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This page updated 15 october 2014

Stop Press: For a glance at a remarkable (and hellish) art gallery website designed in Slovakia by a young Australia spending 2001 there, Joel Byrnes, go to the URL below. The website needs FLASH plugin to be appreciated, and is rather slow to load, but worth it. The sound and visual effects are intriguing, and the better your equipment, the better the effect. Highly recommended -Ed.
Check out: http://www.adeptusproductions.com/gallery/

Books - Commodities, Topics and Modern Mysteries

Explanation of this page. The books listed here are hard to categorise, which is going to make this page seem quite quaint. Many of the listings arise due to a new fashion (or category) in history-writing, the history of a particular commodity, such as tea, coffee, chocolate. There are other new trends in book publishing to be watched. Scepticism about the role of consumerism in modern life and its ills in the Western World; some criticisms arising due to environmental concerns, but which are more "cultural" than scientific, economic or sociological; some wonderment arising from the use of modern communications equipment and gadgets. Or otherwise, books on specific topics, some of them fearful (such as cancer, or, famine) - books tending to arise from a kind of modern, hyper-informed sensibility which wishes to put older-style history in the shade, because it is better-informed. Suffice to say, this website has become complicated enough to manage, the webmaster would not break out a new page on these kinds of topics unless he felt there are new trends of comment afoot in books and writing that we really should notice. - Ed


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Catalin Avramescu (trans. by Alistair Ian Blyth), An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. Princeton University Press, 2009, 350pp. (A book that seems to take everyone by surprise, if they don't find it strangely indigestible)

Natalie Angier, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Scribe, 2008, 304pp.

Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. Phoenix, 2008, 327pp.

Judith A. Adams, The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills. Boston, Twayne Publ., 1991.

Robert E. Adler, Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome. John Wiley and Sons, 2004, 232pp.

A al-Hassan and D. R. Hill, Islamic Technology. Cambridge University Press, 1986.

David Alexander, Confronting Catastrophe: New Perspectives on Natural Disasters. Oxford University Press, nd? Remaindered, 2003.

William Alexander and Arthur Street, Metals in the Service of Man. Pelican, 1962.

Karen Armstrong, A History of God: From Abraham to the Present: The 4000-Year Quest for God.. London, Mandarin, 1994.

D. C. Ashlimann, (Trans.), Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths. 1998.


Michael Brooks, 13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries Of Our Times. Profile Books, 2010, 240pp.

Cynthia Stokes Brown, Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. The New Press, 2008, 288pp.

Jonathan Balcombe, Pleasurable Kingdom: animals and the nature of feeling good. Palgrave Mcmillan, 2007, 280pp. (An examination of the emotions of animals. Wonders whether pleasure is adaptive. Do animals have emotions, indeed?)

Paul Bairoch, Cities and Economic Development: From the Dawn of History to the Present. nd?

Andrew Barr, Drink: An Informal Social History. London, Bantam, 1995.

John D. Barrow, The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe. Pantheon, 2001.

Hugh Barty-King, The Worst Poverty: A History of Debt and Debtors. Gloucestershire, England, Alan Sutton, 1991.

Peter Bernstein, Against All Odds. Wiley, 1998-199. (History of mathematics + gambling + finance).

Anna Bernasek, The Economics of Integrity. Harper Collins, 2010, 195pp.

Ian Bickerton, The Illusion of Victory: The True Costs of War. Melbourne University Press, 2011, 241pp. (Conducts a cost-benefit analysis of major, European-based wars in the past 200 years) )

Clark Blaise, Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000. 246pp.

Howard Bloom, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History. St Leonards, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1995.

Howard Bloom, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000.

Rose Brady, Kapitalizm: Russia's Struggle to Free its Economy. Yale University Press, 289pp, 2000.

Linda Brimm, Global Cosmopolitans: The Creative Edge of Difference. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 252pp.

John Brockman, (Ed.), The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2000 Years. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000.

James Buchan, Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money. Picador, 320pp., 1998.

Joanna Burke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare. Publisher ?, 1999. 564pp.


Ken Carey, The Third Millennium: Living in the Post-Historic World . Harper/SanFrancisco, 1991-1995.

His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World. Blue Door, 2010, 336pp. (Life in an age of disconnectedness from nature as seen by a prince of the realm)

John Chipello, Hack Attacks Encyclopedia: A Complete History of Hacks, Cracks, Phreaks and Spies Over Time. 2001. (Complete with CD-ROM)

Patricia Churchland, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. Princeton University, 2011, 260pp.

Janet Clarkson, Pie: A Global History. Reaktion, 2009, 136pp.

Brian Clegg, Light Years: An Exploration of Mankind's Enduring Fascination with Light. Piaktus, 2001, 310pp.

David Crystal, Evolving English. British Library (UK), 2011, 158pp.


Richard Deacon, John Dee: Scientist, Geographer, Astrologer and Secret Agent to Elizabeth 1. London, Frederick Muller, 1968.

Noel Deerr, The History of Sugar. Two Vols. London, Chapman and Hall, 1949-1950.

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Village, 1998.

Peter Doherty, A Light History of Hot Air. Melbourne University Press, 2007, 302pp. (On hot air balloons)

Judith Dupre, Bridges: A History of the World's Most Famous and Important Spans. Konnemann, 1999.


Bob Ellis, The Capitalism Delusion. Penguin, 2009, 306pp.

Sarah Ellison, War At The Wall Street Journal. Text Books, 2010, 255pp. (Story of how Rupert Murdoch acquired ownership of The Wall Street Journal)

John Emsley, The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison. No details, 2006.

Michael Evans and Alan Ryan, (Eds.), The Human Face of Warfare: Killing, Fear and Chaos in Battle. Allen and Unwin, 2000. 265pp.


Patricia Fara, An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment. Icon Books, 2002, 177pp. (History of use of electrical power).

Martin Feil, The Failure of Free-Market Economics. Scribe Books, 2010, 266pp.

Elizabeth Finkel, Stem Cells: Controversy At The Frontiers of Science. ABC Books, 2005, 282pp.

Jean-Louis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari and Albert Sonnenfeld, (Eds), Food: A Culinary History. Columbia University Press, 1999.

Michael Foley, The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy. Simon and Schuster, 2011, 260pp.

Andrew Fowler, The Most Dangerous Man in the World. Melbourne University Press, 2011, 271pp. (On Wikileaks information-release pioneer, Julian Assange)

William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling, Blowout in the Gulf. MIT Press, 2011, 25400. (On the problems of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010).

John Chipello, Hack Attacks Encyclopedia: A Complete History of Hacks, Cracks, Phreaks and Spies Over Time. 2001. (Complete with CD-ROM)


Simon Garfield, Mauve. Faber, 2000. (Yes, the history of the invention of a colour, which indirectly led to advances in medicine, food, perfumery and explosives)

Ross Garnaut, The Great Crash of 2008. Melbourne University Press, 2009, 256pp.

James Gleik, What Just Happened: A Chronicle From The Information Frontier. Abacus, 2002.

James Gleick, Isaac Newton. Harper Collins, 2003. (New view of the Newtonian Universe, with Newton seen by a reviewer as "an inspired madman"... a man with some odd personality traits, his obsession with alchemy and the colour crimson, nastiness to critics, secrecy, advocacy of capital punishment for currency fraud. One reviewer says, this is "without doubt the finest life of science's most perplexing figure")

James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. Fourth Estate, 2011, 544pp. (Gleick says, “In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.” Which seems rather debatable)

Howard Goodall, Big Bangs: The Story of Five Discoveries that Changed Musical History. Vintage, 2001. 238pp.

Walter Gratzer, Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes. Oxford University Press, 2002, 301pp.

Alan Gurney, Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation. WW Norton, 2004, 320pp.

Allen Guttman, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports. nd?

Ronald Greeley and Raymond Batson, The Compact NASA Atlas of the Solar System. No details, 2006.


Graham Harman, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. repressm 2010, 258pp. (On ideas about multi-realism, given that certain things can be quite real without being the least understood from a human perspective)

Richard Hamblyn, The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies. 2001-2002.

Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution. Earthscan, 2000, 395pp.

Stephen Hawking (Ed.), On The Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. Running Press, 2003, 1266 pp.

H. R. Hays, From Ape to Angel: An Informal History of Social Anthropology. London, Methuen, 1958.

Hal Hellman, Great Feuds in Medicine: Ten of the Livliest Disputes Ever. John Wiley and Sons, 2001. 237pp.

Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Simon and Schuster, 2-011, 388pp. (Also suggests that our economic behaviour (re investments, stock exchange, etc) is greatly a matter of our neurobiology, not just of rational calculation)

Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley, Londongrad. Fourth Estate, 2009, 402pp. (How the new breed of Russian oligarchs are settling into London and the UK)

Hannah Holmes, The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little ThingsM. Wiley, 2001, 240pp.



Tim Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet. New South Books, 2010, 264pp.

Diarmid Jeffreys, Aspirin: The Story of a Wonder Drug. Bloomsbury, 2004, 335pp.

Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software. Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 2001.


Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Please Explain. HarperCollins, 2007, 245pp. (Nature and science issues with explanation. Why do we yawn, near-death experiences, all sorts of fascinating questions and answers)

Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero. Penguin, 2001.

Tom Keneally, Three Famines. Knopf Australia. 2010, 3200pp. (Famines in Ireland, 1845, in Ethiopia 1970s, and in Bengal, 1942)

Tony Kevin, Crunch Time. Scribe, 2009, 306pp. (On the 2008 Global Financial Crash)

David Kinley, Civilising Globalisation: Human Rights and the Global Economy. Cambridge University Press, 2010, 256pp.

Ray Kurzwell, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Allen and Unwin, 338pp., 1998-1999.

Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.: Viking, 2005, 652pp. (Check out weird words and weird trends, "extropianism", Christian Millenarianism and cults of technology. Not a good mix, the author suspects. The author is a "robotics contractor" to the US military)


Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, The Year 1000. Little-Brown, 1999.

Bill Laws, Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History. Crows Nest, 2011, 224pp. (Well-illustrated. And a book that's just perfect, says one reviewer)

Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. Penguin Australia, 2010. (On high-stakes games with credit default swaps to 2008 prior to the GFC)

John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, The Book of General Ignorance. details mislaid. (eg, The French did not invent champagne, the single most dangerous animal is the mosquito. A lot of what we think we know is wrong.)

Robert Lomas, The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century. Headline Publishing, nd? (On the Serbian-American inventor, Nikola Tesla died 1943, some of whose ideas may have been behind the invention of electric light and radio?)

Torbjorn Lundemark, Quirky Qwerty: The Story of the Keyboard @ Your Fingertips. University of New South Wales Press, 2001.


Patrick E. McGovern, Uncorking The Past. University of California Press, 2010, 330pp. (On the human love of alcohol, and why)

New economics - Deirdre N. McLoskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. University of Chicago Press, 2011, 571pp.

Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects. Penguin, 2011. (A book that reviewers tend to rave about)

Charles Mackay, (On investment bubbles in history), Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. 1841.

Fred Magdoff and Michael D. Yates, The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know. Monthly Review Press, 2010, 145pp. (Too much old-fashioned leftist sloganizing, cliches and posturing, says a critic, this is all just Marx and the class war)

David Malouf, The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern World. Quarterly Essay 41, Black Inc, 2011, 108pp.

John Man, The Gutenberg Revolution: The story of a technical genius and an invention that changed the world. Hodder Headline, 2002, 307pp.

Christine Manfield, Spice. Viking, 1999.

Tilar J. Mazzeo, The Secret of Chanel No. 5. Harpers, 2011, 281pp.

Susan D. Moeller, Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death. Routledge, 1999.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Fourth Estate, 2011, 571pp.

Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews. Princeton University Press, 2010, 272pp. (Conspiracy theory artists will just love this one!)



Mick O'Hare, (Ed.), How To Make a Tornado: The Strange and Wonderful Things that Happen when Scientists Break Free. Allen and Unwin, 2010, 219pp (Another of the enthusiastically quirky books on science that form a modern trend)


Michael Pastoureau, Black: The History of a Colour. Princeton University Press, 2009, 213pp.

Joao Magueijo Perseus, Faster Than The Speed of Light. Perseus, 2003, 279pp. (Argues that the speed of light can vary. Physicist Prof. Paul Davies has expressed reservations here)

Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts: How To Tell Science from Bunk. University of Chicago Press, 2010, 332pp.

James Pool, Hitler and his Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards. Pocket Books, 415pp, 1999.

Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present. Harper-Collins, 1998/1999.

William Powers, Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. Scribe, 2011, 267pp.


Joseph Michael Reagle Jnr, Wikipedia: Good Faith Collaboration. The MIT Press, 2011, 244pp.

Oria Ryan, Chocolate Nations. Zed Books, 2011, 182pp. (A treatment of nations which provide us with cocoa beans for chocolate. Unfortunately, in Africa, many of the farmers producing cocoa beans have never seen or tasted the kind of chocolate we buy in our supermarkets from companies which perhaps are multinationals. Try that on for a sense of modern justice! -Ed)


David Shenk, The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or how 32 carved pieces on a board illuminated our understanding of war, science and the human brain. Anchor Books, 2008, 327pp.  (On game of chess)

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Picador, 2007, 368pp. (How the human brain responds to music and musicianship)

Charles Seife, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. Penguin, 2001.

Simon Singh, The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. Fourth Estate, 402pp., 1999.

Dava Sobel, Longitude. New York, Walker and Co., 1997.

Rebecca L. Spang, The Invention of the Restaurant. Harvard University Press, 2000. (The restaurant of France was invented in Paris by Alexandre Balthasar Laurent Grimod de la Reyniere, in the 1760s. de la Reyniere was a good writer, but not a chef. One wonders however about the role of London coffee houses as early as the 1720s?)

Robert Tavemor, Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity. Yale University Press, 2008, 249pp. (On the various measuring systems which have been used by humanity over aeons, go figure)

Herve This, Building a Meal: From Molecuar Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism. Columbia University Press, 2009, 185pp. (On food technology, quirkily scientific/technical but quite entertaining, a critic finds)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Allen Lane, 2007, 366pp. (From a statistician with a sense of humour; the world is random, tap into it and enjoy)

R. Tannahill, Food in History. Penguin, 1988. Also, Sex in History. Cardinal, 1989.

Joseph Stiglitz, Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy. Allen Lane, 2010. (Partly about the 2008 GFC)


Lenore Taylor and David Uren, Shitstorm. Melbourne University Press, 2010, 278pp. (On the Australian government's reaction to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, excellent journalism here a reviewer thinks)

Henk Tennekes, The Simple Science of Flight: From Insects to Jumbo Jets. MIT Press, 2009, 201pp.

Peter Toohey, Boredom: A Lively History. Yale University Press, 2011, 212pp. (Boredom is normal, is a useful warning, a tolerable part of a productive life, it can be helpful)


Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything. University of California Press, 2011, 265pp.

Federico Varese, Mafias On The Move: How Organised Crime Conquers New Territories. Princeton University Press, 2011, 278pp.

WWW - The World

Peter Warburton, Debt and Delusion: Central Bank Follies that Threaten Economic Disaster. Penguin, 2000.

Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us: The Globalisation of the American Psyche. Scribe, 2010, 306pp.

Gavin Weightman, Signor Marconi's Magic Box: How an Amateur Inventor Defied Scientists and Began the Radio Revolution. HarperCollins, 2003, 312pp.

Steven Weinberg, Facing Up: Science and its Cultural Adversaries. Harvard University Press, 2001.

Michael Wilding, Raising Spirits: Making Gold and Swapping Wives: The True Adventures of Dr John Dee and Sir Edward Kelly. Abbott Bentley, 2000.

Jonathan Williams, (Ed.), Money: A History. London. British Museum Press/Thames and Hudson, 1997.

James D. Wolfensen with Jill Margo, A Global Life. Macmillan, 2010, 462pp. (Autobiography of an Australian who made it to the top in America, and saw some topsy-turvy)

Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Profile, 2010, 320pp.

Sue Woolfe, The Mystery of the Cleaning Lady: A Writer Looks at Obsession, Creativity and Neuroscience. University of Western Australia Press, 2007, 145pp.

The World

The World, in general ... (headscratching territory, very possibly)




Now return to the Index

Stop Press: For late entries

Geoff Mulgan, Good and Bad Power: The Ideals and Betrayal of Government. No details, 2006. (Explaining modern-day cynicism/disillusion about politics and government)

Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Harvard University Press, 2010, l338pp.

Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations. Princeton University Press, 2009, 236pp.

Michel Foucault, The History of Madness. Routledge, 2009, 725pp.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilisation. Text Publishing, 2007.

Mark Barber, Urban Legends: An Investigation into the Truth Behind the Myths. Wakefield Press, 2007, 318pp.

Pierre Arnaud Chouvy, Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy. Harvard University Press, 2010, 256pp.

Robert I. Rotberg, Worst of the Worst: Dealing With Repressive and Rogue Nations. Brookings Institute Press, 2007, 342pp.

commod psych Stefan Klein, The Secret Pulse of Time: Making Sense of Life's Scarcest Commodity. (Translated by Shelley Fish) Scribe, 2007, 368pp.

commod Thor Gotaas, Running: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2009, 320pp.

Ignatiev, How The Irish Became White. Taylor and Francis Pty Ltd, 2008, 320pp, (On the Irish in America from the Eighteenth Century)

Alison Weir, The Lady In The Tower: The Fall Of Anne Boleyn. Jonathan Cape, 2009, 416pp.

Joseph Cummins, First Encounters. Pier 9 Books, 2009, 319pp. (First encounters of peoples, quite a lot on history of exploration/colonizations)

Simon Dixon, Catherine The Great. Profile, 2009, 432pp.

Psychology - Stanislaus Dehane, Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of Human Invention. Viking Adult Books, 400pp.

Kathy Lette, Men: A User's Guide. Bantam Press, 2010, 184pp.

On porn: Janna Jameson with Neil Strauss, How To Make Love Like A Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. Regan Books, 2005, 579pp.

Eluned Summers-Bremner, Insomnia: A Cultural History. Reaktion Books, 2008, 224pp.

Jerome Groopman, MD, How Doctors Think. Scribe, 2007, 307pp.

Jonathan Biggins, The 700 Habits of Highly Ineffective People. MUP, 2007, 250pp. (Satire, of course)

Philosophy, A. C. Grayling, The Choice of Hercules: Pleasure, Duty and the Good Life in the 21st Century. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008, 184pp.

Simon Leys, Other People's Thoughts. Black Inc., 2007, 1600pp. (Reflections of a thoughtful reader)

Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. Allen Lane, 2008, 499pp.

David Eagleman, Incognito. Text, 2011, 290pp. (Argues that what we think we see is an illusion, has much on the mysteries of the human brain)

Jean Leymaire, Eternal Chanel. Thames and Hudson, 2011, 258pp. (History of a perfume)

E. J. Gold, The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus. The Labyrinth Trilogy. Book 1. Nevada City, IDHHB Inc., 1984, 1985.

More to come

Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Colour of Desire. Black Swan, 2006, 430pp. (A history of the colour red).

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