Paper: Paging Through History

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I recently finished reading Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky. Being a book about paper, the publisher wisely chose to print it on lovely creamy paper and put a note on the paper and typeface in the back of the book. I wish more publishers would do this as it seems simple enough to include and those who are not interested can ignore it but for those of us who are interested it adds to the appeal. Not only is it printed on Sebago paper but the author himself carved the letters opening each chapter, based on ones designed by Albrecht Dürer (the early 16th century artist who looks just like Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger). Nice touch Mark Kurlansky.

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The book examines the history of paper from a global perspective. In particular, Kurlansky uses paper to challenge the assumption that society changes because new technology is introduced. Rather, his thesis is that technology is developed when the need arises. He makes a very compelling case starting with the development of language itself. In fact, a fair bit of the book is not strictly just about paper but language, printing, publishing, art, etc. Occasionally, the story oscillated too much between the story of the manufacture of paper to what paper is used for. This changing focus and the inclusion of almost too much research sometimes made the book lose its narrative drive. This was especially evident in the last couple of chapters. However, Kurlansky’s storytelling skills generally made the book very readable.

I love paper and I find history fascination so not surprisingly I enjoyed this book, especially the parts on how paper is made.

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