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On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History
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On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  179 ratings  ·  62 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; Patience and Fortitude; A Splendor of Letters.

From its inv
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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Biblio Files
It's taken me a while to become a Nicholas Basbanes fan, but I think it's finally happened. He's written many books about books, a subject I like to read and think about. But so often, I'll start one of his books and I react to it as I do to Ken Burns' documentaries. They are lovely and worthwhile, but very...relaxing. I often find myself drifting off while watching.

And so it was with Basbanes until the most recent two books of his I've read. This book on paper was a surprise -- I mean, the impo
Arcane yet current

At a time when the death knell of the physical book is touted everywhere Basbanes steps forward and writes a laudatory (physical) book about paper. He traces the beginnings of paper to China and how it migrates to Japan and throughout the East finally landing in Europe. Along the way each culture makes paper their own designed for their own uses, incorporating their own innovations. Paper has been used in many forms of communication, in worship by writing prayers on bits of it
Nancy Kennedy
You have to love an author whose favorite scene from the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" involves a chess prodigy and a piece of paper!

Nicholas Basbanes' book about the history, uses and importance of paper includes plenty of bits of trivia like this, as well as indepth looks at the invention of paper, its uses down through the ages and its future going forward. It took me awhile to figure out that the book's focus is split between the making of paper and the usage of paper. Because the auth
David V.
Received as a winner in a Goodreads drawing. Started on 11-9-13. Finished on 11-17-13. When I signed up to try to win this book, I thought it might be interesting. Well, it was exceptionally interesting. Everything you wanted to know about paper from its Chinese beginnings to types of handmade paper; to the notebooks of Da Vinci, Beethoven, and Edison; to wallpaper, toilet paper, passports, money, postage stamps, cigarette paper (who knew that Zig-Zag was a French company?); to origami and its a ...more
From money to toilet paper to packaging to books, paper is ubiquitous. If you think about it, Nicholas Basbanes could have written several volumes on the 2000 year history of paper. Instead, he chose a variety of topics ranging from traditional paper making techniques, to an overview of the paper industry (now and then), origami, books and libraries, to spy stuff and the blizzard of paper that followed the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center.

An essential product that most of us think litt
“… a guiding premise of this book has been to demonstrate that paper is a substance of utility, almost always defined by the task at hand.”

Written with a travelogue like quality, Nicholas A. Basbanes, “a self-professed Bibliophiliac” as indicated on the cover, takes us on a journey of paper’s “two thousand years” of development and history. The result, Basbanes' Paper: The Everything of Its Two Year History. is a fascinating, informational, educational, and inspirational look at paper.

Apr 25, 2015 Cyndie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cyndie by: National Archives Library
Shelves: non-fiction, own
A beautiful book both in how it is written and how it feels in your hands. Appropriately for a book "On Paper" the paper this book is printed on is smooth and soft in your hand. Even the paper itself emphasizes just how much we that for granted what we assume about how book paper is supposed to feel.

While there are admittedly slow and fact heavy portions, this book is so much more than expected. While it covers the basics - where paper was invented, how it is made, and its invaluable role in soc
Jan 26, 2014 mpacer added it
I really like paper. A lot. And I'm finding these interviews on paper a bit dull. Where's the chemistry and the physics?! The understanding. I know that's not his intention, so I don't fault him. I just really think that should have been covered a bit more thoroughly with a touch less on the people-y-ness. And I'd have welcomed it later in the book it's just a lot of this was far less interesting without the afforded scientific content.

I'm being picky I know but notice how much time I'm spending
Terrific research, writing, and humor.

9..paper derives fr papyrus
16..envious beyond words
63..peddlers looking for rag...rag trade
67..paper made w/o bleach, invented in 1774
use of wasps nests led to making paper from wood pulp
123..ww2 toilet paper..brit 3 sheets/day, yanks 22.5
125..1857 first commercial tp
sears & roebuck - rears & sorebutts american avg = 57 shts/day
174..hard copies..Dan Rather false Bush docs
180..Nazi's convicted by their own signatures
182...Katyn Forest
George Walker
If you love paper (like I do) then you'll love reading this book! Brabanes is the author of A Gentle Madness, published in 1999 it's a fabulous history of book collecting and collectors. Basbanes’ book is part social history and part examination into the many roles and uses of paper and why it is essential to our everyday needs. His topics range from the Sepoy Mutiny in India to the public acceptance of the sanitary napkin and the workings of the National Security Agency and their use of paper. ...more
Bill Wells
This is a really dense book, almost too full of information at times. But it was immensely enjoyable - who would've thought that toilet paper and cigarette papers could be so interesting? The final sections that deal with the debris from the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 were very moving and made me appreciate the power of ephemeral paper.
Loved this book! My favorite parts were tucked in the middle - the discussion of Mincemeat Man and the paper necessary to authenticate his existence was fascinating and the part about Argo was well-written and amazing! Great book if you're looking for well-written non-fiction!
When I picked this book to read, my wife noticed it and asked me why I picked it. I explained that I had seen some reviews of it and thought it might be interesting, like other books I had read about ideas or materials that changed history. After I explained, she said, "Don't tell anybody you are reading it. It sounds incredibly boring."

But I stuck with it. And while I think there were, in fact, some interesting sections, I agree that much of this book isn't particularly fascinating. And here I
Loved this book. You would think that a book about the history of paper would be about as dry as old toast, but this is SO not!! Every chapter is about an aspect of paper and how it affects our lives or the role it played in history. The thing that would not be possible without the evolution of paper and paper products, how we are not even close to living in the so called paperless world and how we got to where we are due to the influence of paper and the people who used and embraced it's potent ...more
Paper is one of those things that is so ubiquitous that most of us never really think of it, and yet it is an amazing substance with remarkable properties. Moreover, it has truly had revolutionary effects on civilization and history. In this gem of a book the history, making, impact, and many uses and meanings of paper are delightfully recounted with a charming enthusiasm and genuine wonder on the part of the author. Reading it gave me both a new-found appreciation for the wonderful thing that p ...more
This book was given to me as a book. I don't think I would have chosen it on my own, though it was interesting enough. Basbanes weaves together many different threads related to paper, from how its made to how it's been used to how it's used now. It's enlightening some of the time, and downright dull at other times.

Ultimately, the book felt very herky-jerky to me, jumping around greatly, and closing with a rather odd section on 9/11. Some of its component parts were interesting enough, but the o
B. Rule
This is a loving treatment of all things paper, but frankly, it was too much detail for me despite my high tolerance for books exploring random topics in depth. I had to give up.
another excellent book by Mr. Basbanes
May 19, 2014 Linda added it
Disclaimer: I love Nicholas Basbanes books. I love all of them, ever since I happened across A Gentle Madness and discovered this whole genre of books about books. I have almost all of his titles, so naturally, I wanted to read this one.

I wouldn't normally expect to be crying at the end of a book about paper, but that's what happened here, when he closes with a story about that blizzard of paper that occurred after the Twin Towers fell. It's an amazing way to end a book that seeks to provide how
Neelakantan K.K.
A lovely book. Well written, nicely paced and with a wealth of detail yet not overwhelmingly so. Basbanes's book talks about the history of paper, and the evolution of the manufacturing process. He also talks about various uses of paper, and the impact paper has had on different fields.

The book does not flag at all. A few of the jumps within chapters are slightly abrupt, but they don't really hamper the reading experience. Basbanes has clearly done his research, and his presentation is great.

A h
Mar 11, 2014 Srujana rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, enthusiasts of papermaking
Shelves: first-reads
I literally just finished reading the epilogue so I want to write this review while everything is fresh in my mind. But first, let me just say that this is a First Reads review; I received the book sometime last year and have only just finished it now!

Firstly, it is easy to see that this book was a labor of love for Basbanes. The book is full of details from trips he has taken and people he has talked throughout his career and it is easy to sense his genuine enthusiasm for the subject. The book
Ted Lehmann
Nov 08, 2013 Ted Lehmann rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bibliophiles, general interest readers
On Paper by Nicholas Basbanes (Knopf, 2013, 449 pages, $35.00) accomplishes a feat you might not expect, turning the prosaic topic of the paper we use each day, and take for granted, into a topic of interest and importance. Beginning with paper's emergence in China before the Common Era began, the early chapters trace its development and the expansion of its use from China to Japan and then, into the Arab world around the time of Mohammed before following the path of Islam to Spain and thence in ...more
I had high hopes for this book. After all, the origins, making, uses and history of paper should be extremely interesting? Not this book. This book is disjointed and jumps around from topic to topic, most of which are only vaguely related to paper. It is a combination of travelogue, lengthy interviews, biographies, paragraphs of credentials, random facts, selective historical anecdotes, excessive (irrelevant in my opinion) historical detail about the people and places that have had something to ...more
Eric Wurm
The author of this history piece is a self-confessed bibliophiliac, and I would classify myself as the same. Upon receiving this tome of almost all that is or ever was paper, I was quite concerned about the length of the book. It's massive! How many interesting subjects could an author include about paper? The answer is surprisingly many. There was no surfeit of extraneous topics and never did I wish a chapter to end sooner rather than later.

This is my first Basbanes book, and I certainly was n
*I received this book as a Firstreads giveaway*

I am very torn on what kind of a review to give this book. On the one hand, it was a very informative and relaxing read. On the other hand, I was very excited to finally have finished the 360 pages detailing everything paper. I think my frustrations were primarily due to the rambling (and occasionally seeming disorganized) style of the author, which at first was charming, but then started to become rather tiresome. I would have appreciated a more de
I was worried at first since the first chapter was slow and difficult to follow. However, the book got better and better and offered interesting insights into the myriad ways that paper has been used and still is used in society. Most interesting was that the book offered a balanced view about reviving old paper-making traditions along with modern innovations in paper (e.g. in currency).
I just started reading this book about paper. It is not just the history of the making of paper but how paper infiltrates human existence. All paper freaks will love this. ... OK so I finished it. I skipped around a lot because I couldnt focus on a lot of the topics...but he does include some far out uses and important parts that paper has played in the lives of humans. He talks paper used in bomb drops and leaflet drops during WWII, about the collection of rags for paper, changes in the value o ...more
The most valuable, useful, pervasive invention after the wheel and before the computer.

For a complete list of winners, please visit

This is the 2014 shortlist selection of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for the Excellence in nonfiction.

For a list of longlist, shortlist and final selections, please visit
Allen Murphey
Basbanes traces the 2000 year history of paper from China or somewhere in southern Asia to now, tracing handmaking practices; recipes for different paper needs; how paper has affected communication and history; and how paper makers, equipment, and users have adapted to changing times, changing needs, and changing paper. Though thorough, Basbanes weaves humor through interesting examples and anecdotes to present an enjoyable history of what you’re right now holding in your hand.
How we make paper has changed over the centuries and millennia, even as we continue to come up with novel uses for it, but our focus is always on the product, and rarely on the production. On Paper is a fascinating work in that it foregrounds the medium and the various purposes it has been put to, forcing the reader’s attention to something which, especially when reading, is generally ignored unless there is something wrong with it. read more
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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.
More about Nicholas A. Basbanes...
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book-Hunter in the 21st Century Patience & Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World

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