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Book review - A short history of the World according to Sheep by Sally Coulthard

I am making a sweeping assumption here that if you have an interest in fibre crafts you probably have an interest in animals that produce fibre. And if that is correct sheep are going to come fairly high on that list. After all they probably have the widest range of all the fibre producing animals, with varying length, fineness, colour. So a book all about the history of sheep, and their impact on humanity might be of interest.


The book really does cover all manner of topics where sheep have a hand (foot?). Starting with their origins and how they were bred into the different types of sheep we see today. The many uses of sheep and how they have impacted human history, and even evolution (lactose intolerance anyone?) are covered. Not just a fibre animal, they have been important throughout the centuries for milk, meat, wool, leather and even as a sacrificial animal (skip this section if you are particularly squeamish but there is some interesting stuff on the preservation of ancient fibres).


Other areas where sheep have shaped our World include language, settlement location, dogs as pets, clothing, travel and exploration and the economy.


The book is quite UK-centric, although mention is given, particularly in the context of origins, to the sheep of other regions. When we get into the wool trade of the middle ages the focus is definitely on the UK (spoiler - it makes a sharp contrast to the current state of the wool trade!) and likewise following on through the industrial revolution.


The impact of sheep in more modern times has a very light mention and the mention of the potential future of sheep feels less balanced that I would like, particularly given that wool remains an excellent material for many uses with a lower environmental impact than its artificial alternatives.


Well written, full of interesting information without feeling too heavy. Excellent referencing of facts (yes I am a nerd and appreciate this) means sources can be investigated for further information. A thorough index at the back is useful for finding facts. I expect this will be read through several times and used as a reference afterwards.


Title: A Short History of the World According to Sheep

Author: Sally Coulthard

Publisher: Apollo

Publication date: 11th November 2021

RRP: £9.99

Genre: Non-fiction, historical, sheep, farming, history of food and farming


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