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On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year Historyby Nicholas A. Basbanes
Synopses & Reviews
A consideration of all things paper--the invention that revolutionized human civilization; its thousand-fold uses (and misuses); its sweeping influence on society; its makers, shapers, collectors, and pulpers--by the admired cultural historian, and author of the trilogy on all things book related: A Gentle Madness ("A jewel."--David McCullough); Patience and Fortitude ("How could any intelligent, literate person not just love this book"--Simon Winchester); A Splendor of Letters ("Elegant, wry, and humane . . . No other writer has traced the history of the book so thoroughly or engagingly."-- André Bernard, New York Observer).
From its invention in China eighteen hundred years ago to recording the thoughts of Islamic scholars and mathematicians; from Europe, 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 . . . He makes clear that without paper, modern hygienic practice would be unimaginable; that as currency, people will do almost anything to possess it . . . that without it on which to draw designs and blueprints, the Industrial Revolution would never have happened.
We see paper's crucial role in the unfolding of political scandals and sensational trials (the Dreyfus Affair and the forged memorandum known as the bordereau; Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers and Watergate).
Basbanes writes of his travels to get to the source of the story--to China along the Burma Road . . . to Landover, Maryland, and the National Security Agency with its one hundred million secret documents pulped by cryptologists and recycled as pizza boxes . . . to the Crane Company paper mill of Dalton, MA, the exclusive supplier of paper for American currency since 1879; and much more . . .
A masterly guide through paper's inseparability from human culture.
"Journalist and unapologetic bibliophile Basbanes (A Splendor of Letters) sets out to explore the nature of paper and returns with an absolutely fascinating tale. Told in an engaging, accessible manner, his coverage of the topic is a wide-ranging, freewheeling, authoritative look at one of society's most ubiquitous products, from its origins in China nearly two millennia ago through its methodical spread across the world. Basbanes digs into the means by which paper is made and recycled, manufactured and repackaged, created for mass consumption and manipulated as art. He examines the implications of its cultural uses — in historical documents, architectural drawings, government paperwork, currency — and in doing so reveals how many roles, directly and indirectly, paper plays in our lives. Basbanes leaves no page unturned, and finishes with a poignant story of how a paper trail keeps the legacy of 9/11 fresh and has led to the further identification of some victims. Through interviews, personal visits, and extensive research, he has created an engrossing, essential book that no book lover should be without. The wealth of information Basbanes includes barely scratches the surface, but it whets the appetite and forces us to rethink how we view this versatile material. Agent: Glen Hartley, Writers Representatives" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Nicholas A. Basbanes is an award-winning investigative journalist and was literary editor of the Worcester Sunday Telegram. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and Smithsonian, and he is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. Basbanes lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts, with his wife.
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