Dynamist Blog

Rebooting My Newsletter: Now on Substack

This is the first installment of my new Substack newsletter, which was sent to subscribers on April 23.

I’ve moved my newsletter from MailChimp to Substack and resolved to keep it up. I’ll try to send out a new one each weekend. For now at least, this won’t be the kind of Substack where I write posts and try to get people to pay to subscribe. It will just be a way to let you know what I’ve been up to.

How Polyester Bounced Back

My latest article is a deep dive into recent textile history, answering the question posed by my editor Sam Bowman of Works in Progress: How did polyester go from the awful faux pas fiber of 40 years ago to the wearable, silky feeling fabric of today? The article involved a lot of interviews with polyester pioneers.

Two bits that didn’t make it into the article:

  1. My former WSJ colleague Ron Alsop’s classic 1982 lead: “Pity poor polyester. People pick on it.” I quoted one of the interviews from his article, which he kindly dug up for me when I was researching The Fabric of Civilization. Remembering Ron’s research when we were young reporters in the long-defunct Philadelphia bureau helped me set the scene for my article.
  2. John Updike’s ode to polyester, “IN PRAISE OF (C10 H8 O4),” originally published in 1958. Polyester as we know it today was called by terylene by its British inventors (read about them in my book). The poem begins:
    My tie is made of terylene,
    Eternally I wear it.
    For time can never wither, stale,
    Shred, shrink, fray, fade, or tear it.

    You can read the whole thing at the link above.

The New Bazaar podcast: Interviewed by Cardiff Garcia

I do a lot of podcasts these days, mostly interviews about The Fabric of Civilization. But on this economics podcast, we talked about The Power of Glamour. (NPR listeners may remember Cardiff from Planet Money.)

Political Economy podcast with James Pethokoukis

Yet another interview about an old book, in this case The Future and Its Enemies, whose 25th anniversary is coming up next year. I’m a big fan of Jim’s (subscribe to his Substack!) and it was an honor to talk with him.

Meanwhile, at Bloomberg Opinion…

Prompted by Shein’s $100 million valuation, I talked fast-fashion, past, present, and future with my friend and colleague Adam Minter (buy his great books).

You can find my most recent Bloomberg columns here. Bloomberg has a paywall that comes down after, I believe, three articles. So choose judiciously. After 90 days, you can also read them in my website archives.

Upcoming Appearances

Thanks to Covid, most of my “book tour” was via Zoom, but I’m now starting to make some in-person appearances.

Sunday, May 1, Torrance Cultural Arts Center, Torrance, CA: I’ll be selling and signing The Fabric of Civilization (including the Spanish edition) at the Southern California Handweavers’ Guild’s Weaving & Fiber Festival, aka WeFF. Admission is $1, with free parking, and it’s a fun day with demos, workshops, and lots of great fiber-arts-related shopping. (I’m also in charge of the Silent Auction and the Workshops. This is what happens when your research gets too hands-on and you need an outlet for executive talents.) Full details here.

Friday, May 13, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD: I’ll be giving a talk on The Fabric of Civilization, complete with as many show and tell items as I can fit in my luggage (definitely including examples of magnetic core memory and a Jacquard punchcards). Info on the JHAPL symposium series here.

Friday, May 20 to Sunday, May 22, Princeton University: No talks, no books, just a lot of orange and black, as Steve and I attend our 40th Reunion. Hope to see all our college friends there! Stay tuned for photos in ridiculous getups that encourage bonding.

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