Dynamist Blog

Continuity and Change, with Garish Costumes

This post went out to subscribers to my Substack newsletter on May 23. To see all the entries and subscribe, visit it here.

Contrary to the promises in earlier newsletters, I can’t provide new pictures of the Postrels in our garish Princeton Reunions gear. The best I can do are a couple of shots from ten years ago.

Photo by David Bernstein ‘82, unearthed from Facebook

The Postrels in the 2012 P-rade

We didn’t make it to our 40th Reunion because my favorite classmate suffered a minor but extremely painful tear in his calf muscle while innocently throwing a blanket onto the bed. Flying cross-country for several days of intense standing and walking (not to mention dancing) wasn’t going to happen.

So instead of going to Reunions, I used the occasion to think about how their peculiar rituals connect past, present, and future, embodying both continuity and change. The result was my latest column for Bloomberg Opinion.

Princeton’s rituals enact the conviction that the Princeton of today descends from the Princeton of yesterday, that the many eras of Princeton belong to one another, and that, whatever their differences and flaws, they are all beloved and good. We are here because they were here first, and they take pride and pleasure in their successors. It’s the kind of myth easily discarded yet desperately needed in our divided culture.

Among the many problems posed by current purity crusades on campuses (including an appalling one that gets a brief mention toward the end of my column) is the threat they pose to the social convention that treats all alumni as part of the family. If you’re purging tenured faculty for getting on the wrong side of political controversies, what are you saying to alums who take the same positions?

There’s an ungated version of the article here, courtesy of my Washington Post subscription, but it doesn’t include links or the great photo that accompanies the original Bloomberg Opinion version.

Thanks to my classmate Joyce Robbins, however, I can share this photo of Joe Schein ’37, the oldest returning alum at 107. Schein, a retired psychiatrist, was one of 11 Jewish students in his class, and this February Daily Princetonian article about early Jewish life on campus—contrary to myth, it didn’t start with Einstein—quotes him extensively.

Something about Princeton gets me thinking about how institutions maintain their identities as they evolve over time. One fall, at least a decade ago, I was in Princeton on a research trip. Walking through campus, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the statue of John Witherspoon, which faces the university’s magnificent neo-Gothic chapel, and a sign advertising an upcoming Diwali service. Witherspoon, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, was an important early president of the College of New Jersey and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although he was progressive for his day (he even encouraged students to read the infidel David Hume), he would likely have been shocked by the Medievalist Catholic style of the chapel, never mind celebrating a Hindu festival! None of these things belonged together—and yet they absolutely did.

Speaking of universities

Since August, I’ve been a Visiting Fellow at the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman University in Orange, California. One of the institute’s signatures is the Humanomics program, which offers classes combining economics and the humanities. I taught one this year called “Consumerism and Its Discontents” and am working on a syllabus for a fall first-year seminar called “Ambition and the Meanings of Success,” in both cases teaching with an economist colleague. To explain the program to prospective students, I also produced this video.

“Consumerism and Its Discontents,” which had been previously taught in 2018, assigns my 2003 book The Substance of Style. “When I was in college,I once wrote a paper saying that my professor’s book was wrong. I told all the students, “He graded me fairly, and if you write a paper saying my book is wrong, I’ll do the same thing.” We aren’t in the business of indoctrination. We want our students to think.

I’m delighted to be part of this excellent program. Drawing students from all classes and a wide variety of majors, the courses offer a rare combination of intellectual engagement, respectful conversation, and mind-expanding works. Plus lots of feedback, from two professors.

What I’ve been “reading”

Driving between L.A. and Orange gives me plenty of time for listening to audio books, which I also enjoy while walking, cooking, and weaving. For some reason, I’m drawn to massive histories as audio experiences. I’m currently on the third volume of Simon Schama’s History of Britain. I’ve added the printed versions to my collection so I can check passages of interest (and perhaps eventually read the hard copies myself). I did the same with Ritchie Robertson’s The Enlightenment, which I first saw in a bookshop on a July visit to Princeton. I would have bought it then, but it was much too big to carry home.

If you’re looking for a non-massive history book, The Fabric of Civilization is also available as an audio book. (That’s the Amazon/Audible link, but it’s on all platforms.)

Defending Dynamism and Getting Stuff Done

This entry went out to my Substack newsletter list on May 16. To subscribe, click here.

Last Wednesday, Ross Douthat devoted his NYT column to applying the stasis/dynamism model I developed in The Future and Its Enemies to understanding Elon Musk:

A term like “conservative” doesn’t fit the Tesla tycoon; even “libertarian,” while closer to the mark, associates Musk with a lot of ideas that I don’t think he particularly cares about. A better label comes from Virginia Postrel, in her 1998 book “The Future and Its Enemies”: Musk is what she calls a “dynamist,” meaning someone whose primary commitments are to exploration and discovery, someone who believes that the best society is one that’s always inventing, transforming, doing something new.

I might quibble with some of his presentation—dynamism includes an important role for criticism and competition, since not every new idea is a good idea—but it’s a good analysis both of Musk and of why dynamists who considered themselves liberals (in the left-of-center American sense) might feel politically homeless these days. And I do say in the book that learning, as opposed to stability and control, is the central dynamist value, something that I am even more convinced of today than when I was writing in the late 1990s.

Ever since Trump bent history’s arc his way, however, that confidence has diminished or collapsed. Now liberals increasingly regard the internet as the zone of monsters and misinformation, awash in illiberalism, easily manipulated by demagogues, a breeding ground for insurrectionists. And if digital technology has become particularly suspect, via the transitive property so has the larger idea of innovating your way out of social or environmental problems — empowering the part of the environmental movement that wants to tame capitalism to save the planet, for instance, at the expense of the part that imagines taming climate change with fleets of Teslas and nuclear power plants.
Meanwhile, the values underlying dynamism — above all, the special pedestal given to free thinking and free speech — are also more suspect within liberalism today. In their place is a new regulatory spirit around culture as well as economics, a how-much-is-too-much attitude toward the circulation of potentially dangerous ideas, a belief in institutions of scientific and intellectual authority but not necessarily institutions devoted to wide-open inquiry. [Emphasis added.]
Just as a dynamist might, at the extreme of the orientation, prefer a monarchy that protects innovation over a democracy that discourages it, some of today’s progressives are making the same move in reverse: If democracy is endangered by technological change and unfettered free speech, then so much the worse for free speech. The important thing is to save democratic self-government, even if you have to temporarily take the “liberties” out of the American Civil Liberties Union or put away your John Stuart Mill.

For more background on my perspective, here’s a good Q&A from 2017. (I was less articulate in the updated conversation with Jim Pethokoukis earlier this month.)The good news is that the dynamist coalition that I imagined 25 years ago is starting to emerge, even if it’s far from a political force.

Writing in The Atlantic last week, Derek Thompson asked a provocative and not at all hypothetical question, “What if we invented a technology to save the planet—and the world refused to use it?” His column was a powerful follow-up to an earlier argument for what he calls an “abundance agenda.”

Altogether, America has too much venting and not enough inventing. We say that we want to save the planet from climate change—but in practice, many Americans are basically dead set against the clean-energy revolution, with even liberal states shutting down zero-carbon nuclear plants and protesting solar-power projects. We say that housing is a human right—but our richest cities have made it excruciatingly difficult to build new houses, infrastructure, or megaprojects. Politicians say that they want better health care—but they tolerate a catastrophically slow-footed FDA‪ that withholds promising tools, and a federal policy that deliberately limits the supply of physicians.
In the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with a policy agenda that is focused on solving our national problem of scarcity. This agenda would try to take the best from several ideologies. It would harness the left’s emphasis on human welfare, but it would encourage the progressive movement to “take innovation as seriously as it takes affordability,” as Ezra Klein wrote. It would tap into libertarians’ obsession with regulation to identify places where bad rules are getting in the way of the common good. It would channel the right’s fixation with national greatness to grow the things that actually make a nation great—such as clean and safe spaces, excellent government services, fantastic living conditions, and broadly shared wealth.

I’m looking forward to the Breakthrough Institute’s “Breakthrough Dialogue 2022: Progress Problems” conference next month, where I’ll be on a panel discussing Klein’s “supply-side progressivism” idea and, I hope, finding ways to counter the regulatory mindset that sees every new venture as something to be squashed or controlled.

One of the striking splits today, which I failed to anticipate in TFAIE, is between those concerned with climate change as a problem needing dynamist approaches to find solutions and those like Bill McKibben who use it as an excuse to promote stasis. BTI’s Alex Trembath, who is definitely in the dynamist camp, published an excellent article in March on “cost-disease environmentalism,” his term for what happens when subsidies to promote, say, green infrastructure confront regulations that hamper all infrastructure.

Subsidizing demand for low-carbon technology comes with serious risks if policymakers don’t attend to the supply side by dismantling the regulatory bottlenecks that make it hard to build anything in this country. For decades, clean-energy deployment has been undergirded by federal tax credits, state-level renewable-portfolio standards, and other subsidies. Democrats’ climate agenda broadly extends and expands this subsidy regime. Yet the projects these subsidies support encounter regulatory hurdles imposed by the same governments that provide the subsidies.
Public enemy number one has to be the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Passed in 1970 as part of a wave of environmental regulatory reform, NEPA created regulatory standards and hurdles for infrastructure projects, industrial facilities, and more. NEPA’s practical effect has been the proliferation of environmental impact statements (EISs) for projects that could “significantly affect” the environment, including everything from denser housing supply in cities and high-speed electric rail to large-scale renewable-energy projects and, infamously, bike lanes. The constraints on breaking ground, let alone completing, projects like these are notorious. As Niskanen’s Hammond and Brink Lindsey have noted, the average EIS today runs over 600 pages in length and takes 4.5 years to complete.

A similar phenomenon explains why the liveliest, and most politically effective, cross-partisan dynamist coalitions today are centered on increasing the supply of housing (one of my favorite topics). You don’t have to be a libertarian to see the value in the literal meaning of laissez- faire: allow doing.

What I'm learning from Substack and why I write columns on weird subjects

This post was originally sent out through my Substack newsletter on May 8. To read current entries and subscribe, go here.

When I revived my newsletter using Substack, I thought of it primarily as a way to sent out my recent work to people who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Then I started adding old articles relevant to current discussions. I'm now sending out two newsletters a week: one with updates and one with something from the archives.

I quickly learned that Substack offers a distinct advantage over both social media and ordinary publication: I can add new material that doesn’t fit easily into a normal article, often because it’s simply too long. If you read the newsletter, you get to see things like the 1799 poem about giving a young sailor a pocket globe or my great-grandfather writing in 1928 about the early days of mechanical cotton harvesting.

One happy result of the newsletter has been an invitation from Steven Heller and Debbie Millman to publish in their revitalized online version of Print Magazine, starting with this reprint of an article on summertime textiles that I wrote last summer for Zocálo:

Wedding dresses and bridal veils. Graduation caps and gowns. The Stars and Stripes and the rainbow Pride flag. Rally towels and baseball caps. The flags and fashions of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Checked picnic blankets and striped beach towels. The red, green, and black of Juneteenth celebrations.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without textiles.

Blessed with an abundance of cloth, we tend to take textiles for granted, all the more so when we aren’t bundled up against the cold. But textiles are among the oldest, most essential, and most pervasive of human inventions. Their summertime incarnations demonstrate just how central they are to defining who we are. Freed by higher temperatures from most of their protective functions, in the summer textiles reveal their social side, becoming signs of who we are and what we value.

This article also answers a question I’m often asked but don’t address in The Fabric of Civilization: When did wearing clothes start? Read the whole thing here.

Writing timely yet timeless columns

As a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, I have a strong incentive to tie my articles to the news. But as a writer (and reader) with little patience for boredom and repetition, I strive to offer unique material—writing on topics, or offering perspectives, that you won’t get from other people. It’s hard to say something new on a subject that everyone is writing about. To square the circle, I often address cultural, historical, or philosophical themes using recent news as a springboard.

One of my most popular recent articles was this one from a year ago, inspired by the news that the large jeweler Pandora would no longer use mined diamonds in its wares. Titled “‘Natural’ and ‘Ethical’ Are Getting a Divorce,” it allowed me to tap files about synthetic luxuries that I’ve been collecting for years, while drawing on themes about nature and artifice of perennial interest. Here’s the lead:

Vegan silk and leather, mine-free diamonds, bioengineered perfumes: Lab-grown products with ethical appeal could be the future of luxury. Exemplified by the announcement last week that giant jeweler Pandora A/S will no longer use mined diamonds in its products, the emergence of these high-tech luxury goods represents a significant cultural shift.

Since the first Earth Day a half-century ago, large industries have grown from the widespread conviction that “natural” foods, fibers, cosmetics and other products are better for people and the planet. It’s an attitude that dates back to the 18th- and 19th-century Romantics, who rejected industrialism in favor of sublime landscapes and rural nostalgia: What’s given is good; what’s made is suspicious, especially if it’s of recent origin.

That assumption is beginning to reverse, as entrepreneurs and consumers turn to cutting-edge artifice in search of more environmentally friendly, less ethically fraught materials. Substances grown in fermentation vats or built up atom by atom are replacing those wrenched from the earth, stripped from plants and animals or implicated in human suffering.

You can read the whole thing here. It inspired a panel at South by Southwest and I expect to do further reporting on the topic this summer.

This past week, the death of paparazzo Ron Galella, best known for his photos of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, inspired a column on celebrity photography, drawing on history I learned while researching The Power of Glamour:

Ron Galella, the New York paparazzo best known for his stealth photos of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, died last Saturday. Born in 1931, Galella lived through three culturally and technologically distinct eras in celebrity photography. Despite their enormous differences in ethos and aesthetics, their common elements offer insights into our photo-saturated age.

The full version, including links and good examples of photos, is at Bloomberg Opinion here, but the Washington Post ran a link-free version that my subscription allows an ungated link to here. (Bloomberg allows a limited number of free reads a month.)

Misc. book news

The History in Story newsletter ran a nice review of The Fabric of Civilization, accompanied by an excellent teaser Twitter thread, featuring interesting examples from the book.

Apple is running a sale on the audio version of The Fabric of Civilization. It’s $4.99 through May 18. You’ll find it in Buzzy Nonfiction under History here.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel

It will encourage me to make more videos like this one.

Inspired by Adam Smith: Why do people buy cool pocket gadgets?

This post was originally sent out through my Substack newsletter on May 3. To read current entries and subscribe, go here.

Since August, I’ve been enjoying a two-year appointment as a Visiting Fellow at the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman University in Orange County. The institute is named for two people: our colleague Vernon Smith, who won the Nobel prize in economics for his pioneering work on experimental economics, and Adam Smith, the 18th-century economist and moral philosopher most famous for The Wealth of Nations. One of the institute’s missions is to reintegrate economics and the humanities, in the tradition of Adam Smith. Along those lines, this year I co-taught a course called “Consumerism and Its Discontents” with an economist. (This course, which had been previously taught in 2018, uses The Substance of Style, among other works, including The Great Gatsby, Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, and Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit from the Goon Squad.) I’m now working to design a new first-year seminar for next year called “Ambition and the Meanings of Success.” It, too, will be co-taught in a discussion format—both Smith Institute practices.

On the syllabus for each course, I’ve incorporated a passage from Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments called “Of the Effect of Utility upon the Sentiment of Approbation.” I’m a bit obsessed with this passage, which gets richer every time I read it. It’s about why we often go to great trouble and expense not merely to attain a goal but because we’re enamored with the means of attaining it. The puzzle, for Smith, is that “the exact adjustment of the means for attaining any conveniency or pleasure, should frequently be more regarded, than that very conveniency or pleasure.”

Smith spins out this paradox, applying it to everything from furniture arrangement to designs for public improvements. Those who’ve read The Power of Glamour may recall a passage I cite about “the poor man’s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition.” He’s enraptured with a glamorous vision of wealthy contentment and works hard all his life to achieve it: “Through the whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquillity that is at all times in his power.”

I’ve been using some of my Smith Institute research time to investigate the material and cultural history behind another, quite contemporary paragraph. It’s about 18th-century pocket gadgets.

How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew’s-box, some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden.

Some things simply seem cool. And often we go to more trouble than these “trinkets of frivolous utility” are worth. Smith isn’t talking about watches, which get their own separate discussion. So what were these pocket gadgets? For the past several months, off and on between other work, I’ve been investigating this question.

Here’s one answer:

In Adam Smith’s day, and for roughly a century before and after him, pocket globes were popular consumer items. I tell their story and examine their appeal in my most recent article, published appropriately on Liberty Fund’s site, where you can find Adam Smith’s great work. (When I was in London doing research I met up with historian Anton Howes, who kindly played hand model above. If you’re interested in the history of invention and innovation, be sure to check out his Substack, “Age of Invention.”) Here’s a bit from the article:

A pocket globe was a different sort of object, “new and ingenious” but not primarily functional. “Its only Use was to keep in memory the situation of Countries, and order of the Constellations and particular Stars,” acknowledged Joseph Moxon, the London printer who popularized the pocket globe. Three inches in diameter, Moxon’s pocket globe came in a case lined with a map of the heavens, making it two globes in one.

Pocket globes exemplified what Adam Smith called “trinkets of frivolous utility,” otherwise known as consumer gadgets. Their appeal lay less in their function than in their cool factor. “What pleases these lovers of toys,” wrote Smith, “is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies.” Like nutmeg grinders, étuis (“tweezer cases” to Smith), and tiny microscopes for examining flowers, pocket globes offered ingenuity you could carry around.

Read the whole thing here.

Aside from their scientific aura, pocket globes took on patriotic and imperial meaning. Here’s a 1799 poem titled “Sent, with a Pocket Globe, to a Young Gentleman Going On-Board the Amethyst Man-of-War.” I’ve included the footnotes from the original. The references were apparently as obscure in 1799 as they are today.

To England ere you bid adieu,
My friend and sailor, gallant Hugh,
Proud to exchange, at Honour’s call,
Your cricket for a cannon-ball.
This globe accept—so like, we know,
One whirl’d six thousand years ago.
By Him whose fiat rules the tide,
And bids our fleets in triumph ride!
Who smote the French by valiant Howe,
And crown'd with laurel Duncan’s brow,
Bade Jervis Spain’s armada foil,
Bade Nelson thunder at the Nile
Bade England humble Gallic pride,
That scatters blood and ruin wide.
On this small Globe, exulting, see
Great Britain in epitome;
Whose sailors keep the world in check
They, who to shores of Iceland roam,
In either India are at home.
Learn, here, to study daring Drake,
There Raleigh voyaged, here fought Blake;
Contemplate Cooke’s eventful story
Or follow Anson’s path to glory
See Rodney, deck'd with flags, advance
From vanquish’d Holland, Spain, and France!
But vain the talk to number o’er
These heroes of the British shore.
And, O my Namesake, whilst your burn
To fight and triumph in your turn,
Let nicest Honour be your guide,
Your Pole-star, though the dangerous tide,
Then, when the trump of war shall blow,
And George commands to blast the foe,
Like Norman Hugo,* Ridware’s lord,
With stern defiance draw your sword;
Like cross-legged Henry* point your rage
Where Infidels the battle wage;
Like fam’d Sir Robert,* win renown
In cause of Country, King, and Crown,
With brave Sir Bertin* bravely vie:
They knew to conquer, or to die!
The battle gain’d—safe, amidst cannon’s roar,
In the proud Amethyst approach the shore,
There to receive the meed of valour won,
Whilst parents own, with pride, their gallant son.
—H.M.C.

* Hugo Malveysin, in the reign of Henry I, whose armed effigy remains at the Ridware church, Staffordshire
* Sir Henry Malveysin, in the region of Edward I, whose cross-legged effigy (showing he was a Crusader) still remains.
* Sir Robert Malveysin, who slew Sir William Handsacre, and was slain himself soon after (stans cum rege) at the battle of Shewsbury, in 1403.
* Sir Bertin Entwystell, who distinguished himself in the wars, and was slain at St. Albans, on the part of Henry VI, in 1455.

Upcoming Travel and Appearances:

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.

Monday, May 23 to Wednesday, May 23 (leaving early afternoon): New York City, schedule TBD. If you have something in mind, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 22 to Friday, June 24: Breakthrough Dialogue 2022: Progress Problems, Sausalito, CA. I’ll be on a panel discussing Ezra Klein’s idea of “Supply Side Progressivism.”

Thursday, June 30 to Friday, July 1: A Tapestry of Rules: Institutions and cloth industries in global comparative perspective, 1750-2000, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands. I’ll be giving a talk on popularizing scholarly research and soaking up more of same.

I’ll be in Europe until July 8, so if you have something in mind, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!

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.

New Video: Cochineal Dyeing

Following up on my previous video, on the history of cochineal, once the world's most valuable red dye, I tried my hand at using it and learned first-hand a few things I'd previously only known from books.

To see all my videos, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

UPDATED: In 2020, a Book Tour Means Never Having to Leave Your Kitchen

To promote The Fabric of Civilization, I've been doing lots of podcasts and Zoom talks from a makeshift studio in my kitchen. I use block-printed fabric I bought in India as a backdrop to cover the doors to my washer and dryer. You can get an idea of how it looks from these screen shots of a Zoom talk where I'm sharing my screen and one where I'm answering questions, or check out the videos.

Podcasts have replaced radio interviews as the book tour's bread and butter publicity, and I've been doing loads of them. (Even actual radio interviews turn into podcasts once they're archived.) They're generally a satisfying experience, because hosts have read the book and you can have a real conversation. Check these out:

a16z with Sonal Chokshi: "Textiles as Tech, Science, Math, Culture… or Civilization" Tech-oriented podcast hosted by the Andreesen Horowitz venture capital firm.

The Woven Road with Meadow Coldon: "The Fabric of Civilization, Interview with Virginia Postrel" Podcast hosted by "an inquisitive, knitting archaeologist in exploring the rich fiber art traditions from across history and around the world."

init with Dave Birnbaum: "Textiles and Tech" Podcast about the "tactile internet."

The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg: "Hipster Luddites" Podcast from a free-thinking conservative

EconTalk with Russ Roberts: "Virginia Postrel on Textiles and the Fabric of Civilization" Economics podcast

Think with Krys Boyd: "How Textiles Stitched The World Together" Dallas public radio KERA

The Reason Interview with Nick Gillespie: "Virginia Postrel: When Calico Was Treated Like Cocaine" Wide-ranging interviews with a libertarian slant. Here's a short video based on that interview:

Virtual Memories Show with Gil Roth: "Virginia Postrel" Podcast "about books and life," focused on writers, artists, and comics creators

Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb O. Brown: "The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World" The libertarian think tank's podcast, often focused on books

Ipse Dixit with Brian Frye: "Virginia Postrel on the History of Textiles" Podcast usually focused on legal scholarship

Constant Wonder: "Fabric of Civilization" BYU Radio

The Curious Task with Alex Aragona: "Virginia Postrel—How Do Textiles Shape Society?" Philosophy, politics, economics, and other ideas from a classical liberal perspective.

The Bookmonger with John J. Miller: "The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel" Short interviews about books, produced by National Review.

Alain Guillot: "Virginia Postrel, How Textiles Made the World" Personal development, personal finance, entrepreneurship

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