Italics have not survived the paste.
I've excluded all fiction, and not used books I thought were too hard or were off the specific topic of Cultures We Really Evolved that are Stranger Than Any You can Think of. You will notice with what art I have, in my descriptions, implied but not averred that I have read all these. Something you pick up in academic circles. Thanks again to all.
The Night Battles, Carlo Ginzburg. An alternative story of how witch and werewolf beliefs operated in medieval Italy.
The Art of Memory, Frances Yates. How a mnemonic mentioned in Latin and Greek rhetoric flowered into an impossibly vast magico-philosophic system in the Renaissance.
Mad Travellers, Ian Hacking. Psychology at work at the end of the 19th century to explain the problem (real at the time, it seems) of people who walk for thousands of miles without any memory of having done so. The treatments as strange as the stories.
Sons of Sinbad, Allan Villiers. The lives and work of Arab seamen on the Indian Ocean – written in the1930s when the last of them were sailing in the same dhows as they had for centuries.
Negara, Clifford Geertz. Classic account of the “theatre state” in 19th century Bali: government as organized spectacle.
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin. A sort-of-fictionalized story of Chatwin’s exploration of the meaning and uses of Australian Aboriginal song.
Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, George Lakoff. The way different cultures view the world as exemplified in their language. Don’t invent a language without it.
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles McKay. A debunking of popular stories, legends, miracles, and delusions, written in 1841. The debunking (full of errors itself) is as amazing as the stories. Famous for its dissection of the tulip mania.
The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wade Davis. Real Haitian voodoo and the zombie cult.
1491, Charles Mann. The civilizations that thrived in the Americas before the Europeans.
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, Bradley K. Martin. Nearly unbelievable dystopia.
Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution, Richard Stites. All the failed, ignored, suppressed possibilities that preceded the Communist state. Utopia meets Dead Souls.
Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie. A medieval town in France – beliefs and politics in the period of the Cathar heresy.
Celtic Heritage, Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees. The world of ancient Ireland and Wales – the shape of the world they experienced.
The World of the Shining Prince, Ivan Morris. Heian-period Japan. Read it with a brief book of the period, As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams, in the Morris translation.
The Floating World, James A. Michener. Lighter treatment, this time Edo Japan.
The Death of the Woman Wang or The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, both by Jonathan Spence. Among our greatest Western interpreters of Chinese culture.
East is a Big Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat Atoll, Thomas Gladwin. Polynesian sailors and their methods for crossing open seas without instruments or charts, navigation skills which are their culture.
Castle and Cathedral, David Macauley. You probably read them as kids: books by a great draughtsman about the actual month-to-month and year-to-year building of these buildings. Let’s get our details right.
Faces of Degeneration A European Disorder, 1848-1918, Daniel Pick. The pseudo-science of “negative eugenics” (facing the supposed fact of human devolution) – creepy, horrific in its consequences.