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The Globe and the Kettle

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In recent decades, a slew of books have advanced big claims through the examination of small things. In 1994, historian Robert Friedel used zippers as a metaphor for society’s obsession with novelty. Mark Kurlansky’s “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World,” published in 1997, explored transatlantic development through the interpretive framework of seafood. The 20 years since have seen similar books on everything from salt to indigo (“the color that changed the world”), curry to Kalashnikovs (“the gun that changed the world”), and coffee to cotton (the subject of not just one but two important studies)....

© Wall Street Journal