In a gorgeous history that spans continents and millennia, Aarathi Prasad weaves together the complex story of the queen of fabrics.
Through the scientists who have studied silk, and the biology of the animals from which it has been drawn, Prasad explores the global history, natural history, and future of a unique material that has fascinated the world for millennia.
For silk, prized for its lightness, luminosity, and beauty is also one of the strongest biological materials ever known. More than a century ago, it was used to make the first bulletproof vest, and yet science has barely even begun to tap its potential. As the technologies it has inspired – from sutures to pharmaceuticals, replacement body parts to holograms – continue to be developed in laboratories around the world, they are now also beginning to offer a desperately needed, sustainable alternative to the plastics choking our planet.
Prasad's Silk is a cultural and biological history from the origins and ancient routes of silk to the biologists who learned the secrets of silk-producing animals, manipulating the habitats and physiologies of moths, spiders and molluscs. Because there is more than one silk, there is more than one story of silk. More than one road, more than one people who discovered it, and wove its threads.
From the moths of China, Indonesia and India to the spiders of South America and Madagascar, to the silk-producing molluscs of the Mediterranean, Silk is a book rich in the passionate connections made by women and men of science to the diversity of the animal world. It is an intoxicating mix of biography, intellectual history and science writing that brings to life the human obsession with silk.
Aarathi Prasad is a writer, broadcaster, and researcher. She is the author of In the Bonesetter's Waiting Room: Travels Through Indian Medicine (Profile, 2016) which was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week and won the Popular Medicine Award at the BMA Awards 2017; and Like A Virgin: How Science is Redesigning the Rules of Sex (Oneworld, 2012), shortlisted for the Salon Prize and translated into Italian, Bulgarian and Dutch. Born in London to an Indian mother who wore only silk saris and a Caribbean father who loved the natural world, Aarathi was educated in the West Indies and the UK. After completing a PhD in molecular genetics from Imperial College London, she later trained in bioarchaeology. She works as a Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Institute for Global Health, focusing on sustainability and urban health in Kenya, and as part of an international team excavating and analysing ancient DNA from funerary sites in Spain, Rome, and Pompeii.