Strange Harvests: Giving and Taking from the Natural World (Paperback)
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An original and magical map of our world and its riches, formed of the stories of the small-scale harvests of seven natural objects
In this beguiling book, Edward Posnett journeys to some of the most far-flung locales on the planet to bring us seven wonders of the natural world--eiderdown, edible birds' nests, civet coffee, sea silk, vicuña fiber, vegetable ivory, and guano--that promise ways of using nature without damaging it. To the rest of the world these materials are mere commodities, but to their harvesters they are imbued with myth, tradition, folklore, and ritual, and form part of a shared identity and history.
Strange Harvests follows the journeys of these uncommon products from some of the most remote areas of the world to its most populated urban centers, drawing on the voices of the people and little-known communities who harvest, process, and trade them. Blending history, travel writing, and interviews, Posnett sets these human stories against our changing economic and ecological landscape. What do they tell us about capitalism, global market forces, and overharvesting? How do local microeconomies survive in a hyperconnected world? Is it possible for us to live together with different species? Strange Harvests makes us see the world with wonder, curiosity, and new concern.
About the Author
Edward Posnett was born in London. After a spell working in financial services, he started writing about nature, markets, and trade. His fascination with the Icelandic tradition of eiderdown harvesting led him to write “Eiderdown,” winner of the Bodley Head/Financial Times Essay Prize, and sparked this first book. He lives in Philadelphia.
“Strange Harvests turns nature’s fairy tales inside out [and] usurps the reader's expectations . . . an impressive addition to the modern travelogue, painting some of the world's most remote terrain in visceral and sometimes breathtaking prose . . . an engrossing read.” —NPR
“Posnett moves from one example to another with moral precision, wryness and a refusal to be discouraged. Stories build subtly and sometimes with sudden drama; all are entangled in complex political, cultural and ecological circumstances . . . The non-human creatures [...] too are heroic.” —The Guardian
“A truly remarkable debut, weird, inquisitive and swarming with memorable characters.” —The Sunday Times
“A subtle, reflective study [of] seven very different products harvested from living plants and animals . . . Woven through are moving stories of the remote microeconomies engaged in these trades.” —Nature
“Edward Posnett has written an exceptional first book; Strange Harvests is a subtle, fascinating braiding of travel, cultural and natural history, ethnography and economic analysis; a modern-day Wunderkammer with echoes of Pico Iyer as well as Sir Thomas Browne. Clear-eyed but never blithe, Posnett records the destructiveness of market rapacity as well as rare, hopeful examples of human and more-than-human harmony. It is a pleasure and an education to journey with him in these pages.” —Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland and The Old Ways
“An original and bracing read. Posnett engages the reader sensually, intellectually, and poetically, dispelling any sense of separateness between our human existence and the material goods that rise from the earth and pass through our hands. The great gift of this book is that it inspires us to look with new depth into the varied stuff of life, and with this widened perspective, to act with care, grace, intelligence, and joy.” —Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet and Mozart’s Starling
“A beautiful exploration of our fraught connections with other species. With seemingly boundless curiosity, Posnett invites us on journeys through the surprising webs created by international trade. Uniting these stories from around the world are essential questions for our time: Is a balance between humans and the rest of nature possible? Or do we inevitably destroy what we harvest and desire? Full of surprise, delight, and horror, these lively tales illuminate and captivate.” —David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and The Forest Unseen
“[An] evocative look at precious natural objects . . . Posnett aims to record 'for posterity' the wondrous details of these objects—and he succeeds marvelously.” —Publishers Weekly
“Posnett scours the globe for natural commodities that sustain a balance in which consumption doesn't lead to destruction and harvesting involves replenishing and renewal . . . An engrossing tale of wonder.” —Kirkus Reviews