Dynamist Blog

How to Get a Signed Copy of The Fabric of Civilization

Under normal circumstances, I'd be planning extensive travel and many in-person talks to promote The Fabric of Civilization when it comes out November 10. Instead, I'm doing Zoom appearances and podcasts. Knowing they won't be seeing me in person, several people have asked how they can get a signed copy. There are two options:

1) Pre-order a copy from any of the links to the right and email me at vp at vpostrel.com with your address and the name you want the book inscribed to and I'll mail you a signed bookplate.

2) Pre-order a copy through Chevalier's Books in L.A. When they receive their books, I'll sign them and they'll mail your copy to you. It will not, however, be personalized. If you want a particular name as part of the inscription, you need to get a bookplate.


I'm thrilled to see how enthusiastic early readers are about The Fabric of Civilization. Check out the early praise on the book's Amazon page and pre-order to get your copy on publication day!

The blurbs on the Amazon page were solicited from well-known experts in history, technology, and innovation. Fiber artists have also been praising the book. One of my favorite reviews comes from the supersmart weaver and color expert Tien Chiu, writing on her blog

I’ve also finished reading a fabulous soon-to-be-released book by Virginia Postrel. It’s The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, available for pre-order from Amazon. I got my hands on a review copy from Virginia, and I have to tell you, it’s one of the most fascinating and compelling books I’ve ever read on the history of textiles. If you thought Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years was interesting, you’re gonna swoon over this one. I think it’s actually even more interesting than Barber’s book. Run out and preorder your copy now. (I’ll write a more detailed review later, once it gets a bit closer to release.)

Thanks to NetGalley and Goodreads, the book has also gotten a couple of five-star early reviews from grassroots readers who read and review a lot of books. (In other words, my publisher and I don't know these people.) Here's an author's dream (if not a copy-editor's) from :

Breathtaking work of non-fiction!!! I didn't have such a thrill reading a research for a very long time. Both extensive historical research and master storytelling makes this book a hidden art.
Taking into consideration all parts involved, their resources and interests, the author masterfully presents the importance of textile industry un human development and successfuly vice-versa. This is the non-fiction done right and perfect anc can possibly convert more people to research this topic and appreciate textile and clothing more than we do nowadays.
As printed, please, please share a copy with me. This book will have its special place in my brain and bookshelf forever. Thank you! 

Pre-order your copy today from any of the links on the right of this page. (Click on the thumbnails below to see some of the early praise. And follow me on Instagram.

Pre-Order THE FABRIC OF CIVILIZATION and Get a Handwoven Bookmark

I've recently started weaving on a small inkle loom, used for making straps and bands —or in this case bookmarks to go with The Fabric of Civilization.

Here's how to get your own bookmark:

1) Pre-order the book at any of the links to the right, or from your local bookseller.

2) Email a copy of your receipt and the mailing address for the bookmark to me at vp at vpostrel.com. Please note that Amazon receipts cut off the address partway through, so you'll need to type the whole thing.

Pre-orders help draw attention to new books by boosting their first-week sales. And while you wait, you can put your bookmark to good use.

Thanks to Patricia Isenberg and Jason Woertink for sharing photos of their bookmarks. When yours arrives, please email me a picture!

Update: At the request of my Princeton classmate (and informal publicist) David Bernstein*, I have black-and-orange bookmarks available as well as those coordinating with the book's cover. If you want one of those, please let me know. (*Not to be confused with the two other David Bernsteins I know.)

A Closer Look at Ties: An Microscopic Introduction to Woven and Printed Textiles

Inspired by a friend's question, I raid my husband's long-neglected tie wardrobe, grab my trusty smartphone microscope attachment, and examine just how men's ties get their patterns. (Buy your own microscope attachment here for about $10. Full disclosure: I get a small cut of Amazon sales.)

For more on my book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, coming in late 2020, visit my main blog page.


On Sunday, September 29, I turned in the manuscript for my next book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, which will be published in fall 2020 (exact date TBD) by Basic Books. It will also come out in the U.K. from Hachette, but I'm not sure whether that will be simultaneous or later.

I made a couple of collages for my Instagram feed, with pictures hinting at some of the stories I'm eager to share. Here, I'll give a bit more about them.

The top left image, which appears at the beginning of chapter two (Thread), is from a portrait Maerten van Heemskerck painted in 1529 that is now in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. It shows a woman named Anna Codde spinning, an absolutely essential form of labor before the Industrial Revolution. To give you some idea of how essential, consider that the cloth for a single pair of jeans requires about six miles of thread, which could take weeks to spin by hand.

The top right image is an example of a cotton print from India--known as a calicochintz, or indienne. With their bright, washable colors, these light-weight fabrics were a revelation to Europeans and hugely popular. They also threatened established wool and silk industries, and many countries banned their importation. France was the most extreme, treating printed fabrics the way the U.S. today (or perhaps in the 1980s) treats cocaine. For more on this bizarre story, and a flavor of the book, you can read this article I wrote for Reason. I tell this story in chapter six (Consumers) and discuss the impact of Indian cottons in chapter two (Thread) and dyes in chapter four (Dye).

The bottom left shows the back of a traditional Lao loom, with strings that hold the code for the brocade pattern the weaver is making. (For more on how the pattern is "programmed," see this site.) Contrary to what you may think from reading tech stories about the Jacquard loom, it was not the first technology to record and store weaving codes. By the time Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented his card-driven loom attachment, human weavers had been imagining, remembering, and recording complex either-or patterns for thousands of years. His innovation was a mechanical leap forward, automating the process. I delve into the relations between weaving, code, and mathematics ("the science of patterns") in chapter three (Cloth).

Finally, on the bottom right, is a detail from a huipil I bought in Guatemala. The huipil is the traditional blouse worn by Maya women and woven on a backstrap loom. As you can guess from the helicopters incorporated along with traditional patterns, such as scorpions, huipile may be traditional but they are not static. Living traditions never are. I discuss their evolution in chapter six (Consumers). For a thematically related story, which isn't in the book, you can read this Reason column on Chiapas.

The top left photo is a detail from a Stella McCartney dress made for this exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The material is bioengineered silk, a "protein polymer" made by Bolt Threads. The raw material is silk protein excreted by bioengineered yeast and fermented like beer. I discuss bioengineered silk, as well as the old-fashioned kind, in chapter one (Fiber).

The top right photo is a 60X magnification of magnetic core memory, the dominant computer storage medium for two decades, until the emergence of silicon memory chips in the early 1970s. The form of the memory devices arose from the fundamental mathematics of weaving. I discuss core memory and visit textile artist Robin Kang, whose work evokes it, in chapter three (Cloth).

The bottom right is a detail of Mongol cloth of gold now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Combining Iranian motifs of griffins and winged lions with Chinese cloud patterns on the lions’ wings, it illustrates the hybrid motifs and techniques that emerged from the Mongols' imperial workshops. A nomadic culture of felt and fur, the Mongols loved woven textiles, especially those incorporating gold threads, and the desire for such treasures motivated many of their conquests. I discuss the Mongols inn chapter six (Consumers).

The bottom left is a detail from the most amazing thing I saw, among many amazing things, during my textile research: a two-story hydraulic machine, built almost entirely of wood, for twisting ("throwing") silk filaments. These are not, as you might imagine, 18th- or 19th-century inventions. They date back to the 15th century and had their heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries (although this particular one operated up until the 1930s). Flavio Crippa, a physicist who spent his career developing machines for the modern silk industry, has for the past couple of decades worked to recover, restore, and re-create them for museums throughout Italy. I was lucky enough to have him as a host on a tour of several museums, including the one in Caraglio that I visit in chapter two (Thread). Here's a video to go with the photo:


How I Think and How I Write

Charlie Euchner asked me to do an email interview for his Elements of Writing site. Along with Charlie's introduction, it's the best introduction to who I am and how I work that you'll find online (infinitely better than my Wikipedia entry!). Read it here.

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