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.


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