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Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce Paperback – September 28, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300168187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300168181
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,006,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"'It is impossible to read this story of boom and bust without drawing on parallels to today's market: Stein lucidly analyses how a single global commodity was shaped by modern consumer desires, and how it was destroyed almost overnight by a sudden shift in fashion.' Judith Flanders, Sunday Telegraph 'I loved this book. I knew nothing about the subject, but Sarah Stein kept me going right to the last page... her comprehensive, meticulous, and fascinating history is a vast subject, which she admirably outlines in straightforward language... a terrific [story].' Jonathan Mirksy, Literary Review 'She makes interesting points about the origins and rise of the South African trade and explains the consequent decline of the market from the north African ports of Tripoli, Benghazi and Essouaria.' Prudence Hone, Guardian"

About the Author

Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies, Department of History, UCLA.

More About the Author

Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor of History and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at UCLA. Co-winner of the 2010 Sami Rohr Prize, her award-winning books include Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press, 2008) and Making Jews Modern: the Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires (Indiana University Press, 2004) as well as the newly-published Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (University of Chicago Press, 2014). She is also co-editor, with Aron Rodrigue, of A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica: the Ladino Memoir of Sa'adi Besalel a-Levi (Stanford University Press, 2012); and co-editor, with Julia Phillips Cohen, of Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (Stanford University Press, 2014). An elected member of the American Academy for Jewish Research, and recipient of several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other granting agencies, Stein has published widely in scholarly journals, including American Historical Review, Journal of Modern History, Jewish Social Studies, and Jewish Quarterly Review, and has recently been appointed co-editor of Jewish Social Studies and co-series editor of the Stanford University Press Series in Jewish Culture and History.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why is it that diamonds are regarded as high value and feathers are not? It seems like a silly question, unless one takes into account the foibles of human enthusiasms and the price tags we put on them. One hundred years ago, ostrich feathers were worth almost as much by weight as diamonds, and businessmen argued that they were equivalent in durability. A fine ostrich feather was "an investment for life" wrote one observer at the time, and went on that the plume "has been in fashion for centuries past, and will probably be for centuries to come. It holds its place like the diamond." Ostrich feathers have, of course, faded from fashion, but any bubble can make an interesting study of human behavior. Sarah Abrevaya Stein has done that, and more, in _Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce_ (Yale University Press). Stein, a professor who concentrates on Jewish Studies, takes a look at this episode which has not only been forgotten but its Jewish origins have been forgotten, too. _Plumes_ is an academic treatise, full of footnotes and wide research, but the peculiarity of its topic makes it funny and sad as well. Not only that, but studying of the feather bust is probably healthful for those of us a hundred years later who have our own economic woes.

Feathers had adorned hats and clothes for centuries, but in the 1880s they became a fashion essential, used on women's large, elaborate hats and on boas. The South African trade in ostrich feathers was coincident with the boom of the area in diamond and gold mines. Stein shows that Jewish workers, traders, manufacturers, and financiers were all involved in the feather trade.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By DE McCulloch on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I write this without the book because I have given it away as a prize in a raffle, I think so much of it. The research was particularly thorough - the footnotes are as interesting as the text. I liked this book better than any other thesis turned into a book because it is so well written - her rhythm, vocabulary and personal voice are all excellent. The material is particularly fascinating, especially as I have an ostrich feather fan and a single plume inherited from my great-grandmother, and I am sure that people tried to establish ostrich farms in Australia before WW1, just as the South African farmers took our - South Australian - wattle seed at that time and set up wattle farms for the bark used in tanning, and killed an industry here because they had cheap (slave) labour.

But her main argument - that the Jews who ran the industry were particularly suited to it through the training they had received in similar European industries, because of the Jewish diaspora and because of the opportunities they had to set up an industry from the beginning and all the way along, that their languages - Yiddish and Judaeo-Arabic - allowed them to communicate with others significant to the trade - I loved this argument, answering the implicit anti-Semitism of any comment on Jewish control of any industry. The thinking, knowledge and wisdom of that position are inspirational, and evoke my gratitude. And my admiration. This is such an excellent work.
And she illustrates this argument with detailed knowledge of the industry, drawn from its records and personal letters, showing its development through Africa (I wanted to know more about the desert camel trains, carrying huge bags of feathers) and the development of the markets, in Europe and America, through family and relationship contacts.
i heartily recommend this book - I loved it.
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By James Comfort on April 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is both a history of the ostrich feather trade, and also a history of the Jews throughout Northern Africa and also South Africa. Hard to belive that Ostrich feathers were as valuable as diamonds early in the 20th century. Wonderful read.
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