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Updated: December 28, 2015

These in-depth, historical accounts of small, overlooked, or seemingly ordinary subjects are fascinating and hard to put down.

Banana : the fate of the fruit that changed the world
Koeppel, Dan.
Call Number: 634.772 K78
Koeppel tackles the controversial history of the United Fruit Company, the global banana trade, and the extreme vulnerability of the banana crop to disease in this ambitious, yet relatively brief book.

The billionaire's vinegar : the mystery of the world's most expensive bottle of wine
Wallace, Benjamin, 1968-
Call Number: 663.2 W187
Step into the fascinating world of high-end wine collectors (and counterfeiters), and discover whether the 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafite supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson was the real deal or a clever forgery.

The botany of desire : a plant's eye view of the world
Pollan, Michael.
Call Number: 580 P771 2002
Pollan looks at four ordinary plants - apples, tulips, potatoes, and cannabis - and examines how their deep connections with human society have changed us.

Caviar : the strange history and uncertain future of the world's most coveted delicacy
Saffron, Inga, 1957-
Call Number: 641.392 S128
Once the food of Russian peasants and livestock, Saffron tells the story of how caviar became a delicacy, and why its future existence is threatened.

Charlemagne's tablecloth : a piquant history of feasting
Fletcher, Nichola, 1951-
Call Number: 641.09 F613 2005
Fletcher looks at traditional feasts across time, and around the world, from the lavish feasts of ancient Rome and Persia to cannibalistic Aztec rites to celebrations that are still practiced today, such as Day of the Dead and Mardi Gras.

Cod : a biography of the fish that changed the world
Kurlansky, Mark.
Call Number: 639.2756 K96
Over the centuries, family fortunes have been made, armies raised, industries born, and bellies filled on one very important (and now, very endangered) fish.

The complete beer course : boot camp for beer geeks: from novice to expert in twelve tasting classes
Bernstein, Joshua M.
Call Number: 663.4 B531-1
If you ever needed an excuse to drink craft beer, this is it. In the last ten years American brewing has changed more than in any period since Prohibition, and The Complete Beer Course breaks down this dizzying array of libations in pursuit of one thirst-quenching question: “What makes each beer delicious and different?” Readers are led on a tour that explores beer's four essential ingredients, and the brewing techniques that create each beer’s unique flavor... with tasting suggestions you'll want to study in earnest.

A crack in the edge of the world : America and the great California earthquake of 1906
Winchester, Simon.
Call Number: 979.42 S2241Win
Winchester lucidly explains the science behind the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, as well as the city's fate.

Craze : gin and debauchery in an age of reason
Warner, Jessica.
Call Number: 351.7610942 W282
In 18th century London, gin was "the original urban drug" - it was easy to come by and cheaper than clean drinking water. The result was an annual per capita consumption of 2.2 gallons, and countless efforts by Parliament and figures in polite society to control gin-drinking.

Creamy and crunchy : an informal history of peanut butter, the all-American food
Krampner, Jon, 1952-
Call Number: 641.65659 K89

Peanut butter is not as all-American as once thought. The plant and the butter have their origins in South America.  Because of Spanish and Portuguese traders the plant made its way to India, Malaya, China, other parts of Asia, and Africa where it came to the United States on slave ships.  Many more facts are in this informative and entertaining history, with recipes and a "Peanut Butter Time Line" for its history in America, 1894-2011. 

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's : three men, five great wines, and the evening that changed America
Cerami, Charles A.
Call Number: 973.41 C411
In June 1790, Thomas Jefferson invited his friend James Madison and his political opponent Alexander Hamilton to dinner at his home, in the hopes of reaching a compromise on several key issues that would determine the nation's future.

The drunken botanist : the plants that create the world's great drinks
Stewart, Amy.
Call Number: 581.632 S8485

The history and inventiveness of alcohol is explored in colorful detail, leaving the reader wondering, “What hasn’t been fermented and drunk?”

E=mcp2s : a biography of the world's most famous equation
Bodanis, David.
Call Number: 531.6 B666
Einstein's famous equation is everywhere, from cartoons to pop songs, but few people understand what it means. Bodanis helps make sense of things, one step at a time, in this inviting, accessible book.

Edible memory : the lure of heirloom tomatoes & other forgotten foods
Jordan, Jennifer A., 1970-
Call Number: 635 J823

Over the past few years heirloom vegetables have been the rage, but why? Sociologist Jennifer Jordan analyzes the big picture about this growing interest. One aspect is flavor, and another is nostagia for the memory of vegetables and fruits that really, truly had some unique fragrance and flavor.

Fabergé's eggs : the extraordinary story of the masterpieces that outlived an empire
Faber, Toby, 1965-
Call Number: 739.1 F115Fab

Between 1885 and 1917, Carl Faberge made 50 "imperial eggs" for the czars. During the Russian Revolution, the eggs were smuggled out of the country or sold to fund the new communist government. Not only does Faber find out what happened to the imperial eggs, he also gives readers a gripping story of war and revolt, the biography of a brilliant craftsman and businessman, and the caché the eggs still have today.

The fortune cookie chronicles : adventures in the world of Chinese food
Lee, Jennifer 8., 1976-
Call Number: 641.0951 L478
Fortune cookies are only part of the story here. Lee takes readers on a journey through the history of Chinese food with a particular emphasis on the dishes that Americans are most familiar with. You'll learn the rise of the Chinese takeout restaurant, go inside the soy sauce wars, and uncover the surprising truth about General Tso's chicken.

Ghost map : the story of London's deadliest epidemic--and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world
Johnson, Steven, 1968-
Call Number: 614.514 J69
When an outbreak of cholera swept through a London neighborhood in 1854, it was widely believed that disease spread through foul odors and "miasmas." Dr. John Snow used a radical new approach to trace the outbreak to its source, saving countless lives and ushering in a new era of urban planning and public health policies.

God's secretaries : the making of the King James Bible
Nicolson, Adam, 1957-
Call Number: 220.5 N653
Many books have been written about the creation of the King James Bible, commissioned by James I in 1604, but few are as readable and enjoyable as this one.

The great influenza : the epic story of the deadliest plague in history
Barry, John M., 1947-
Call Number: 614.51809 B279
It is estimated that between 50 and 100 million people worldwide died in the flu epidemic of 1918; yet, it is still a little-known chapter of modern history. Though many books have been written on the subject recently, Barry's book is considered among the most thorough and the most readable.

Gunpowder : alchemy, bombards, and pyrotechnics : the history of the explosive that changed the world
Kelly, Jack, 1949-
Call Number: 623.452 K29
Invented in 10th century China by alchemists searching for the secret of immortality, gunpowder made its way around the world within a few centuries, altering the face of warfare forever.

A history of the world in 6 glasses
Standage, Tom.
Call Number: 394.1 S785
Beginning with the history of beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt, Standage goes on to tie wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola to specific periods in history and significant changes in the world.

Locust : the devastating rise and mysterious disappearance of the insect that shaped the American frontier
Lockwood, Jeffrey Alan, 1960-
Call Number: 595.726 L817
In the late 19th century, trillions (yes, trillions) of locusts devastated the crops of Great Plains settlers, making an already punishing life more difficult. Then, just as suddenly as they'd arrived, the swarms disappeared. Lockwood unravels a biological and historical mystery in this compelling read.

Longitude : the true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time
Sobel, Dava.
Call Number: 526.6209 S677
Before self-educated clockmaker John Harrison invented the chronometer, sailors were literally lost at sea the moment they lost sight of land. Sobel's story of astronomy, sailing, navigation, and betrayal has a novelist's flair.

Mauve : how one man invented a color that changed the world
Garfield, Simon.
Call Number: 540.92 P447Ga 2001
In 1856, a teenager named William Henry Perkin took the byproducts from the coal tar he was working with, and used it to create the world's first synthetic dye. Not only did the discovery make Perkin rich, it led the way for changes in medicine, photography, and the commercial applications of chemistry.

Mosquito : a natural history of our most persistent and deadly foe
Spielman, A.
Call Number: 595.771 S755
An examination of the life and times of one of nature's most despised and destructive creatures, culminating with the hysteria of the West Nile virus outbreak in 1999.

Nathaniel's nutmeg, or, The true and incredible adventures of the spice trader who changed the course of history
Milton, Giles.
Call Number: 338.1S73 C863Mi
In the 17th century, nutmeg was so expensive and so rare in Europe that members of a ships' crew were made to wear clothing without pockets while unloading the spice - even a small sackful of stolen nutmeg could make a man rich for life. Milton's tale of conquest, greed, colonialism, and bravery is both astonishing and bloody.

Pickled, potted, and canned : how the art and science of food preserving changed the world
Shephard, Sue.
Call Number: 641.4809 S547 2000
From unusual embalming fluids used throughout history, to Attila the Hun's unorthodox method of preserving meat, Shephard's book is packed with fascinating historical tidbits.

Rats : observations on the history and habitat of the city's most unwanted inhabitants
Sullivan, Robert, 1963-
Call Number: 599.32 S951
Sullivan spent one year observing rats living in a New York City alley, and shares not only observations on their behavior, but also about the centuries that rats and humans have coexisted in urban places, and how we may actually have more in common than you'd expect.

Salt : a world history
Kurlansky, Mark.
Call Number: 553.63 K96
There are over 14,000 uses for salt, and Kurlansky travels the globe showing the places where salt has intersected with human civilization, from ancient Egyptian mummies to Gandhi's 1930 Salt March.

The secret life of lobsters : how fishermen and scientists are unraveling the mysteries of our favorite crustacean
Corson, Trevor.
Call Number: 595.3841 C826
Corson worked on a lobster boat in Maine for two years while preparing to write this history of the Maine lobster industry, and about the collaboration between fishermen, ecologists, scientists, and government regulators to ensure that the stocks are not depleted through overfishing.

Spice : the history of a temptation
Turner, Jack.
Call Number: 633.809 T948
Turner presents a cultural history of cinnamon, ginger, mace, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves.

Superdove : how the pigeon took Manhattan-- and the world
Humphries, Courtney, 1977-
Call Number: 598.65 H928
How did the most reviled bird in nature become the ultimate urban dweller? Humphries comically explains the long and intertwined history between pigeons and humans.

Tea : addiction, exploitation and empire
Moxham, Roy.
Call Number: 338.1T2 M937 2003
Moxham explores the devastating global consequences brought about by the rise of English tea consumption.

Tulipomania : the story of the world's most coveted flower and the extraordinary passions it aroused
Dash, Mike.
Call Number: 716.15 D229
Before the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, there was the tulip bubble. In the Netherlands in the 17th century, speculating on the price of tulips became such a craze among the newly moneyed merchant classes that, at its height, an individual bulb could cost as much as a house.

Vanilla : the cultural history of the world's most popular flavor and fragrance
Rain, Patricia, 1943-
Call Number: 633.82 R154
Written by a vanilla broker and executive of a vanilla company, this book traces vanilla cultivation and uses through time, and also includes a collection of exotic vanilla recipes from around the world.

The Victorian Internet : the remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth century's on-line pioneers
Standage, Tom.
Call Number: 384.709 S785
Standage shows how the invention of the telegraph in the 1840s changed the way the world did business, reported the news, fought wars, committed crimes, fell in love, and more. A lively read.

Wedding of the waters : the Erie Canal and the making of a great nation
Bernstein, Peter L.
Call Number: 386.3747 B531
The Erie Canal was one of the first major engineering projects undertaken by a very young United States in 1808. Peter Bernstein explains just how ambitious this project was, and the crucial a role it played in the United States's economic and urban development.

Zero : the biography of a dangerous idea
Seife, Charles.
Call Number: 511.1 S459 2000
The number zero was used by the Babylonians and Maya to calculate time, it was used in 6th century India and spread to Arab peoples, giving us our modern "Arabic numerals" by the 12th century. However, the idea of "zero" is a comparatively recent development in the west - Seife explains why.