I’ve always enjoyed the work of Virginia Postrel (who was once the editor-in-chief of Reason, among other things), and I’m excited to report that she will be guest blogging about her new book this week, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles made the world. From the editor’s description:
The history of mankind is the history of textiles – as old as civilization itself. Since the first thread was spun, the need for textiles has driven technology, economy, politics and culture.
In The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel synthesizes groundbreaking research from archeology, business, and science to uncover a surprising story. From the Minoans who exported wool dyed with precious purple to Egypt to the Romans who were trimmed with expensive Chinese silk, the cloth trade paved the crossroads of antiquity. Textiles financed the Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; They gave us banks and bookkeeping, Michelangelo’s David and the Taj Mahal. The cloth business spread the alphabet and arithmetic, advanced chemical research, and taught people to think in binary code.
Carefully researched and skillfully told, The Fabric of Civilization tells the story of the world’s most influential commodity.
And only part of the appropriately chosen collection of blurbs:
“We are being taken on a journey as epic and diverse as the Silk Road itself … [The Fabric of Civilization is] like a pattern on a Florentine Renaissance brocade: carefully woven, the technique precise, the colors a mixture of shadow and shine and an accurate representation of the entire fabric. “
“New York Times
“From the Stone Age to Silicon Valley, textiles have played a central role in the history of the world. Virginia Postrel has an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, but conveys it with a touch that is as light as Penelope’s loom. Ambitious , taught, The Fabric of Civilization is both an education and a joy to read. “- Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine
“Virginia Postrel has created a fascinating story of textiles from its beginnings in the Paleolithic to the present and future – from the earliest vegetable fibers plucked from weeds to synthetic fabrics with computer chips in their threads. And why should you, as you say , only examine material? Precisely because it is playing more and more roles in our lives, we take it for granted … Well researched and easy to read, the book is a real pleasure.
―Elizabeth Wayland Barber, author of Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years of Women, Fabric, and Society in Early Times and Prehistoric Textiles
“A fascinating, surprising and beautifully written story of technology, economy and culture, told through the thread of textiles, the most indispensable artifacts of humanity. I loved it.”
―Matt Ridley, author of How Innovation Works
“The history of technology is a history of human ingenuity, and nowhere is this more evident than in the history of textiles: the primordial technology, beyond what we generally consider ‘technology’. As with many technologies, we suffer from one Amnesia when we enjoy it in abundance, as Postrel notes. Your book gives us back our memories of this technology that we use every day without even knowing it. “
―Marc Andreessen, Co-Founder of Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz
“Neatly written and fully accessible, this book opens up a whole new world of textiles and explains the oldest archaeological fabrics and the latest polymer blends that cool the body – not heat it, as textiles have done for thousands of years – with the same vigor.” “
―Valerie Hansen, Author of the Year 1000: When explorers connected the world – and globalization began
“Postrel’s brilliant, learned, addicting book tells a story of human ingenuity … its deep story is of the freedom that made progress possible. Presently, the descendants of slaves, serfs, and textile workers were given cabinets full of beauty and fabric for the cold, a Great enrichment since 1800 of three thousand percent. “
―Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, author of the bourgeois-era trilogy
“Fascinating and far-reaching … This is a fascinating and insightful portrait of the essential role that matter has played in human history.”
I’m really looking forward to Virginia’s visit!