensely popular. These books attempt to chronicle the histories of various things or objects. While some look interesting, I think they are starting to proliferate at an excessive pace. Pretty soon, there will need to be a book called A History of Historical Books About Things. Anyway, this post was prompted by a new book in this genre that I think demonstrates that it is going too far.
But first, let’s start our journey elsewhere; I’ll save the best for last. There are countless histories of various foods and seasonings. There’s Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History. If a history of salt is too narrow a topic for you, you can read Jack Turner’s Spice: The History of a Temptation. There’s also Larry Zuckerman’s The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World. Betty Fussell has written a history of corn called The Story of Corn. And then there’s Iain Gately’s Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. Mort Rosenblum has helped us better understand the olive in historical context in Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit.
There are histories of various seafood. Mark Kurlansky has also written Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.
There are histories of wine, including Rod Phillips’s A Short History of Wine and Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade by Thomas Pellechia. But why stop at just a history of wine? How about Charles Sullivan’s Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine? If wine isn’t your drink, you can read Jessica Warner’s Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason. And to wake up in the morning after it all, there’s Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild or The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen or Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast.