From the temples of Angkor Wat and Borobudur to images of Ganesh and references to the Ramayana, anyone who visits Southeast Asia cannot fail to be struck by the influence of centuries-old Indian culture, an influence that seems more profound and deeply rooted than that of China. Yet in today’s Southeast Asia, the situation is largely reversed; India is very much a political and commercial also-ran.

If one thought, as I admit I did, that a book with “Silk” and “History” in its title would be (yet another) about China and the Silk Road, one will soon be disabused. Aarathi Prasad, a biologist and science writer, opens with the Lepidoptera floors at London’s Natural History museum. Silk, argues Prasad, has a much more complicated story that the conventional one of China and the Chinese silkworm Bombyx mori: “there is not just one silk, there is not just one story of silk. Not one road, one people who found it, nor who made it.” Indeed, some of the earliest silk cocoons ever found, from Xiyin Cun some two hundred kilometres west of Shuanghuaishu and dating from 3500 BCE, aren’t Bombyx mori at all.

Chris Stowers considers the 1980s to have been the golden age of travel and Bugis Nights describes two trips of his during that decade. One involves traveling in Tibet with his love interest, a German woman named Claudia. Stowers is a green 21-old to Claudia’s seasoned 30. The other, more important thread details a journey from Jampea Island in East Indonesia to Singapore on a sailing boat crewed by Bugis and French adventurers.