Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

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If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home
386 pages; Walker & Company
Handled the right way, just about anything can be made interesting. Geologists have proved this true of dirt, and now so does Lucy Worsley with the likes of forks, bathtubs, stoves, and bedposts. The home and all its many parts are the subject of If Walls Could Talk (Walker & Company), a lively history of domestic space from the Middle Ages to the present. From medieval halls to sprawling Victorian mansions to the sparse, modern studio apartment, Worsley explores the evolution of the home in relation to the people who inhabit it, arguing that as much as any war or treaty, it's the quality of the toilet paper, the secrets of sex lives, and the politics of toothbrushing that shape the world for better or worse. A cataloger of language and ideas as well as more concrete, everyday items, Worsley explains, for example, that the old-fashioned expression "by hook or by crook" might have something to do with the methods peasants used to grab dead branches from their masters' property. And she's well aware of how class and gender issues have always been at play: Just wait till you see how the Victorians talked about menstruation. An unpretentious history of mundane things made remarkable, this amusingly straightforward treatise can't help hitting close to home. 
— Peter Bradley