Apologies for the double post but I have to recommend The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
This is a book that starts off looking at things, specifically 264 nesuke which are tiny Japanese ornaments designed to hold, and explodes the history of a family.
The author is a potter by trade and so I gained an entirely new perspective on objects and there importance. He is immensely careful with his subject and his interest in these objects pushes him to learn about their history. Without giving too much away he talks about how this collection comes into his family and explores the cities, life, society and politics of the times.
This book combines lovely factual analysis (without heavy academic theorising) with the insight into the human psyche that you get from a novel. Quite wonderful and deserves the award it has already won.
have to agree with ILDN, the author liked the sound of his own voice far too much, left it in a foreign land as couldnt be bothered to bring it back into the country. I think this is definately a 'marmite' book.