Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects

Viking. Aug. 2019. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9780399562792. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399562815. NAT HIST
Using the historical “curiosity cabinet” as a backdrop, debut author Posnett follows seven objects from their origin to their use: eiderdown, vicuña fiber, sea silk, tagua, civet coffee, guano, and swiftlet bird nests. Starting at the source, he attempts to peel back each item’s commodification to reveal the item itself and its myth, folklore, history, and use. In doing so, he traces each object’s meaning and relationship with humanity. Posnett’s book tries to be more than just a general history in that it does not tell a linear story but instead uses each chapter to weave together the histories, myths, traditions, and current practices of each individual object. To tell this story, he visits harvesters and producers, trekking across different countries in order to experience the object itself instead of the object just as a commodity. As such the book also becomes a travelog and a philosophical muse on humanity’s relationship to nature and whether it can change to be more beneficial instead of solely exploitative.
VERDICT Readers who like microhistories and travelogs will enjoy.

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