The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World (Hardcover)

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From Paleolithic flax to 3D knitting, explore the global history of textiles and the world they weave together in this enthralling and educational guide.

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.

About the Author

Virginia Postrel is an award-winning journalist and independent scholar. She is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and has been a columnist for the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. She is the author of the highly acclaimed The Substance of Style and The Power of Glamour. Her research is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Praise For…

"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
she imparts it with a touch as light as Penelope's at the loom. Ambitious,
erudite, and absorbing, The Fabric of Civilization is both an education
and a pleasure to read."—Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine

"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.... 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 and Prehistoric Textiles

"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

"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 every day without even knowing it."—Marc Andreessen, co-founder, Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz

"Cleanly written
and completely accessible, this book opens up an entirely new world of textiles,
explaining the most ancient archeological fabrics and the latest polymer blends
that cool the body -- not warm it as textiles have done for thousands of
years -- with equal verve."—Valerie Hansen, author of The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World-and Globalization Began

"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, author of the Bourgeois Era trilogy

"Fascinating and
wide-ranging... This is an engrossing and illuminating portrait of the essential
role fabric has played in human history."—Publishers Weekly

"Virginia Postrel captures the ingenuity with which
people around the globe solved the problems of raising fiber, spinning thread,
making cloth, and giving it beautiful colors. This book opens the reader's eyes
not only to the textiles that daily surround us but also to the remarkable
skills of their makers."—Jenny Balfour-Paul, author of Indigo

"The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles
Made the World
one of the most compelling books I've ever read on the history of
textiles-witty, well-researched, and full of fascinating things I'd never known
despite being quite well-read on textile technology. (Did you know that letters
of credit from clothiers helped build the early European banking system? Or
that aniline dyes were one of the earliest applications of organic chemistry?)
If you thought Elizabeth Wayland Barber's Women's Work: The First 20,000
was interesting, you'll swoon over this book. I loved it."—Tien Chiu, weaver, teacher, and author of Master Your Craft

"The Fabric of
more engaging and informative than any textile science or textile history
course that I studied in college. Postrel has distilled thousands of years of
the making and manipulation of string (thread) into a comprehensible read
whether or not you have knowledge of its invention or the current
bio-engineering research. She has woven in personal experiences; interviewed
historians, computer programmers, scientists, textile archeologists, and
contemporary and indigenous artisans; and gone behind the scenes in textile
laboratories and manufacturing plants. After reading this book, I felt like I
had wandered the world for centuries using fabric for my currency and wealth. I
had won political battles in its name. I had been sickened as well as healed by
it. And now I am an inventor synthesizing environmentally healthy fabric by
means of chemicals. My appreciation and knowledge of how textiles make the
world have been greatly enhanced."—Marilyn Murphy, co-founder ClothRoads and former president of Interweave

"Fiber artists of any stripe, prepare for a juicy read
through a new book on textile history! Virginia Postrel's new book will turn
your old ideas about fabric and civilization down unexpected pathways. The
Fabric of Civilization
is divided into chapters loosely related to
individual textile processes, such as spinning, weaving, and dyeing, and the
author points out that textiles are the basis of our number systems, our
banking, our commerce, and our science. This book is full of stories of
individuals who innovated entire systems because of their sensitivity to
textile processes. The author actually learned to spin and weave while writing
this book, and her explanations and diagrams are spot on. Profusely illustrated
with photos and diagrams, and contains a comprehensive bibliography. Highly
recommended."—Alice Schlein, weaver, author of Network Drafting and The Woven Pixel

Product Details
ISBN: 9781541617605
ISBN-10: 1541617606
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: November 10th, 2020
Pages: 320