The Ugly History of Beautiful Things

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Paris Review contributor Katy Kelleher explores our obsession with gorgeous things, unveiling the fraught histories of makeup, flowers, perfume, silk, and other beautiful objects.

April recommended reading by the New York Times Book Review, Vanity Fair, Goodreads, Jezebel, Christian Science Monitor, All Arts, and the Next Big Idea Club
One of Curbed’s and Globe and Mail’s (Toronto) best books of the spring
A most anticipated book of 2023 by The Millions

Katy Kelleher has spent much of her life chasing beauty. As a child, she uprooted handfuls of purple, fragrant little flowers from the earth, plucked iridescent seashells from the beach, and dug for turquoise stones in her backyard. As a teenager she applied glittery shimmer to her eyelids after religiously dabbing on her signature scent of orange blossoms and jasmine. And as an adult, she coveted gleaming marble countertops and delicate porcelain to beautify her home. This obsession with beauty led her to become a home, garden, and design writer, where she studied how beautiful things are mined, grown, made, and enhanced. In researching these objects, Kelleher concluded that most of us are blind to the true cost of our desires. Because whenever you find something unbearably beautiful, look closer, and you’ll inevitably find a shadow of decay lurking underneath.