Virginia Postrel has created a fascinating history of textiles from their Palaeolithic beginnings to the present and future—from the earliest plant fibers plucked from weeds to synthetic fabrics with computer chips in the threads. And why, you say, should we examine mere cloth? Precisely because it fills more and more roles in our lives, yet we take it for granted. As Postrel writes,“We suffer textile amnesia because we enjoy textile abundance.” Well researched and highly readable, the book is a veritable treat.
—Elizabeth Wayland Barber, author of Women's Work, The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times
A fascinating, surprising and beautifully written history of technology, economics and culture, told through the thread of textiles, humanity’s most indispensable artefacts. I loved it.
—Matt Ridley, author of How Innovation Works
From Neanderthal string to 3D knitting, a global history of textiles and the world they made
The story of humanity is the story of textiles — as old as civilization itself. Since the first thread was spun, the need for textiles has driven technology, business, politics, and culture.
In The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel synthesizes groundbreaking research from archaeology, economics, and science to reveal a surprising history. From Minoans exporting wool colored with precious purple dye to Egypt, to Romans arrayed in costly Chinese silk, the cloth trade paved the crossroads of the ancient world. Textiles funded 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, propelled chemical research, and taught people to think in binary code.
Assiduously researched and deftly narrated, The Fabric of Civilization tells the story of the world’s most influential commodity.
“The story of technology is a story of human ingenuity, and nowhere is this more clear than in the story of textiles: the original technology, going beyond what we commonly think of as ‘tech.’ As with many technologies, we suffer an amnesia about them when we enjoy them in abundance, as Postrel observes; her book gives us back our memories about this technology that we use everyday without even knowing it.”
—Marc Andreessen, co-founder, Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz
Postrel’s brilliant, learned, addictive book tells a story of human ingenuity.…Her deep story is of the liberty that permitted progress. Presently the descendants of slaves and serfs and textile workers got closets full of beauty, and fabric for the cold, a Great Enrichment since 1800 of three thousand percent.
—Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, and Professor Emerita of English and of Communication, University of Illinois-Chicago, and author of the Bourgeois Era trilogy