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10 Unconventional History Books So Good They'll Make You See History with New Eyes

A new look at the same old history

History isn’t boring.

You just haven’t found the right resources.

Today, we are bringing you books that will help you see history through a brand-new lens. From Atomic bombs to food and the dinosaurs to Genghis Khan, everything will be unraveled.

Let’s have a look!

How did the 1929 stock market crash shape American eating habits?

This book is written by a husband and wife, who are both culinary historians.

Through this book, they take us to the 1900s. They bring to our attention the kind of food that was common in America at that time.

After acquainting us with food in the 1900s, the authors take us to the Great Depression.

“Food, like language, is always in motion, propelled by the same events that fill our history books…” 

The Great Depression was a decade-long economic crisis from 1920 to 1939. It happened after the Stock Market crash of 1929. The effects of this reverberated throughout the globe but America was the starting point.

During this time, the food was short, and jobs were gone. How did people and the government cope?

This is precisely what the authors discuss.

The book tells us about the housewives and their creativity in making nutritious food for cheap. They bought cheap meat cuts and started vegetable gardens.

The government also started food charity programs.

This book will provide a social and culinary view of the Great Depression. It will also teach you how historical events shape the food of the future.

How did the weapon of mass destruction come to be?

Richard Rhodes is an American historian and journalist. His book ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’ won the Pulitzer Prize.

Rhodes gives us a detailed history of the leaps and inventions in science that led to the invention of the atomic bomb and its eventual use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He starts with the discovery of radioactive elements in the 1900s.

“Before it is science and career, before it is livelihood, before even it is family or love, freedom is sound sleep and safety to notice the play of morning sun.” 

Eventually, the author brings us to the failure of Germany to obtain nuclear power and the Manhattan Project launched by the US. The first reactor was built and through the work of many scientists, the US was able to create the atomic bomb.

The 2023 movie, ‘Oppenheimer’ also focuses on the Manhattan Project.

Under Harry S. Truman, the US used the nuclear bomb on Japan twice. These are the only two instances of the nuclear bomb being used in war. This bombing led to an unimaginable amount of destruction, casualties, and disastrous aftereffects.

“…the highest form of musicality in the sphere of thought.” 

The book is a bit dense to read but an interesting compilation of the history of nuclear physics.

The ‘ghosts’ in your kitchen.

Bee Wilson explores the history of food technologies.

From fire to using pots, mankind started using technology to help cook food. This allowed humans to soften hard food and remove toxicity from certain plants.

“Technology is not a form of robotics but something very human: the creation of tools and techniques that answer certain uses in our lives.” 

Earlier pots were made from the shells of turtles. Then humans used clay. 3000 years ago we started using metallic pots.

This evolution kept happening throughout history. Now we have countless invisible ‘ghosts’ helping us in our kitchen. Take a blender for instance or the oven.

Our cooking and baking tasks have been made easier by manifold, thanks to these devices.

“From fire onward, there is a technology behind everything we eat, whether we recognize it or not.” 

This book will provide a fascinating outlook on how the modern kitchen came to be.

The picture of history in the frame of a home.

Bill Bryson takes an unconventional and a bit quirky approach to history.

Using the survey of his own home and the rooms in it, he brings up many incidents from history.

“…and it occurred to me, with the forcefulness of a thought experienced in 360 degrees, that that’s really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things.” 

He doesn’t stick to one thing. The author goes into architecture, the history of food preservation, the relationship between humans and pests, and the danger of stairs.

Interesting fact: Did you know that the most deaths occur from injury at stairs than from almost any other cause?

“We are so used to having a lot of comfort in our lives — to being clean, warm, and well fed — that we forget how recent most of that is…” 

This book adopts a very interesting approach to history and is filled with the author’s reflections, anecdotes, and humor.

Let’s meet Genghis Khan and find out his real name.

What did the Mongols eat?

Protein, says Weatherford.

“The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains.” 

The protein gave them strong teeth and bones. The peasant warriors in contrast ate grains only and were weak. This led to the Mongols winning.

The author shares this fact and many more in this tell-all book about Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire.

The real name of Genghis Khan was Temujin. The writer starts with Temujin’s early life. Then he takes us for a ride as Temujin becomes a powerful warrior and leader and takes on the name Genghis Khan.

We learn about the conquests, the rise of the Mongol empire, and its eventual downfall.

“The Mongol’s success arose from their cohesion and discipline, bred over millennia as nomads working in small groups, and from their steadfast loyalty to their leader.” 

The book shows us the pivotal role of the Mongol dynasty in history and its role in shaping today’s world.

You are more in debt than you think.

Every time any neighbor of mine sends a plate of food, I make a mental note to send them something back.

Nothing will happen if I don’t. There is no formal agreement that I have to.

But I do.


Because human relations work on give and take. By accepting food from neighbors, I owe them.

This is simply what David Graeber discusses in his book.

“Solitary pleasures will always exist, but for most human beings, the most pleasurable activities almost always involve sharing something: music, food, liquor, drugs, gossip, drama, beds.” 

Humans are social. We need social relationships to flourish. Our relations are formed on this unsaid debt principle. This has been the case throughout our history according to the author.

This book discusses debt that exists in different forms whether it is marriage, friendship, slavery, law, or religion.

In short, debt is a social and moral relation, not purely a monetary one.

“For thousands of years, violent men have been able to tell their victims that those victims owe them something. If nothing else, they “owe them their lives” (a telling phrase) because they haven’t been killed.” 

This book will make you look at human relationships with an entirely new perspective.

They glowed in the dark but paid for it with their lives.

This is the first time I have heard of this part of history.

During World War I, many women started working at corporations where they had to paint watches’ dials with radium. The pay was good and most of the women found the work to be better as compared to other jobs.

“The decay in Irene’s jaw was eating her alive, bit by bit.” 

But they didn’t know that they were ingesting poison as a result of their work.

The negative effects of radium started coming to light after World War I but the corporations didn’t stop since they wanted to earn profits.

Moore tells us the heartbreaking stories of many women who worked this job. They suffered an unimaginable amount.

“Just as the girls’ glow had once done, as they walked home through the streets of Orange after work, her bones had made a picture: an eerie, shining light against the dark.” 

Many died, and others became gravely ill. A group of them sued the corporation they worked for.

After the formal paper on the negative effects of Radium on dial painters was published, these factories were shut down.

A revised look at Indigenous Americans.

Charles C. Mann forces us to have a new outlook on the culture of Indigenous Americans.

It is thought that they lived in scattered groups and didn’t alter their surroundings as much. The author questions these claims.

He tells us how the indigenous Americans used fire to clear land for agriculture and were pretty advanced.

“Cultures are like books, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once remarked, each a volume in the great library of humankind.” 

However, the Columbian and colonial view downplays the significance of their culture and work.

The author traces the migrations of the past using the carbon dating of the bones that have been found.

“Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures.” 

This book also discusses ancient civilizations that existed in Native America.

Charles C. Mann’s work will force you to have a critical look at your beliefs about the Native Americans.

She is immortal even though she is dead.

This book will blow your mind especially if science and biology fascinate you.

The writer tells us the story of a woman named Henrietta Lacks.

She was an African-American woman who died in 1951. She was 31 when she died and suffered from an aggressive form of cervical cancer.

Cells were taken from her tumor when she was alive and cultured in the lab. Scientists discovered that the cells were immortal and multiplied at a very fast pace.

“Henrietta’s cells have now been living outside her body far longer than they ever lived inside it…” 

Her cells were named HeLa, taken from her name. HeLa cells have helped in multiple scientific advancements. They have played an important part in polio vaccines, cloning, gene mapping, and more.

There are ‘trillions’ of her cells growing around the world in various laboratories.

“Only cells that had been transformed by a virus or a genetic mutation had the potential to become immortal.” 

All this has been done without permission from Lacks’ family. The author shares other cases of unethical medical practice.

As much as the story this book tells is fascinating, it also raises a myriad of ethical issues in medical studies and research.

Time to visit the dinosaurs.

Steve Brusatte is a paleontologist and an evolutionary biologist. Using his expertise and knowledge, he gives us a thorough trip through the world of dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs ruled the world for 150 million years until they were all wiped out.

“Elegant in its simplicity, so far-reaching in its implications, today we regard Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as one of fundamental rules underpinning the world as we know it.” 

The author tells us about various species of dinosaurs, how they adapted to their habitat, and how they were built.

T-Rex needed strong jaws to crush the predator’s skull. But as a result, he also needed a strong skull. Otherwise, the force would damage his own skull.

“…it wasn’t enough for T. rex to have massive teeth and huge jaw muscles — it also needed a skull that could withstand the tremendous stresses that occurred each time it snapped its jaws shut.” 

Brusatte also informs us of the various techniques used by paleontologists. Through CAT scans, they can look inside skulls and bones without damaging them.

Similarly, advanced microscopic techniques allow scientists to study pigment remnants. This helps them predict the color of a certain dinosaur.

Every dinosaur lover must read this well-written and well-researched book.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

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