This is a newsletter about strange, memorable episodes that I come across in my reading on history. It’s meant for people (especially in tech) who find these stories interesting, but who don’t have the time to sift through The Literature.

These are dispatches from a tourist. My curiosity in the field of history is much wider than my expertise. My time to dedicate to this is limited—I’m a startup founder—so I often rely on a particular book as my gateway to the topic.

I retell the story in the way I found most compelling and dig deeper into its most curious parts - with a special focus on the details.

Why the details?

Because, in my experience of going out into the world and trying to do things, I’ve found that the real reason why something will or will not work comes down to the details. It’s in the details that the truth is found. This has long been understood in the hard sciences. I think it is still vastyl underappreciated in fields like history, where the most important work to be done is interpretation rather than observation.

The most compelling understandings in history start from the ground up. Even when it turns out that the driving force behind an episode in history is indeed some Big Idea, the best place to look for evidence of it is in the details. Sort of like how the strongest evidence for something as abstract as the big bang can be found in the low grade microwave radiation emanating from the center of the universe.


While I often dive into an episode with a specific book as my anchor, I try to broaden the conversation with adjacent material. I draw on both scholarship and primary texts (when available in English). And where it seems relevant, I also pull in my own experiences.

Occasionally, I might point out a pattern I notice in the stories. But I’m in no hurry to build a some sweeping model or explain to you how the world works.

I just want to shine a flashlight on some of its dimmer corners.

Subscribe to Vivid Leaves

Detailed history that rhymes with the present.


What we value determines what we produce.