ATG Book of the Week: On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History

by | Feb 4, 2014 | 0 comments

On paper - www.randomhouseTitle: On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History
Author: Nicholas Basbanes
Hardcover: ISBN-13: 978-0307266422, $35
Imprint: New York: Knopf, 2013


“Nicholas Basbanes writes about paper, from its invention in China two thousand years ago to its ideal means, recording the thoughts of Islamic scholars and mathematicians that made the Middle East a center of intellectual energy; from Europe, by way of Spain in the twelfth century and Italy in the thirteenth at the time of the Renaissance, to North America and the rest of the inhabited world.

Basbanes writes about the ways in which paper has been used to record history, make laws, conduct business, and establish identities . . . He makes clear that without paper, modern hygienic practice would be unimaginable; that as currency, people will do almost anything to possess it . . . that the Industrial Revolution would never have happened without paper on which to draw designs and blueprints.

We see paper’s crucial role in the unfolding of historical events, political scandals, and sensational trials: how the American Revolution which took shape with the Battle of Lexington and Concord, began with the Stamp Act of 1765 . . . the Dreyfus Affair and the forged memorandum known as “the bordereau” . . . America’s entry into World War I with the Zimmerman Telegram . . . the Alger Hiss spy case and Whittaker Chambers’s testimony involving the notorious Pumpkin Papers . . . Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and the scandal of Watergate…”

“Basbanes has poured his heart and soul into this splendid survey of a beautiful human invention.”
-Philip Marchand, Canadian National Post

“This is not a simple history of paper’s discovery and the spread of the material…Written as a first-hand exploration, On Paper takes a close look at a product so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible and makes the reader see how really amazing it is.  Basbanes reveals how paper changed the world—over and over again.” – Pamela Toler, Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)

“A delightful and intrepid guide in this capacious history of paper…A lively tale told with wit and vigor.” – Kirkus (Starred Review)

“An absolutely fascinating tale.  Told in an engaging, accessible manner, Basbane’s coverage of the topic is wide-ranging, freewheeling, authoritative…An essential, engrossing book that no book lover should be without.” – Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

“Pretty much irresistible.” – Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

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