Virginia Postrel

Dec 9, 2020

The Fabric of Civilization

How Textiles Made the World

Basic Books 2020

In The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World (Basic Books, 2020), Virginia Postrel describes how humans coevolved with textiles.

The story begins with our distant ancestors who used string to fashion the earliest tools. Then, ten thousand years ago, humans began farming not only for food but also for fiber to make cloth. In the intervening millennia, for people everywhere, an inordinate amount of human time and energy went into the growing, harvesting, spinning, weaving, and dying of cloth for garments, bedding, blankets, rugs, hangings, tents, tarps, sails, sacks, and all manner of containers and fittings. Based on investigation and practice, Ms. Postrel explains the artisanal processes and sciences involved.

In addition, this book is about how textiles shaped our society more broadly: labor, trade, tribute, collaboration (and also exploitation), credit, banking, migration (some voluntary, some forced), style and cultural restrictions, all figure into the discussion. The Industrial Revolution that began when steam power replaced human toil in the spinning of thread and the weaving of cloth, changed our world. Cheap, high-quality, cloth became available to people everywhere. In the twentieth century, the advent of plastics, of synthetic fabrics, transformed our world again. All of this, Ms. Postrel achieves in 250 beautifully-written pages, with numerous helpful pictures and diagrams. She also has a blog filled with videos explaining the processes she investigates in the book at https://vpostrel.com/blog.

Virginia Postrel is a journalist, author, and independent scholar. Her books include author of The Substance of Style, The Power of Glamour, and The Future and its Enemies. She is currently a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and has been a columnist for the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.

Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Early Modern Europe, the Spanish Empire, and the Atlantic World, specializing in sixteenth-century diplomacy and travel.

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Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Early Modern Europe, the Spanish Empire, and the Atlantic World, specializing in sixteenth-century diplomacy and travel.

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