Librarian's Picks: One-Word Wonders

Detail from the cover of Toby Cecchini's 'Cosmopolitan'

hide captionDetail from the cover of Toby Cecchini's Cosmopolitan: A Bartender's Life.

  • 1. Cosmopolitan: A Bartender's Life, by Toby Cecchini
  • 2. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansky
  • 3. Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, by Henry Petroski
  • 4. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife
  • 5. E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis
  • 6. One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw Witold Rybczynski
  • 7. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach
  • 8. Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky

Readers of history have become accustomed to their favorite books having a certain heft to them. But the trend of micro-histories, books that explore a specific — sometimes absurdly so — subject in depth, is threatening to leave weighty tomes on bookstore shelves.

From cod to pencils — or even screwdrivers — writers are taking an historical approach to subjects that are often overlooked in modern life. But at their best, the books that result can shed light on obscure topics, or provide a new way of looking at history itself.

Librarian Nancy Pearl is the author of a book of recommended reading, and the model for a librarian action figure.

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Books Featured In This Story

Cosmopolitan
Cosmopolitan

A Bartender's Life

by Toby Cecchini

Hardcover, 238 pages | purchase

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  • Cosmopolitan
  • A Bartender's Life
  • Toby Cecchini
Cod
Cod

A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

by Mark Kurlansky

Paperback, 294 pages | purchase

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  • Cod
  • A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
  • Mark Kurlansky

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One Good Turn

by Witold Rybczynski

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