The Roots of Progress

Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber

Stephen Yafa

A history of cotton, from antiquity to the present. Some key topics covered include: different kinds of cotton; the mechanization of the textile industry in the early Industrial Revolution under Richard Arkwright; the Lowell mills; Eli Whitney and the cotton gin; the Civil War; the boll weevil and how it was fought both before and after modern agricultural technology.

I enjoyed this one and learned some things from it, but wouldn’t recommend it unless you are quite interested in this topic in particular. The writing was just OK and not always illuminating. For instance, the chapter on machines like the spinning jenny and flying shuttle left me still quite confused about what exactly the key inventions were and why (although to be fair pretty much everything I’ve read on these topics leaves me feeling the same way).

Mentioned in: Learning with my hands, Why did we wait so long for the cotton gin?, Pesticides and old lace, That Senator really took a beating

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