Silk: A World History (Hardcover)
In a gorgeous history that spans continents and millennia, Aarathi Prasad weaves together the complex story of the queen of fabrics. Through the scientists who have studied silk, and the biology of the animals from which it has been drawn, Prasad explores the global, natural, and cultural history (and future) of a unique material that has fascinated the world for thousands of years.
Silk—prized for its lightness, luminosity, and beauty—is also one of the strongest biological materials ever known. More than a century ago, it was used to make the first bulletproof vest, and yet science has barely even begun to tap its potential. As the technologies it has inspired—from sutures to pharmaceuticals, replacement body parts to holograms—continue to be developed in laboratories around the world, they are now also beginning to offer a desperately needed, sustainable alternative to the plastics choking our planet.
Aarathi Prasad’s Silk is a cultural and biological history from the origins and ancient routes of silk to the biologists who learned the secrets of silk-producing animals, manipulating the habitats and physiologies of moths, spiders, and mollusks. Because there is more than one silk, there is more than one story of silk. More than one road, more than one people who discovered it, and wove its threads.
From the moths of China, Indonesia, and India to the spiders of South America and Madagascar and the silk-producing mollusks of the Mediterranean, Silk is a book rich in the passionate connections made by people of science to the diversity of the animal world. It is an intoxicating read, a mix of biography and science, that not only brings to life the vast, winding history of silk, but also looks to its future as a resource with incredible, untapped potential.
About the Author
Aarathi Prasad is a writer, broadcaster, and researcher. Born in London to an Indian mother who wore only silk saris and a Caribbean father who loved the natural world, Aarathi was educated in the West Indies and the UK. After completing a PhD in molecular genetics from Imperial College London, she later trained in bioarchaeology. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London’s Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, and part of an international team excavating and analyzing ancient DNA from funerary sites in Spain, Rome, and Pompeii. She is the author of two books published in the UK, In the Bonesetter's Waiting Room: Travels Through Indian Medicine and Like a Virgin: How Science Is Redesigning the Rules of Sex.
"In Silk, Aarathi Prasad spins a masterpiece of a story, as luminous, supple, and surprising as the wondrous threads themselves. Page after page I was shocked and spellbound by the efforts of researchers obsessed by silk's mysteries, and by the profound impact of a substance extruded by humble invertebrates on the course of human history. Most of all, I came away from this riveting book awed and humbled by the powers of silk-weaving animals themselves. I'm heartened to read of new efforts to create this magical substance, inspired by, but without subjugating, the animals who have given us this amazing gift." — Sy Montgomery, bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus and Of Time and Turtles
“The story of silk—a material simultaneously familiar and exotic—is more than an eye-opening history, more than a meditation on humans' complex relationship to nature. It is the very story, rich and deeply interwoven, of ourselves. There is no better guide to weave us through its science, its narrative, and its deeply human revelations than Aarathi Prasad.” — Brian Christian, author of The Alignment Problem and Algorithms to Live By
"Both scientific and poetic, this remarkable book shows how the great tides of history are shaped through human encounters with the intricate variety of the non-human world." — David Wengrow, co-author of the international bestseller The Dawn of Everything
”Who would have thought that a book about silkworms and spiders could be so fascinating? Aarathi Prasad criss-crosses centuries and cultures to tell of the intrepid explorers, botanists, scientists, and entrepreneurs who were determined to unravel the secrets of silk production. Her book captures their persistence and her own in the search for the little-told but revelatory stories of human curiosity and ingenuity.” — Clare Hunter, author of Threads of Life
“Aarathi Prasad has woven a wonder of a narrative. Like the transformation of caterpillar to moth that she explores so beautifully, this is a network of threads that spin around the world and tell a story of science, of history, of humanity itself.” — Kate Strasdin, author of The Dress Diary of Mrs. Anne Sykes
"An incredible read. Deeply researched, dazzling. Prasad weaves a magical thread through history, culture, science and nature, unfolding the long and deep relationship we have with the natural history of silk and the creatures that make it." — Seirian Sumner, author of Endless Forms
"Prasad weaves her strands of science, history, and culture to create a rich narrative tapestry that's as sumptuous as the material itself. Full of fascinating detail." — Gaia Vince, author of Nomad Century