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

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Did you know that paper was invented almost 2,000 years ago in China and that the NSA has recycled confidential documents into pizza boxes? Basbanes gives an entertaining history packed with baffling facts about the most utilized documentation material, on which the majority of human history--from the Constitution to every book since Gutenberg--has been written.

— Lauren G.


A Best Book of the Year:
Mother Jones - Bloomberg News - National Post - Kirkus

In these pages, Nicholas Basbanes--the consummate bibliophile's bibliophile--shows how paper has been civilization's constant companion. It preserves our history and gives record to our very finest literary, cultural, and scientific accomplishments. Since its invention in China nearly two millennia ago, the technology of paper has spread throughout the inhabited world.

With deep knowledge and care, Basbanes traces paper's trail from the earliest handmade sheets to the modern-day mills. Paper, yoked to politics, has played a crucial role in the unfolding of landmark events, from the American Revolution to Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers to the aftermath of 9/11. Without paper, modern hygienic practice would be unimaginable; as currency, people will do almost anything to possess it; and, as a tool of expression, it is inextricable from human culture. Lavishly researched, compellingly written, this masterful guide illuminates paper's endless possibilities.

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 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.

Praise For…

Praise for
“Nicholas Basbanes is an especially congenial writer, a quality he displayed memorably in A Gentle Madness. He does it again most pleasurably in On Paper, a wide-ranging investigation into the “everything” of that ubiquitous and indispensable construction of cellulose fibers whose history paralleled — and made possible — the rise of civilization…Mainly, though, On Paper is a travel book, conducted by the most amiable and civilized of guides.”
-David Walton, Dallas News

“Basbanes has poured his heart and soul into this splendid survey of a beautiful human invention.”
-Philip Marchand, Canadian National Post

“This is not a simple history of paper’s discovery and the spread of the material…Written as a first-hand exploration, On Paper takes a close look at a product so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible and makes the reader see how really amazing it is.  Basbanes reveals how paper changed the world—over and over again.”
-Pamela Toler, Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)

With On Paper, Basbanes, the consummate bibliophile’s bibliophile, offers an erudite, mesmerizing story about how something we consider so everyday has shaped our lives.  In our age of supposedly dying print, Basbanes’s book is at once a compelling scholarly achievement and a provocative invitation to reconsider and celebrate what is truly one of the wonders of the world, that fragile yet enduring skin upon which humanity’s knowledge and vision are tattooed: paper.”
—Bradford Morrow

“A delightful and intrepid guide in this capacious history of paper…A lively tale told with wit and vigor.”
-Kirkus (Starred Review)

“An absolutely fascinating tale.  Told in an engaging, accessible manner, Basbane’s coverage of the topic is wide-ranging, freewheeling, authoritative…An essential, engrossing book that no book lover should be without."
-Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

"A wonderful, fascinating and timely book on a subject some have prematurely declared obsolete. Basbanes reminds us of the vital role the invention of paper has played through the centuries in the dissemination of knowledge and ideas. His stories that run the gamut, from the way paper  is made to a poignant sheet of paper floating down to the sidewalk on September 11, 2001. Not to be missed."           
-Meryle Secrest

“Pretty much irresistible.”                                               
-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Alfred A. Knopf
October 2013

Product Details
ISBN: 9780307279644
ISBN-10: 0307279642
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: July 1st, 2014
Pages: 430
Language: English
Series: Vintage International