Histories of the Unexpected

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Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything Has a History

Author: Sam Willis.
Publishing year: 2018.

Histories of the Unexpected is an unconventional history of everything. This isn’t your usual school learned history. But rather something else, something different, interconnected, funny and still, educational. 

Everything Has a History

The premise of the book is that everything has a history. From snow and clouds to beards and hand gestures. Even more, everything can be woven into human history with sometimes humorous interconnecting threads: 

“History is like a maze; to get the most out of the history you need to ramble around it, get lost in it – and then hope you can find your way back to the beginning.”

For some people, traditional history is insipid, boring, gray. This book shows us a much more colorful history with astonishing twists and turns. 

Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything Has a History
Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything Has a History


Our introduction into the unexpected starts with the meaning of the hand. Sam Willis explains the importance of hand to both our lives and our culture. From cave paintings of hands to today’s hand gestures, it has a central role in our communication and expression

We use hand gestures to express winning a battle: V for victory. Also, we use the symbolistic of joining hands to get married: joining hands in marriage.

Unexpected history of hand gesture: two hands joined in marriage.
We use the symbolistic of joining hands to get married: joining hands in marriage

Linking the hand to the glove, the book continues the unexpected story with history of the glove. From baseball gloves to ladies perfumed gloves, they are full of cultural meaning and symbols. 


Sam Willis combines facts from traditional history with less known facts. We can read about famous kings, queens and wars. But we can also read about ingredients of perfumes and how they were used through the ages.

Even more unexpected, perfume takes us to personal hygiene which connects to advertisement campaigns. 

For example, we can read about the history of and meaning beards. To wear a beard is a personal choice today. This was not always so. Across history, this was culturally and religiously regulated:

“Wearing a beard was and is often closely linked to religion, and it could be either an act of conformity and belonging, or an act of rebellion and rejection.”

The book flows from chapter to chapter by linking the last idea of one chapter to the first idea of the next. Therefore, eclipses are linked with how we learn to measure time,  because first watches used shadows. 

This is an interesting and unusual history book. It is full of information. It contains well documented historic facts but also a lot of fun trivia. The writing style is very accessible and engaging.

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