Top Ten Tuesday: Microhistory Books Worth Reading


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Vintage photos of people from the 1800s through to about the 1940s. Today’s theme is a school freebie, so I’m going to talk about something that doesn’t usually fit into the speculative fiction I blog about here.

As per Wikipedia, microhistory “is the intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, a family or a person).”

I enjoy learning about history in general, but microhistory is by far my favorite way to explore the past.

You can learn so much about all of our ancestors by exploring how they handled incurable diseases, dealt with racism, treated orphans, decided what to eat, and so much more.

All of these books are excellent, by the way!

If you have any suggestions of similar reads or enjoyed the ones I’m about to share, I’d love to hear about it. If you’re not a fan of history, tell me what subjects you did like in school.

Let’s geek out together.

 

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of London in the 1800s.

1. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of Henrietta Lacks before she was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She is smiling and has a hand on one hip.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

 

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky book cover. Image on cover shows a white piece of paper that’s been crumpled up to look like a salt shaker.

3. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

 

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore Book cover. Image on cover shows four young flapper women talking during a photo. There is a green hue overlaid them to symbolize the radium that poisoned them.

4. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

 

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel book cover. Image on cover shows the tile of the book on a sticker that’s stuck on a ripe, yellow banana.

5. Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel

 

Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young by Peter Higginbotham Book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of a man who founded a children’s home as well as a photo of orphans sitting together in a dirty room.

6. Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young by Peter Higginbotham

 

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly book cover. Image on cover shows a black-and-white photo of young African-American girls in the mid-20th century.

7. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

 

The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson: Separating Fact from Fiction by Gregory Klages Book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of Tom Thompson standing on a log while wearing a knit cap and some working clothes.

8. The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson: Separating Fact from Fiction by Gregory Klages

 

Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders Book cover. Image on cover shows an oil painting of a large Victorian family sitting around a table eating dinner.

9. Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders

 

nd the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts Book cover. There is no accompanying image for this cover. It only shows the title and author on a white and yellow background.

10. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

 

. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Ann Fessler Book cover. Image on cover shows yearbook photos of girls in the 1960s.

11. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Ann Fessler

80 Responses to Top Ten Tuesday: Microhistory Books Worth Reading

  1. What a fascinating rang of topics youve read Lynda. The one called Salt reminded me of something I read many years ago called Seeds of Change about fu e plants that changed the world

  2. I struggle a lot with reading non-fiction but that never stops me from adding more NF titles to my list. I already had a few of these on my TBR wishlist but I’ve added so many more to it now—these books sound fantastic and I’m glad to hear that they were all great reads! Great list for this week’s topic, Lydia 🙂

  3. I read and was fascinated by Henrietta Lacks.

    As a film buff, Glenn Frankel’s books exploring the history and context of some of my favorite movies have been great — especially the ones on High Noon and The Searchers.

  4. My older girl had to read the first two on your list in college. Not sure if it was general required reading or if it had anything to do with her nursing major. But, I hope to read them both myself soon.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!

    • Yes, it sure was. Bananas have a more complicated history than you may think, but maybe that documentary you watched covered some of it. 🙂

    • Thank you. I actually listened to an audiobook of A Short History of Sheep last winter. It was so good.

      Thanks for the recommendation, though.

  5. Henrietta Lacks, Hidden Figures, The Band Played On: I loved all of these. Your discussion of the significance of microhistory struck a chord in me because one of the areas I’m interested in is how such small stories represent a significant part of social and cultural history and identity. They’re significant emphases in my discussions of Life Stories in Literature.

    • That’s so cool. I’ll have to check that series out. Is it on your blog, I assume?

      And, yes, small stories like those are such an important part of social and cultural history and identity for sure.

  6. I wasn’t that keen on history back in school, but many of these books sound fascinating. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been on my radar for a while and you’ve also made me curious about Banana (how did bananas change the world??)

  7. I didn’t realize there was a name for the type of non-fiction I most enjoy reading, so thank you for that! I see some familiar books here (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was the one that popped into my head when I was reading your description and And the Band Played On kept me up well past my bedtime when I read it while traveling years ago). I know I’ve read a lot, but the ones that come to mind are Bonk by Mary Roach; The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. But I have so many on my TBR that I haven’t gotten to yet! EXCELLENT idea for this prompt!

  8. These books all sound interesting. I don’t really read a lot of nonfiction but my husband has always been interested in books like Inside the Victorian Home, and we have both read books about servant life in Victorian times and into the early 1900s.

    TracyK at Bitter Tea and Mystery

  9. I’ve not read any of these, but both The Radium Girls book and the one about Henrietta Lacks are ones I want to read. I also really enjoy microhistory (though embarrassingly as a history grad, I didn’t realise that learning about a specific person’s life or a single historical event had a name), my favourite parts of history is learning about people who did incredible things!

    • They were both so good!

      It’s cool that you have a history degree. There are so many people who accomplished incredible things in the past.

  10. Love your list of microhistory reads! Would Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 and Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard qualify as a microhistory? I really enjoyed reading both of those books. And I have Salt on my TBR list. 😀

  11. What a fascinating list! I’ve read Radium Girls and really enjoyed it. I could do with some more microhistory in my rotation. And being as how I am one of those babies given up before Roe v. Wade, and my birth mother is one of the girls who went away, I need to read that book. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Lydia – you always come up with the most interesting twists on topics! I’ve never heard of microhistory before, but these sound like really interesting books, and I’ve added a couple to my TBR.

  13. I’m not typically one for non-fiction, so I’m always super glad to hear when other people have such long lists they’ve enjoyed! I’m glad you liked these.

  14. Very interesting list. I haven’t read any of these. I do enjoy history. However, when I read about it, I like to read historical fiction. It then gets me interested in that time period and I do a lot of Googling while I read my book. 😀 Thanks for stopping by my TTT!

  15. I didn’t realize these books had a term .. and on the other hand, I realized that I love microhistory (seems like I actually tend to read a lot of it too!) I loved Radium Girls and Hidden Figures.. Salt and Henrietta Lacks have been on my TBR.. and the rest are getting added to it now..
    My TTT is here

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