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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

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  301 ratings  ·  88 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.

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Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Knopf (first published 2013)
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3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  301 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
David V.
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
James Murphy
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Generally a history of paper and its development but even more a book about the idea of it and how we use it. Basbanes convincingly shows its flexibility and indispensability.
Sep 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“… 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.

Nancy Kennedy
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jan 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Cyndie by: National Archives Library
Shelves: own, non-fiction
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
Nov 10, 2013 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
Bill Wells
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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!
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.
Oct 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
another excellent book by Mr. Basbanes
Sarah Souther
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
It's possible that this does not cover "everything in its 2,000-year history," but I sure can't think of anything else. Basbanes explores hand papermaking in the land of its birth to its rebirth in the craft movement in the U.S. He also covers paper money, forgery, espionage, cigarettes, modern hygiene practices, and origami.

This is well-written and engaging enough that it will appeal to many who are not quite paper fanatics.

I had the opportunity to take a class from Tim Barrett and to work with
Ariela Housman
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I adored most of this book. It was both funny and informative. It's crammed with fun factoids, and Basbanes is very good at creating context by means of a series of fascinating vignettes that build up to a whole.

It was a little slow to begin, so if you find yourself midway through the first chapter thinking that if you have to read one more description of a handmade paper workshop in rural Asia, just skip to the second chapter.

I put it down in the last chapter, though, because I wasn't ready to
Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction
Compared to Kurlansky's book about paper, which I also read this year, this book is a bit harder to read. It has a central theme, paper, but each chapter reads more like a separate essay or article and some of the topics are not as paper related as others. Still, each chapter was interesting, even the ones that were a bit more rambling. And, for paper enthusiasts this would be a fun read, with lots of random trivia on all sorts of tangentially related subjects, as well as about paper.
W. Nikola-Lisa
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recently-read
Nicholas Basbanes' On Paper is both an incredibly well-researched book (going way beyond the usual associations we have with paper and paper making), but also a difficult book because of the density of the material. As you can see, it's been on my night table for several months, but that's how you should read it (unless you're totally into the history of paper usage), bit-by-bit, one chapter at a time, so you can both enjoy and digest the fascinating material presented.
Nov 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I found this book interesting but hard to come back to. I could see it more as a college student's research source than what my 2015 self attempted to use as entertainment during his first year of bachelor's degree life. Both Nicholas and Mark Kurlansky's "Paper" are quite long, for paper is apparently older than several well known countries and even empires. I may give it a re-read now that I am done with school. Perhaps it would behoove me to try this tome as an audio book.
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Cool details and anecdotes, some great endnotes, but overall the book didn't hang together all that well for me, the chapters becoming more and more episodic. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't recommend it.
George Lai
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
It's a fascinating and unique topic but admittedly some chapters are very dry especially those on some US companies. I felt more emphasis on early history would have been better.
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
very interesting
Maria Rosanna Ioannou
Lovely book for paper lovers like me!
Ted Lehmann
Nov 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: white
You might not know it, but we are currently living in the golden age of non-fiction. Seriously. I realize that this may come as news to the many excellent and underpaid authors who struggle to secure a good living from writing about our world, in long form. However, for more topics than it would occur to you to look for, there are authors who have immersed themselves in it for a year or more, and come back with a book to tell you what they found. I have read excellent books on the pigeon, the ra ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Was OK. Narrative story-telling way to cover parts of the history of paper. Not technical at all. Lots of people telling stories.

Was Russ & Susie book.
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Eric Wurm
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
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
Oct 14, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Mar 31, 2014 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
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Oh man what a fun book this was! I know not the coolest person around, but neither am I the most nerdy out there, but damn did I get some odd looks while reading this book. In any case, this was great! Basbanes, the self described bibliophile, has finally broken down and gotten to the root of his mania, I mean how could you truly love books without knowing, really, about their base components? I'm really, really hoping Basbanes goes off and writes a book on the history of writing next!

So what w
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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.