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In a centuries-old tradition, farmers in northwestern Iceland scour remote coastal plains for the down of nesting eider ducks. High inside a vast cave in Borneo, men perched atop rickety ladders collect swiftlets' nests, a delicacy believed to be a cure for almost anything. Eiderdown and edible birds' nests: both are luxury products, ultimately destined for the super-rich. To the rest of the world these materials are mere commodities but to the harvesters they are all imbued with myth, tradition, folklore and ritual, and form part of a shared identity and history.
These objects are two of the seven natural wonders whose stories Harvest tells: eiderdown, vicuña wool, sea silk, vegetable ivory, civet coffee, guano and edible birds' nests. Harvest follows their journey from the wildest parts of the planet, traversing Iceland, Indonesia, and Peru, to its urban centres, drawing on the voices of the gatherers, shearers and entrepreneurs who harvest, process and trade them.
Blending interviews, history and travel writing, Harvest sets these human stories against our changing economic and ecological landscape. What do they tell us about capitalism, global market forces and overharvesting? How does a local micro-economy survive in a hyper-connected world? Harvest makes us see the world with wonder, curiosity and new concern. It is an original and magical new map of our world and its riches.
Edward Posnett was born in London and studied at Cambridge and Oxford before working in the City in financial investigations. Shortly after leaving financial services, he learnt about the Icelandic tradition of eiderdown harvesting in which farmers offer protection to wild sea ducks in return for their valuable lightweight down. Enchanted by its promise of symbiosis and cooperation, he travelled to Iceland and wrote an account of the trade, Eiderdown, which won The Bodley Head/Financial Times Essay Prize. His first book, Harvest, builds on this essay, introducing the reader to small harvests around the globe through the stories of seven wondrous objects that can be held in the hand. He lives in Philadelphia and is a keen linguist, swimmer and amateur potter.
"Edward Posnett has written an exceptional first book; Harvest 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
"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
"Harvest opens a wondrous cabinet of curiosities. Posnett engages the reader sensually, intellectually, and poetically. 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, attempt to act with care, grace, intelligence, and joy. An original and bracing read."
– Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Mozart's Starling