RogerBW's Blog

The Golden Thread, Kassia St Clair 28 August 2021

2018 non-fiction. Kassia St Clair, a design journalist, looks at the history of fabric and how it has influenced, and been influenced by, the history of civilisation.

Which is a huge brief, and even at full length this book is only 368 pages; with five sections torn out to make 15-minute Book of the Week episodes, it gets even thinner.

The sections we get are about Egyptian flax and linen, Chinese silk, American cotton, Nazi rayon, and some short pieces on "lab-blended materials" (Gemini pressure suits, and squabbles over allowable sporting swimsuits). But they're all tremendously superficial, aimed at an audience who has never thought about this stuff before, rather than… well, the sort of people who might read history books! So I'm not quite sure who was expected to buy it…

This ought to be a companion book to Clare Hunter's Threads of Life (which came out the following year); but even after the condensation process, Hunter managed to retain something approximating a thesis that textile art is an important and ignored part of history, whereas here it's more like "ooh, look at the shiny thing". At least at this remove, St Clair doesn't seem to have any actual point to make, just a treasure-box of historical trivia. Not that I mind historical trivia!

Maybe I should just give up on Books of the Week, or at least be much more selective (I've enjoyed four out of the fourteen I've listened to). The last time the BBC broadcast a new episode was in January 2020, and many of the books don't seem interesting to me anyway. But a few of them have been great.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

See also:
Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, Clare Hunter

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