Book review: Paper: Paging Through History

PAPER is ubiquitous. We use it for everything from mopping up a spill to creating art. It carries news, heartbreak, love, and spreads knowledge and culture.

Mark Kurlansky

Norton, £17.99;

ebook, £10.44

Mark Kurlansky, who wrote best-selling books Cod and Salt, paints a picture of how such a seemingly simple product as paper arose out of need and how it spread over time across continents. 

This canter through social history is most interesting when it focuses on paper’s specific roles, for example, in Chinese burial rituals and in the form of newspapers around the time of the Crimean War or American Civil War, which tended to feature pictures of dead bodies rather than living people.

You see how paper fits into and shapes the culture of different societies, what the impact of paper becoming cheaper has had and what impact the ability of people to read can have on power structures.

But for many years the death of paper has been predicted. Kurlansky expertly argues a case for its continuing survival.


Every parent eventually reaches that weird milestone where their children discover that their mother or father had a life before kids. For Cork musician John “Haggis” Hegarty it came this April, when his 17-year-old son walked in clutching a copy of the Irish Examiner.Emperor of Ice Cream: Cork band reunite for another scoop

Louis Theroux, best known for his TV documentaries, is, like the rest of us, being forced to improvise and so has started a podcast, Grounded with Louis Theroux.Podcast Corner: Louis Theroux and Ross Kemp zoom into action

Gavin James is preparing for what is probably the strangest challenge of his live-gigging career to date: performing to a sea of cars at his upcoming Live at the Drive In gigs.Gavin James: All revved up for drive-in gigs

The Government last week reminded anyone receiving the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP), put in place as an emergency response to layoffs made in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, that they could be liable for a tax bill at the end of the year.Making Cents: Working out if you will face a tax bill because of Covid-19 supports

More From The Irish Examiner