Monday, September 9, 2013

On Paper - Book Review

On Paper - The Everything Of Its 2000 Year History
By Nicholas Basbanes
Knopf Books
October 2013

I love Nick Basbanes' books. He writes wonderful book about books and bibliography.

So when I was offered the chance to read this new book, as an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) I jumped at the opportunity.

This book is about the history of PAPER - that thin stuff we humans used to write on -  before the Internet and the world wide web was invented. Now most of us type on keyboards and our writing is stored in Cyberspace!!

Paper was invented back in China some 2000 years ago, and eventually  arrived in Europe by way of the Middle East. Paper was clearly readily available before Gutenberg invented the printing press. The Printing press may have been new to Europe in 1450 CE, but it had been around in China in one form or another for quite some time. 

While reading the history of paper in this book, was extremely enlightening, Basbanes  could  have been lightened it up with a few more anecdotes, and personal stories.

Basbanes spent seven years travelling throughout China, Asia, Middle East, Europe and the New World, chasing the history of paper.  Some of his stories are interesting, others are not. I am probably biased, but there are some areas of history and some cultures I really don't have any interest in.

The chapters about the history of paper in China and along the Silk Road were very interesting to me. I thoroughly enjoyed those. The chapter about making paper in Japan was not. I personally am not terribly keen on Japanese history or culture.

That's not to say that the history was dry and dull, it wasn't. But all that history,  was certainly packed in tight and the chapters were quite lengthy to read. I think another reason why I had trouble getting through this book, is because this was an ARC, (and not the finished product) and there was NOT a lot of white space.

I like reading books with large (easy to read) text and lots of white space. They look "friendly" to me. This ARC had pages and pages of small text with very few photos and not a lot of white space - so again, I may have been biased. As a result, I could not read several chapters at one time.

Basbanes went on to describe different ways in which paper was used.  These included chapters on the following subjects.

Cartridge wraps (for holding the gunpowder before metal bullets were invented)
Hand made paper - often used for Origami (very important in Japan)
Identity papers and passports
Government documents

Diaries, Journals, Letters, Prose, Plays and other forms of literature
Picture Postcards, Posters and Cards
Gift wrapping paper
Designs, plans, schematics and blueprints
Printed Photographs (before the digital photo came along)

And so on.

As you can see, Paper has always been used in a variety of ways and for a lot of different reasons.

This book is due to be published on or around 17 October, 2013 by Alfred Knopf Books.
Price will be USD35 and there will 448 pages.

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