The Coolest History Books You Didn't Know Existed

The phrase "History book" might give you flashbacks to high school social studies classes, but there's more to the subject than the dates and figures you memorized while sitting at a desk. The past is replete with astonishing and hilarious tales, and the origins or impact of everyday items might surprise you. From the sticky story of the Great Molasses Flood or the *ahem* hare-raising tale of Mary Toft, who supposedly gave birth to rabbits, browsing the history section can provide you with countless anecdotes, but sometimes you see something so intriguing you're compelled to keep reading. 

So to save you from going too far down a wiki rabbit hole, we've gathered some curiosity-piquing titles that made us want to learn more. And not to mention, if you have any history buffs in your life you could easily use any of these books as a unique and fun holiday gift.

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas By Laura Sook Duncombe Cover Image

In the first-ever comprehensive survey of the world’s female buccaneers, Pirate Women tells of the women, both real and legendary, who through the ages sailed alongside—and sometimes in command of—their male counterparts. These women came from all walks of life but had one thing in common: a desire for freedom.

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past By Sarah Parcak Cover Image

Winner of Archaeological Institute of America's Felicia A. Holton Book AwardA Science Friday Best Science Book of 2019 An Amazon Best Science Book of 2019 A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2019 Nature's Top Ten Books of 2019 A Science News Best Book of 2019

The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History By Kassia St. Clair Cover Image

A Sunday Times (UK) Book of the Year
Shortlisted • Society of Authors' Somerset Maugham Award
A BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week

The best-selling author of The Secret Lives of Color returns with this rollicking narrative of the 30,000-year history of fabric, briskly told through thirteen charismatic episodes.

The Language of Thieves: My Family's Obsession with a Secret Code the Nazis Tried to Eliminate By Martin Puchner Cover Image

Tracking an underground language and the outcasts who depended on it for their survival.

Magic: A History: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present By Chris Gosden Cover Image

An Oxford professor of archaeology explores the unique history of magic—the oldest and most neglected strand of human behavior and its resurgence today

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century By Ian Mortimer Cover Image

Now in paperback, a literary time machine that takes readers into the sights, smells, and tastes of the fourteenth century—a book that is revolutionary in its concept and startling in its portrayal of humanity.

The past is a foreign country. This is your guidebook. A time machine has just transported you back into the fourteenth century. What do you see? How do you dress?

How the Post Office Created America: A History By Winifred Gallagher Cover Image

“’The history of its Post Office is nothing less than the story of America,’ Ms. Gallagher’s opening sentence declares, and in this lively book she makes the case well.”—Wall Street Journal

Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic By Mike Jay Cover Image

A definitive history of mescaline that explores its mind-altering effects across cultures, from ancient America to Western modernity

Mescaline became a popular sensation in the mid-twentieth century through Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, after which the word “psychedelic” was coined to describe it.

The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice By David Hill Cover Image

A 2020 New York Times notable book | One of the Chicago Tribune's best nonfiction books of 2020

"Complex, turbulent, as haunting as a pedal steel solo"
—Jonathan Miles, The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science By Seb Falk Cover Image

Named a Best Book of 2020 by The Telegraph, The Times, and BBC History Magazine

An illuminating guide to the scientific and technological achievements of the Middle Ages through the life of a crusading astronomer-monk.