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In the past few years there has been a surge of what I call “specialty” books: books about very specific, arcane topics. Here is a list of some of these.

General Topics

  • The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution by Henry Schlesinger
  • Cattle: An Informal Social History by Laurie Winn Carlson
  • Circles: A Mathematical View by Daniel Pedoe
  • Circumference by Nicholas Nicastro
  • Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese
  • Cod by Mark Kurlansky
  • Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber by Stephen Yafa
  • Crude: The Story of Oil by Sonia Shah
  • Hydrogen by John S. Rigden
  • Ice by Mariana Gosnell
  • Latitude by Bill Carter and Merri Sue Carter
  • The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession by Virginia Scott Jenkins
  • Longitude by Dana Sobel
  • One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and Screw by Witold Rybczynski
  • Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane
  • Parallax by Alan W. Hirshfeld
  • The Pencil by Henry Petroski
  • Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element by Jeremy Bernstein
  • Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World by Amir D. Aczel
  • Salt by Mark Kurlansky
  • Sand: The Never-Ending Story by Michael Welland
  • The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes
  • Steam by Andrea Sutcliffe
  • The Toothpick by Henry Petroski
  • Universal Foam by Sidney Perkowitz
  • Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World by Tom Zoellner
  • Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty by Robert D. Friedel


  • Black: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau
  • Blue: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau
  • Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
  • Indigo by Catherine E. McKinley
  • Mauve by Simon Garfield
  • A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield


  • Bacon: A Love Story by Heather Lauer
  • The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread by Maria Balinka
  • Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel
  • Bananas: An American History by Virginia Scott Jenkins
  • Beans: A History by Ken Albala
  • Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Andrew Rimas
  • Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar by Peter Macinnis
  • Citrus: A History by Pierre Laszlo
  • Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild
  • Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip by Dirk Burhans
  • Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages by Anne Mendelson
  • Pancake: A Global History by Ken Albala
  • Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America by Andrew F. Smith
  • Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent by John Reader
  • The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World by Larry Zuckerman
  • The Root Beer Book: A Celebration of America's Best-Loved Soft Drink by Laura E. Quarantiello
  • Spice by Jack Turner
  • Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef by Mark Schatzker
  • The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell
  • The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson
  • Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson
  • The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe
  • Uncommon Grounds: The History Of Coffee And How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast
  • Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance by Patricia Rain
  • Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid by Tim Ecott


  • The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero by Robert Kaplan
  • Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife
  • Gamma by Julian Havil
  • The Square Root of 2 by David Flannery
  • The Divine Proportion by H.E. Huntley
  • The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio
  • e: The Story of a Number by Eli Maor
  • A History of π by Petr Beckmann
  • The Joy of π by David Blatner
  • The Number π by Pierre Eymard and Jean-Pierre Lafon
  • π: A Biography of the World's Most Mysterious Number by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann
  • π Unleashed by Jörg Arndt and Christoph Haenel
  • An Imaginary Tale: The Story of √-1 by Paul J. Nahin
  • Keys to Infinity by Clifford Pickover


  • AD 381 by Charles Freeman
  • 428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire by Giusto Traina
  • The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium by Robert Lacey
  • 1066: The Year of Conquest by David Armine Howarth
  • 1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger
  • 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
  • 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance by Gavin Menzies
  • 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
  • America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus by Alvin M. Josephy Jr.
  • 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann
  • 1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus
  • The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America by Colin G. Calloway
  • 1776 by David McCullough
  • The Summer of 1787 by David O. Stewart
  • 1789 by David Andress
  • 1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman
  • 1831: Year of Eclipse by Louis P. Masur
  • 1848: Year of Revolution by Mike Rapport
  • 1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See by Bruce Chadwick
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
  • 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History by Charles Bracelen Flood
  • 1877: America's Year of Living Violently by Michael A. Bellesiles
  • America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation by Jim Rasenberger
  • 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs—The Election that Changed the Country by James Chace
  • 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents by David Pietrusza
  • 1938: Hitler's Gamble by Giles MacDonogh
  • 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America by David Pietrusza
  • 1959: The Year Everything Changed by Fred Kaplan
  • 1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky

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Copyright © 2006 David G. Simpson


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Page last updated: July 4, 2012.