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Staff Picks - Microhistories

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Microhistory: (noun) a study or account of the history of a very specific subject; also, a study of a very small cultural change 

The Information (020.9)
by James Gleick
Analyzes how information has become a defining quality of the modern era, tracing the evolution of pivotal information technologies while profiling key contributors from Charles Babbage and Ada Byron to Samuel Morse and Claude Shannon.

Quiet (155.232)
by Susan Cain
Demonstrates how introverted people are misunderstood and undervalued in modern culture, charting the rise of extrovert ideology while sharing anecdotal examples of how to use introvert talents to adapt to various situations.

Guns Germs and Steel (303.4)
by Jared Diamond
Dismantles racially based theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors he feels are responsible for history's broadest patterns.

Sex at Dawn (306.7)
by Christopher Ryan
Two psychologists aim to reframe our understanding of lust, monogamy and family through a discussion on human sexuality based on research in anthropology, primatology and anatomy and defend their theory that humans evolved in interdependent, promiscuous groups.

Battle for Ground Zero (307.34097 G815)
by Elizabeth Green
A revealing assessment of the heated controversies behind the long struggle to rebuild at Ground Zero draws on first-person interviews to explore how grieving families, commercial interests and political agendas have challenged every step of the process.

Thunderstruck (364.1523 C931)
by Erik Larson
A portrait of the Edwardian era recounts two parallel stories--the case of Dr. Hawley Crippen, who murdered his wife and fled to America, and Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless communication--as the new technology is used to capture a killer.

Devil in the White City (364.1523 M944)
by Erik Larson
An account of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 relates the stories of two men who shaped the history of the event--architect Daniel H. Burnham, who coordinated its construction, and serial killer Herman Mudgett.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses (394.12)
by Tom Standage
Traces the story of humankind from the Stone Age to the 21st century from the perspective of six different drinks--beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, & cola--describing their pervasive influence during pivotal eras of world history.

Sorry! The English and Their Manners (395.0941 H675)
by Henry Hitchings
Examines the development of manners & codes of conduct in England from the Middle Ages to the present, what they reveal about English society & how English people react to awkward situations--with both formality and rudeness.

The Professor and the Madman (423)
by Simon Winchester
Describes how more than ten thousand definitions were submitted for the first Oxford English Dictionary from Dr. W. C. Minor, an American Civil War criminal whose life of genius and insanity make this true story both fascinating and unique.

Curators (508.092 GRANDE)
by Lance Grande
Over the centuries, natural history museums have evolved from being little more than musty repositories of stuffed animals and pinned bugs, to being crucial generators of new scientific knowledge. They have also become vibrant educational centers, full of engaging exhibits that share those discoveries with students and an enthusiastic general public.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (523.01 TYSON)
by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
The notable host of StarTalk reveals just what people need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

Longitude (526.6209)
by Dava Sobel
Describing the 18th-century dilemma regarding the inability to measure longitude at sea, the story of John Harrison and his development of the chronometer recounts the circumstances surrounding its invention.

Disappearing Spoon (546)
by Sam Kean
Intriguing tales about every element of the periodic table, sharing their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, evil, love, the arts, and the lives of the colorful scientists who discovered them.

Air (551.5 L831)
by William Bryant Logan
Examines the science of the air we breathe and how the smallest molecular changes in composition can make the difference between life and death.

Coal (553.24)
by Barbara Freese
Traces the history of coal from its formation three million years ago through its role in industry and disease, including its part in the establishment of China as a twelfth-century superpower and in the American Civil War.

Packing for Mars (571.0919)
by Mary Roach
Describes the weirdness of space travel, answers questions about the long-term effects of living in zero gravity on the human body and explains how space simulations on Earth can provide a preview to life in space.

Venomous (572 WILCOX)
by Christie Wilcox
A molecular biologist's investigation into the venom of some of the world's most exotic poisonous animals explores how they work, what they do to the human body, and their potential for revolutionizing biochemistry and medicine today.

Rats (599.35217)
by Robert Sullivan
Dispenses rat facts and rat stories, looking into the history of rats, & describes how, with the aid of night-vision gear, he sat nightly in a garbage-filled alley getting to know the wild city rat.

Giraffe Reflections (599.638 P485)
by Dale Peterson
Presents a cultural, historical, and pictorial history of giraffes, describing their biology and behavior and demonstrating their grace and elegance through over one hundred photographs.

Blood and Guts (610.9)
by Roy Porter
Chronicles the history of medicine, including the role of doctors, various attempts at controlling disease, and the progress of hospitals.

Stiff (611)
by Mary Roach
A look inside the world of forensics examines the use of human cadavers in a wide range of endeavors, including research into new surgical procedures & space exploration.

Gulp (612.3 R628)
by Mary Roach
The humorous science writer offers a tour of the human digestive system, explaining why the stomach doesn't digest itself and whether constipation can kill you.

Bonk (612.6)
by Mary Roach
A whimsical assessment of the science of sexual physiology considers the lighter side of such topics as mythologies about a woman's ability to experience orgasm and the ineffectiveness of Viagra on female pandas.

The Poisoner’s Handbook (614.13097)
by Deborah Blum
Chronicles the story of New York City's first forensic scientists to describe Jazz Age poisoning cases, including a family's inexplicable balding, Barnum and Bailey's Blue Man, and the crumbling bones of factory workers.       

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (616.02774 L141)
by Rebecca Skloot
Documents the story of how scientists took cells from an unsuspecting descendant of freed slaves and created a human cell line that has been kept alive indefinitely, enabling discoveries in such areas as cancer research, in vitro fertilization and gene mapping.

Morgue (616.07 DI MAIO)
by Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell
An award-winning writer and a renowned pathologist describe the most famous and interesting cases of the doctor's career, including the exhuming of Lee Harvey Oswald and the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

The Emperor of All Maladies (616.994)
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
A historical assessment of cancer addresses both the courageous battles against the complex disease and the misperceptions and hubris that have compromised modern understandings.

Brilliant (621.3209)
by Jane Brox
Documents the role of light in history, tracing how the development of specific innovations had a pivotal influence on social and cultural evolution.

Traffic (629.283)
by Tom Vanderbilt
Analyzes the complex social, physical, psychological, and technical factors that dictate how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving reveals about us, discussing the unintended consequences of attempts to engineer safety.

Uncommon Grounds (641.3373)
by Mark Pendergrast
Traces the use and popularity of coffee from ancient Ethiopia to the present, describing the effect of the coffee trade and industry on economic, political, and social history.

Olives (641.3463)
by Mort Rosenblum
Looks at the history of the olive, describes different varieties grown around the world, and discusses the olive industry.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (641.5951)
by Jennifer Lee
Chronicling the Chinese-American food experience, a reporter describes her quest for excellent Chinese cuisine while offering insight into such topics as the contributions of illegal immigrants and the relationship between Jewish people and Chinese food.

The Big Oyster (641.694)
by Mark Kurlansky
The author takes an insightful look at the influence of the oyster on four centuries of New York history, culture, economics, and culinary trends.

At Home (643.1)
by Bill Bryson
Explores the ways in which homes reflect history, from a bathroom's revelations about medicine and hygiene to a kitchen's exposure of the stories of trade and nutrition.

Consider the Fork (643.3 W746)
by Bee Wilson
Traces the history of cooking through a series of engaging cultural anecdotes while demonstrating how technological innovations ranging from the mortar and pestle to the microwave have shaped how and what humans eat.

Go (J741.6)
by Chip Kidd
One of America’s top graphic designers explains how graphic design is done, how it affects our lives and how to try it yourself. Not just for kids!

The Immortal Game (794.109)
by David Shenk
A history of chess explains how the game, its rules, and its pieces have had a profound influence on military strategy, literature, the arts, mathematics, and the development of artificial intelligence.

Little Ship of Fools (797.12309 W684)
by Charles Wilkins
Chronicles the author's experiences aboard an experimental rowboat on its way from Morocco to Barbados, a journey by sixteen misadventurers that had no support vessel, no stored water, and no means of power other than rowing.

In the Heart of the Sea (910.9164)
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Recounts the story of the 1820 wreck of the whaleship Essex, which inspired Melville's classic "Moby-Dick," and describes its doomed crew's ninety-day attempt to survive whale attacks and the elements on three tiny lifeboats.

London (914.21048)
by Peter Ackroyd
A chronicle of the city from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century discusses its ability to grow and change, and describes stories of London's wealthy streets and impoverished alleys.

How the States Got Their Shapes (917.3)
by Mark Stein
An accessible history of how each of the fifty United States obtained their unique shapes offers insight into such topics as the super-sized geography of Texas, Oklahoma's panhandle, and Maryland's unusual layout.

A Walk in the Woods (917.40443)
by Bill Bryson
Traces the author's adventurous trek along the Appalachian Trail past its natural pleasures, human eccentrics, and offbeat comforts.

Lost City of Z (918.11046)
by David Grann
Interweaves the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who vanished during a 1925 expedition into the Amazon, with the author's own quest to uncover the mysteries surrounding Fawcett's final journey and the secrets of what lies deep in the Amazon jungle.

Antarctica (919.89 W179)
by Gabrielle Walker
A profile of Antarctica and its indigenous life traces the history of regional exploration and the science currently being conducted there while explaining how Antarctica reveals key insights into the planet's environmental future.

A History of the World in 100 Objects (930.1)
by Neil MacGregor
Traces the stories of one hundred human innovations to explain their pivotal role in shaping civilization, from weapons and the domestication of cows to currency and music.

Unbroken (940.54725 Z26)
by Laura Hillenbrand
Tells the gripping true story of a U.S. airman who was the sole survivor when his bomber crashed into the sea during World War II and had to face thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.

The City of Falling Angels (945.31)
by John Berendt
Traces the aftermath of the 1996 Venice opera house fire, an event that devastated Venetian society and was investigated by the author, who through interviews with local figures learned about the region's rich cultural history.

1491 (970.011)
by Charles C. Mann
An analysis of America prior to 1492 describes how the research of archaeologists and anthropologists has transformed myths about the Americas, revealing that the cultures were far older and more advanced than previously known.

Smithsonian Civil War (973.7074 S664)
Showcases over five hundred hand-picked representative artifacts from the Smithsonian's Civil War collections and is complemented by a panoramic narrative chronicling the prewar period through the Reconstruction.

One Summer: America, 1927 (973.91 B916)
by Bill Bryson
Recounts the story of a pivotal cultural year in the United States when mainstream pursuits and historical events were marked by contributions by such figures as Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and Al Capone.

The Big Burn (973.911)
by Timothy Egan
Narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire of August, 1910, and Teddy Roosevelt's pioneering conservation efforts that helped turn public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service with consequences felt in the fires of today.

Isaac’s Storm (976.4139)
by Erik Larson
Provides an account of the hurricane which struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900 and killed ten thousand people.

Unfamiliar Fishes (996.9)
by Sarah Vowell           
An irreverent analysis of late-nineteenth-century imperialism in the United States focuses on the annexation of Hawaii as a defining historical milestone, covering such contributing factors as the missionary overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the activities of whaling fleets.