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9 new books to explore our shared cultural history [reading list]

How did the Peanuts gang respond to—and shape–—postwar American politics? How did a single game become a cultural touchstone for urban Chinese Americans in the 1930s, incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II, and Jewish American suburban mothers? Were nineteenth-century Brits very, deeply bored?

Cultural and social history bring to life the beliefs, understandings, and motivations of peoples throughout time. Explore these nine books to expand your understanding of who we are.

1. Charlie Brown’s America by Blake Scott Ball

In post-war America, there was no comic strip more recognizable than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Unbeknownst to many, this beloved icon subtly drew on the reality of the time and addressed pressing political issues. Charlie Brown’s America takes the reader on a historical journey of American culture from the Vietnam War, racial integration, feminism, and the future of a nuclear world through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy.

2. Whites and Reds by Stephen V. Bittner

Bittner journeys through the deeply-rooted history of wine revealing why it is at the heart of Russian culture. In the first historical study of its kind, discover how the Russian and Soviet viniculture reveals the instabilities and peculiarities of their respective empires.

The Cancer Problem3. The Cancer Problem by Agnes Arnold-Forster

By telling the untold stories of many cancer sufferers in nineteenth-century Britain, The Cancer Problem offers the first historical study of the disease during this time. Agnes Arnold-Foster, a social, cultural, and medical historian, argues it was during these nineteenth-century years that cancer developed the emotional and symbolic status it holds today.

4. Newspaper Confessions: A History of Advice Columns in a Pre-internet Age by Julia Golia

Newspaper Confessions explores the hidden history of newspaper advice columns, asking the question what can we learn about the internet today through this century-old news feature? This thought-provoking book explores the power of “virtual communities” and offers an eye-opening perspective on how early advice columns were essential in defining communication in modern-day America.

Mahjong5. Mahjong by Annelise Heinz

Mahjong is symbolic of the cultural journey that connects American expatriates in Shanghai, Chinese Americans in the 1930s, incarcerated Japanese Americans in wartime, and Jewish suburban mothers. By narrating the history of this Chinese game, Heinz illustrates how Mahjong defined ethnic communities and social cultures in the United States. Discover how this single game signifies both a level of belonging and separation in modern day American culture.

6. Camping Grounds by Phoebe S.K. Young

What does it mean to camp? Phoebe S.K. Young asks this simple question as she discovers the little-known histories of sleeping outside, revealing that camping is more than just an outdoor recreational activity. Camping Grounds takes a deep look into camping since the Civil War and explores its links to the central American value of national belonging.

Empire of Ruins7. Empire of Ruins by Miles Orvell

Why were nineteenth-century Americans so utterly fascinated with the ruins of Rome and Egypt? For many, these ruins symbolized a past of ancient mystery as well as an unknown future. In Empire Ruins, the award-winning author highlights the power of visual media and its ability to transform devastation into a thing of beauty.

8. London’s West End: Creating the Pleasure District, 1800-1914 by Rohan McWilliam

From a place that once only served aristocracy to now the world’s leading pleasure district, the West End of London has become the heart of the consumer and entertainment industries. London’s West End journeys through the making of this now widely public, luxurious, and prestigious space, highlighting how this modest district has shaped much of modern-day, consumer society.

Imperial Boredom9. Imperial Boredom by Jeffrey A. Auerbach

What was life in the British Empire really like? This thoroughly-researched book provides a new lens to examine the working and living experiences of men and women in the Empire, suggesting the perceived lavish lifestyle was not reality. Imperial Boredom challenges the long-established view that it was a time of adventure and excitement, arguing that life for many in nineteenth-century Britain was in fact unfulfilling, and “boring.”

Featured image by Justine ft via Unsplash

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