"Awhile back, James Heartfield made an interesting observation about the publishing industry, noting that there was a rash of books that focused on just one thing, tracing history and culture through, say, the use of salt or cultivation of broccoli (or somesuch).
I have noticed other trends like that, particularly the recent trend toward popularizing philosophy. "Driving with Plato" is an example. There's the whole series of philosophy and pop culture (e.g., "Madmen and Philosophy", "Spongebob Squarepants and phil," ...) and "Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .,""
This is interesting. I have a friend who has the IQ of a genius and no culture whatsoever. He dismisses the humanities as soft, but realizes there's something in the palaver of the professional class that he is missing. So he reads Thomas Friedman for depth. He also tends to read these history-through-the-use-of-xxx type books. In fact he just handed me one a couple of weeks ago. I think these books attract because they promise to be insightful short cuts. You don't actually have to know about world history; the book will give you as much as you need to know, plus some insightful anecdote the next time anything touching the subject comes up in conversation.
It's entertainment and artillery for those who need to keep their meritocratic credentials polished.