From relics of Georgian empire-building and slave-trading, through Victorian London's barged-out refuse to 1980s fly-tipping and the pervasiveness of present-day plastics, Rag and Bone traces the story of our rubbish, and, through it, our history of consumption.
In a series of beachcombing and mudlarking walks – beginning in the Thames in central London, then out to the Kentish estuary and eventually the sea around Cornwall – Lisa Woollett also tells the story of her family, a number of whom made their living from London's waste, and who made a similar journey downriver from the centre of the city to the sea.
A beautifully written but urgent mixture of social history, family memoir and nature writing, Rag and Bone is a book about what we can learn from what we've thrown away – and a call to think more about what we leave behind.
Lisa Woollett's family have found value in what is thrown away for generations – her great-grandfather was a scavenger and her grandfather was a dustman, while she herself has been a beachcomber all her life, and in recent years has taken photographs of her beach and river finds. She is the author of two award-winning photography books about the sea, and Rag and Bone won a Royal Society of Literature Giles St Aubyn Award for Non-Fiction. She has lived in Cornwall with her family since 2004, in a house shared with buckets and boxes of shore finds.
"Lisa Woollett's beautifully descriptive language intertwines the stories of the river's history with that of her family, like a muddy journey through time. But it's so much more than that – in recording the waste and the lives we've left behind she's given us a chance to change our ways and possibly head towards a cleaner future"
– Raynor Winn
"Wonderful [...] If you loved The Salt Path, you'll love this book. A glorious celebration of where the natural world meets the human (and the messes we make)"
– Viv Groskop
"Rag and Bone digs deep into the mud of the Thames estuary, and comes up with something compelling and urgent – history told through rubbish. Lisa Woollett is a genuine mudlark, alert and closely attuned to the ways of the intertidal zone. A fascinating book"
– Philip Marsden
"A delicious confection of a book, blending history and memoir with thoughts and close observation. I so enjoyed watching shadows of the past flit across Lisa Woollett's watery pages. It is a timely book, too, when, as Woollett writes, "our waste threatens to overwhelm us""
– Sara Wheeler
"Tracing the remote and recent past – her own, and ours – through watery debris, Lisa Woollett conjures up, in poetic prose and brilliant stories, the spin cycle of history. In Rag and Bone, she elegantly picks her way through the trash, to reveal something gloriously and richly strange: a portrait of what we were and what we might become"
– Philip Hoare
"Mudlark and beachcomber Lisa Woollett journeys into her family's past, our collective history and our possible futures. Subtle, dark and funny, with flashes of beauty and wonder, Rag and Bone is a compelling meditation on the consumer culture and its consequences"
– Caspar Henderson
– Patrick Gale
"Lisa Woollett spins narrative gold out of literal dross in this gorgeous story of our waterways that lulls you like a punt on the Cam before making you seasick at the damage we've wrought on the oceans"
– Evening Standard, Books to Read This Summer
"Absorbing [...] Woollett has a gift for bringing to life the strange borderlands of the foreshore"
"Discursive, lyrical and intriguing [...] Woollett writes beautifully"
– Literary Review
"Rag and Bone is more than a history in a hundred objects: it is a meditation on our relationship with objects themselves"
– Times Literary Supplement
"[A] beguiling blend of memoir, nature writing and social history"
– The Bookseller, editor's choice
"More than personal memoir, this is a powerful book that has much to say about the present and future state of our world"
"Woollett weaves the story of her own London family within the wider social history of recycling [...] the book is illustrated with photographs of her finds arranged in ways that often say as much as the words do about the subject matter"
– Caught by the River, Book of the Month
"A constant delight [...] highly recommended"
– Eden Magazine
"Accompanied by the fantastically beautiful photographs of her finds, Woollett [...] traces her own family history in poetic prose"
– Simple Things
"[Woollett's] mudlarking (preferred tool: a butter knife) reveals no end of social history washed up on the shore and awaiting interpretation"
– Strong Words
"Subtle, lyrical and funny"
– The Lady