Book cover

Maybe you are out of work. Maybe you are like me, and have worked online for some time. Regardless of your situation, chances you are at least somewhat more homebound than you used to be. This month’s foray into nerdery dips into the realm of history. There are plenty of literary genres that could classify as “geeky,” and I very well may delve into a list of suggested scifi novels for our future months of quarantine. But for now, let’s stick with history. 

I seriously love history. I started college as a history major, but I dropped it for sociology so that I could find a better job after college (HA HA HA HA … but, follow your bliss). I have read many history books, and I do teach a history class professionally, so I guess my recommendations in this regard might count for something. Each of the following books was chosen because I feel they have something to share for people in our quite strange moment in history.  

(Of course, you shouldn’t be going to book stores right now. Each of these books is available online as an eBook.)

“A Peoples History of the United States” by Howard Zinn

This is, hands down, my favorite history book. Zinn’s tone as a historian was definitely that of an activist. He believed in telling the truth, but did not shy away from politics. As he explains in the introduction, Zinn wrote “People’s History” as a counterpoint to standard history tomes that focus on wars and leaders. He described the book as “a history of ordinary people between the wars.” 

Given the month of May’s significance in terms of the International Worker, People’s History would be a particularly good choice this month. Zinn not only explores factors surrounding The Haymarket Massacre, but he also the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the genocidal actions of Christopher Columbus, and other events of interest to the revolutionary historian. (The full text of People’s History is provided to the public by the friends and loved ones of Zinn at

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

Yes. THAT “Moby Dick.” This is a book that has a horrible reputation and does not deserve it (at least for the reasons most people think of.) You were either forced to read this book in high school, or knew it as an absurdly long book that some people were being forced to read. Either way, high schoolers hatred of reading has not helped the book’s bad reputation.  

The fact that “Moby Dick” is so long is actually an amazing testament to grifting. “Moby Dick” was originally published as a newspaper serial, and Melville was paid by the word. So, the longer he made his chapters, and the more chapters he churned out, the more cash he got. This structure actually makes the book highly readable, because each chapter did have to be able to stand alone. However, it also leads to weird chapters where Melville just listed crafts that could be made out of parts of a whale, or weird spears that were needed to kill whales, or the captain’s delusional ramblings on how one particular whale was out to get him. (Seriously, this book has it all!) 

Tip: If some of the attitudes of the Victorian Era start wearing on you, just imagine that the White Whale is the protagonist, or that Queequeg is secretly screwing with all the white folks he is trapped on a boat with by leaning into racist stereotypes. 

“The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer

Unlike “Moby Dick,” your high school English teacher did not assign this book to you. (… unless they were really cool… and trying to get fired.) This book is not only a work of history, it is history. Herer published the first edition of this pro-cannabis book in 1985, at the height of the Drug War. For that reason, the book takes an aggressively pro-cannabis stance. 

The most significant part of Herer’s work is that it led to rediscovering and preserving cannabis history. Of particular interest is Herer’s discovery of a WWII era government film that actually encouraged Americans to grow cannabis plants as part of the war effort. (Thanks to Herer, “Hemp For Victory” is easy to find on YouTube.) 

Emperor is very easy to read, and the graphic layout is amazing; it reads like a very thick magazine. It is also chock full of fun weed trivia. If you find yourself wanting to flip through a book and learn things about weed, this one is for you. 

Honorable mention: “Cannabis: A History” by Martin Booth

If “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” comes off as a little too much like a stoner sitting by a fire in the woods, I suggest “Cannabis: A History” by Martin Booth. This book is much more of an NPR-toned exploration of the historical uses of cannabis around the world. 

Jeremy is a college lecturer and is on the Board of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism. He teaches at The Ohio State University, Otterbein University, and The Cleveland School of Cannabis (but his views are his and his alone.) In Summer 2020, he will be teaching a course on Environmental Justice at OSU Marion that will focus on applying solarpunk thinking to societal issues created by Climate Change. More information about his projects can be found at