The best-known American in the picturesque kingdom of Thailand is a greying, well-tanned onetime architect named James H. W. Thompson, 52, who has almost singlehanded saved Thailand's vital silk industry from extinction. When Jim Thompson arrived in Thailand in 1945 as an OSS officer (and stayed on as political adviser to the American minister), silk weaving as a local industry had almost died under the onslaught of cheaper and more durable machine-made silk. Today, almost every ship or plane that leaves Thailand carries Thai silk to some 17 countries, and Thompson's Thai Silk Co. alone employs more than 2,000...

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