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An Uncommon History of Common Things

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Our inquisitive species just loves tinkering, testing, and pushing the limits, and this delightfully different book is a freewheeling reference to hundreds of customs, notions, and inventions that reflect human ingenuity throughout history.

From hand tools to holidays to weapons to washing machines, this book features hundreds of colorful illustrations, time lines, sidebars, and more as it explores just about every subject under the sun.

Who knew that indoor plumbing has been around for 4,600 years, but punctuation, capital letters, and the handy spaces between written words date back only to the Dark Ages? Or that ancient soldiers baked a kind of pizza on their shields—when they weren't busy flying kites to frighten their foes?

Every page of this quirky compendium catalogs something fascinating, surprising, or serendipitous.

A lively, incomparably browsable read for history buffs, pop culture lovers, and anyone who relishes the odd and extraordinary details hidden in the everyday, it will inform, amuse, astonish—and alter the way you think about the clever creatures we call humans.


  • Hardcover
  • 304 pages, 300+ color photographs
  • 7 3/8" x 9 1/2"
  • © 2009

Book Excerpt

The Uncommon History of Wine

  • From the Latin Vinum (Wine)
  • Popular types: Red, White, Sparkling, Dessert
  • “Variety” in winemaking is the type of grape used

Wild grapes have existed for millions of years. Make that tens of millions–the oldest fossilized vine is dated at about 60 million years old. However, wild grapes are small and sour. The first grapes to be made into wine were domesticated, made possible by cultures that had settled and begun to grow annual crops. The oldest wine container finds have been in what are now modern-day Georgia and Iran (where it was called mei). University of Pennsylvania researchers now believe the domesticated grape may first have been planted in Georgia, then spread south.

Just one grape, Vitis vinifera, is the species responsible for 4,000 varieties around the world, but only a relatively small percentage of those are cultivated into wine. Wine production dates back about 6,500 years in Greece, and both red and white wine were important in ancient Egypt. Wine became a commodity in ancient Rome, where barrels and bottles first were used for its storage. The oldest existing bottle of wine is from a Roman colony near what is now Speyer, Germany. That bottle contains some olive oil, an early method of preserving the fermented grape juice, before corks came into use.

After winemaking spread from the Roman Empire throughout western Europe, wine became a preferred beverage in nearly all of those countries, with regional types like sherry (from the port of Jerez), Riesling (grown along the Rhine), and Tokay (a sweet Hungarian varietal) gaining favor, too.

All of these varietals were placed in jeopardy in1863 when the North American root louse Phylloxera vastatrix was brought to Europe, decimating European rootstocks for decades. After a Texan horticulturist named Thomas Munson realized the way to save European vines was through grafting them to American stock, the great vineyards were saved, albeit forever changed.

Nowadays, wineries have become much more than the place where the grapes are grown and the wine made. Many wineries are tourist destinations with overnight accommodations and tasting menus that pair foods with wines. They may also act as wedding sites and corporate conference venues.

Most winery-area real estate is expensive. Modern farming techniques have helped wineries figure out ways to get more mileage out of their acreage while not weakening the soil. Such techniques as vertical shoot positioning (VSP), in which the growth of the vines is highly controlled, results in a very neat, tight canopy. Rather than allowing vines to sprawl, VSP promotes sustainable growth. It's also healthier for the vines, making them less susceptible to disease and able to get shading from their neighbors and leading to more uniform quality.


Interesting Book


Purchased several copies of this book to use as gifts for my grandsons. They all love to know how things work, who invented them, etc. I think they will enjoy this book.




Very Informative


This is a very good product. It is both very informative and easy to read. I use it as reference all the time. Add to it, the fact that the illustrations are good and the research behind it thorough.

Casual Reader

New York, NY


An Uncommon History of Common Things


good size, not too big, if reading in bed


Mirror, Alberta, Canada


Perfect Fun Read


I use the book to relax


Boston, MA


Great read for inquisitive children.


This is a great read for our 12 year old grandson. I expect lots of e-mail contact from him as he reads it. We will have lots to discuss.


Chambersburg, PA


Couldn't put it down.


This is a fascinating look at the origins everyday items. It is very entertaining and I am enjoying it immensely. It isn't a book you read in one setting, it's a book to keep by your favorite chair to pick up & read at your leisure.

Grandma in Heber

Heber City, UT


Enjoying It!


Originally ordered this book for my husband for Christmas. He enjoys reading it every evening and I pick it up when I am able to sit and read. Since we enjoy it so much, I have purchased 2 more copies for our sons and their families! If you are a person who Loves Trivia, this would be a Great Purchase for you!




Great book for quick reading


Great gift and "bathroom" book


Indianola, Iowa


An Uncommon History of Common Things

4.4 8