Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Paper: Paging Through History” as Want to Read:
Paper: Paging Through History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Paper: Paging Through History

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,217 ratings  ·  228 reviews
Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. One has only to look at history ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published May 23rd 2017 by W. W. Norton Company (first published May 10th 2016)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Paper, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Paper

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Rating details
Sort: Default
This was a fascinating book on the history of paper. I especially enjoyed the discussion on technology, and how it’s a common myth that “technology changes society.” Instead, Kurlansky argues that society is what changes, and technology is developed to meet the new needs of the people.

Besides the interesting look at the various ways that different cultures throughout history have created unique ways of creating paper and recording documents, this book also includes details on the history of writ
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Those who have been following my reviews of late will know that I have been drawn to Mark Kurlansky’s work on the history of certain edible items. In these pieces, the author depicts the evolution and exponential uses for the products throughout the centuries. Here, with the history of paper before me, some may feel that things will take a significant turn towards the mundane. Just how interesting can paper be and how can someone extol its virtues for hundreds of pages? I, too, was somewhat a sk ...more
I'm very into microhistories – books focused on a specific topic or single event – and Kurlansky is one of the best known authors of them, with his book Salt probably the best-known microhistory of them all. In this book, he takes on paper, which he defines very narrowly: "a very thin layer of randomly woven fibers", which excludes papyrus, parchment, vellum, and other materials that I'd thought were basically the same thing. Now I know better! And then of course there are all the paper-adjacent ...more
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley.

Some may consider it ironic that one would read a book about paper on an eBook reader. And it would probably be better not to, as studies tend to indicate that reading from a paper book results in more retention of information. But nevertheless I shall endeavor to review this book: Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky.

Kurlansky is probably best known for his books Salt and Cod, other sweeping histories of commodities, as
May 17, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had very high hopes for Paper, but Kurlansky's book never fulfilled them. The book could never make up its mind whether it was about the manufacturing of paper or what paper is used for. Kurlansky fashions himself an expert on the history of technology, but seems to sell Asia short.

This is the second book I've read on the history of paper. I read Ian Sansom's book on it in 2013. That wasn't all that interesting either. I think I'm officially retired from the history of paper reading department
Margaret Sankey
Like Kurlansky's other books on a commodity, this ends up being a full spectrum tour of human communications, religion, art and commerce, centered around the material culture of paper. There is nothing new here, but with a global sweep, Kurlansky explains how, depending on your material (mulberry bark, cotton, wood pulp, papyrus) and your purpose (shoji screens, scrolls, sketchpad, bureaucratic forms), you get different ends, with artifact lives of their own.
Holly Woodward
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a great read, subtly conveying the ways paper is interwoven with history, both material and intellectual. In one particularly interesting section, Kurlansky traces the ways the American Revolution was bound up with the history of printing in the colonies.

I loved the author’s book, Salt, and this new work rivals its brilliance.
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a genre of books that some have called commodity histories. These are focused histories of specific products (Cotton) or products (the screwdriver). I generally find these books fascinating and the trivia one gets from them is more than enough to show off to colleagues or stop conversations at parties in their tracks. It is sort of a guilty pleasure. II have a book on the history of the elevator waiting in my queue.

Mark Kurlansky is a free ranging journalist who is a master of the commo
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had read Mark Kurlansky's book on oysters (The Big Oyster) and learned more than I had ever realized about oysters and enjoyed it even though I never eat oysters. When I saw this book on paper I knew I would enjoy reading it as well because I do love paper -- love to use it, love to buy it and often talk myself out of acquiring even more of it! This book did not disappoint me although all of his books require you to make an investment of time because they are quite detailed. Kurlansky's premi ...more
Jan 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, history
This book was received as part of the Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.

I have long been intrigued by Mark Kurlansky's approach to history - tracing a single item's impact on the history of the world. Paper was my first chance to read one of his works and I was very impressed. Kurlansky starts with cave painting and traces paper's and the world's history all the way through to the present day. Throughout the book he shows how the creation of paper and corresponding developments such as paper mills,
Jul 16, 2018 marked it as unfinished
getting real tired of white men writing about book history and sounding condescendingly incredulous that chinese people were making paper before they had a name for cellulose. idk maybe I'll pick it up another time.
Yet another one of those "biography of things" books that I adore, written by the guy who can be argued started this whole genre.

In addition to paper, this book is just as much about the evolution of writing, the early book industry (or incunabula, one of my favorite words from library school) and printing in general. I liked the earlier parts of the book that dealt with the topic from a historic view. The later chapters felt a bit unnecessary and seemed somehow separate. Kurlansky seems to have
E. Kahn
Interesting and quite well-written, but contains some odd inaccuracies unrelated to the main topic of the book.

"European languages had no word for zero. In fact, most European languages only had words for "one," "two," and "many." You could have one potato or two potatoes or many potatoes, but if you had many potatoes, there was no number for that."

For context, this is about the times of Pope Sylvester II, whom the author consistently (and oddly) refers to as Gerbert, and while this may have bee
Becky Laswell
Jun 01, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
unlikely to finish. first chapter has errors, wild opinions, and generalizations
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this one. It's a nice marriage of big thematic stuff (in this case, looking at the relationship of society and technology) with lots of lovely intriguing detail (about paper-making, about related processes, about the things people do and why and how). The style was easy and intelligent without being opaque. Somewhat Eurocentric in structure, but doing its best to de-Euro-fy the relevant history.
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kurlansky fans, people with an interest in history and a bit of patience
Recommended to Gabrielle by: Mel Clancy
"What are you reading now?" my friend asked me as we were leaving the bar, both of us readers and both vaguely interested in the other's tastes. I knew I couldn't tell him "A history of paper," so I tried to sell it a bit. I tried banking on the author's previous successes: "It's called 'Paper' and it's by the same guy that wrote 'Cod' and 'Salt'." No sell, he wasn't impressed. He returned only a blank expression devoid of any recognition. I'd have to go in: "It's a history of paper and of gener ...more
Oct 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology, history
I am a bibliophile. I love books and the ideas I find within their covers. I also love pretty stationary, fancy expensive paper, decorated notebooks, and calligraphy pens. I got a bit over-excited at Bled Castle in Slovenia when I got to help operate the renaissance era printing press (ok, it was probably a reproduction, but who cares). So of course I was all over this book by the author of Salt which I have also been affectionately ridiculed for reading and loving.

Paper: Paging Through History
Åsmund Ådnøy
Mark Kurlanskys gjennomgang av papirets historie hadde fortjent mer chili, Møllers tran, EPO og vitaminbjørner. Tommelfingerregelen for sakprosa er enkel. Et spektakulært emne trenger en nøktern forfatter. Et mer blodfattig emne trenger en forfatter i fri dressur som kan jazze det opp. Skriver du biografi om Adolf Hitler, trenger du ikke skru virkemiddelknappen opp til 11.
Skriver du om papirets plass i historien... vel, da er det lov å slå seg litt løs.

Mark Kurlansky har lang erfaring i denne s
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Kurlansky once again has provided an amazing amount of knowledge about something I never thought I would be interested. The details he provides is amazing!
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kurlansky specializes in identifying items that have affected the course of history. His most well-known might be Salt, one of my favorites. Paper is similarly engaging, tackling the ubiquitous material that we handle every day, paper. I have never thought about it before, but someone had to figure out this completely different use of cellulose fibers, which first had to be soaked and mashed to a pulp, molded and dried into sheets. I had heard of "ragpickers" before, a job for the poorest citize ...more
Robert Greenberger
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mark Kurlansky has the unerring ability to take a seemingly dry subject and bring it to life with an exhaustive look at the history, development, and context for the subject. Here, he's taking paper which then includes writing, language, and printing (including the subsets of books and newspapers) and gives us a global perspective.

Overall, this is an immensely satisfying experience although by the end he stretches out some of the modern day detail which almost borders on padding. There were also
Poopak Amirinanl
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you Mark Kurlansky and Goodreads for giveaway in exchange of honest review.
Micro-history book, ‘’Paper’’ was a very well-researched and well-written, contains valuable information, facts and history. It follows papers story from prehistory right up to the modern days! It was my first book by Kurlansky and was education and engaging read all through.
In the era of Facebook, texting, … it was nice and smart to be reminded about paper.
Carla Remy
I only read a third of this, so I did not rate it. Fascinating stuff about how language began. I liked that.
Charlie Newfell
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kurlansky is known for his "biographies" of common items -- salt, cod, and here- paper. The first I've read of his books, it goes a bit afield of the subject, including printing, calligraphy and paper alternatives. It's a easy read, though some of the asides lost me a bit.
I'm actually somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, simply because I love the topic, I enjoy Kurlansky's prose and research, but some of his conclusions and information were a bit off base for me.

For example, I'm not entirely sure that scholars agree on whether Marco Polo was a real person or just someone invented by the Italian journalist who "recorded" (i.e., invented) his stories. It's interesting that the Italian's tales of Polo do accurately describe Chinese paper when other accounts get it wrong
Mal Warwick
Jun 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Often history can be usefully viewed through the lens of a single product. For example, Harvard professor Sven Beckert’s powerful book, Empire of Cotton: A Global History, illuminates the early centuries in the history of capitalism by tracing the growth of the textile industry from its origins in Europe’s mercantile revolution to the present day. Mark Kurlansky’s story of Paper: Paging Through History, is less successful. Beckert views the history of cotton as a key to understanding the emergen ...more
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
An alternate title for the book could be Paper: A Brief History of the Evolution of Mathematics, Writing, and Art Including A Million Interesting Facts. At times it read a little bit like a textbook, but if it was the most interesting textbook of the semester. I had to mark every few pages so I could share some bit of information around the dinner table. There were things I had never thought about, like the development of sheet music or the "invention" of the number zero. The book is an excellen ...more
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For readers who love history, science, and technology, "Paper" by Mark Kurlansky is a fascinating (and highly detailed) new book on paper and printmaking. Much like Kurlansky's other single-subject tomes ("Salt" and "Cod"), his exhaustively researched book about paper ad printmaking doubles as a retrospective on world history. He masterfully charts the development of paper and printing as both a commodity and a means of communication, helping readers to (rightfully) view paper in all forms as ye ...more
Gad Bergrr
Paper was the third Mark Kurlansky book that I read, Salt and Cod being the first and second. I think the story of paper is still quite interesting, but it didn't capture my attention as much as the subject of salt or cod did. The first third of the book gets into the history of paper in China, as well how it was created from papyrus and the later use of parchment paper for books. The second half gets into the development of paper's use in Europe and how it was driven by the need for logging com ...more
Another fine product by Mark Kurlansky! I'll be forever grateful to him and Salt for introducing me to the joys of a good microhistory, and Paper keeps the tradition going. This wasn't my favorite microhistory or Kurlansky work - probably because my favorites have to do with food, and the history of paper just isn't as engrossing to me as things I can eat! - but it was still dense, educational, and often fascinating. If you're a microhistory/commodity history fan, an artist who will appreciate a ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Boston Athenaeum ...: Paper: Paging Through History 1 6 May 18, 2016 09:18AM  
  • Books: A Living History
  • Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse
  • Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya
  • Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age
  • The Woman Reader
  • Paper: An Elegy
  • The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio
  • Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation
  • Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
  • ABC for Book Collectors
  • Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table
  • Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library
  • The Lost Book of Moses: The Quest for the World's Oldest Bible--and the Man Who Wrote It
  • The Library: An Illustrated History
  • Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature
  • All the Presidents' Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America
  • Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks
  • Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age
Mark Kurlansky (born 7 December 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut) is a highly-acclaimed American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt.

Kurlansky attended Butler University, where he harbored an early interest in theatre and earned a BA in 1970. However, his interest faded and he began to work as a journalist in
“Writing beautifully—calligraphy—was China’s first graphic art form. Although elsewhere in the world people drew first and learned to write later, in China, the reverse was true. First you learned to write beautifully, and then you painted. After mastering those twin skills, you could move on to writing poetry, but many chose to remain just calligraphers, a highly appreciated art form in China. Another” 1 likes
“And another small point, or two actually; Aldus was the first to use the modern semicolon.” 1 likes
More quotes…