Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects

Edward Posnett. Viking, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-399-56279-2
First-time author Posnett combines a background in modern-day finance and an interest in historical trade practices in this evocative look at precious natural objects. He begins with eiderdown, the soft down feathers of eider ducks, long used around in the world in bedding and garments. He goes on to edible bird’s nests, vegetable ivory, sea silk, guano, and other trade items, examining their fluctuating value as international commodities and their natural environs, many of which are now endangered. Occasionally, Posnett offers the objects as history in a nutshell, noting that if Iceland’s cultivation of eider, where the species has long been protected, attests to the country’s “steady rhythms, its insulation from cataclysms, then Russian eiderdown is a portrait of the country’s constant political upheavals”; a Russian biologist notes her country has never successfully cultivated the species. But for the most part, he is careful not to overextend his reach and concentrates on delivering scrupulous descriptions of his subjects and their locales, including both desolate fjords and tropical caves. In the best passages, he capture the harvesters at work, from an Icelandic priest gently lifting eiderdown from abandoned nests, to a Borneo bird nest harvester trodding in flip-flops through ankle-deep guano. Posnett aims to record “for posterity” the wondrous details of these objects—and he succeeds marvelously. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 04/08/2019
Release date: 08/06/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-0-399-56281-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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