White Magic: The Age of Paper

Lothar Müller, trans. from the German by Jessica Spengler. Polity (Wiley, dist.), $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7456-7253-3
Müller, an honorary professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, has written a history of paper that makes for an incredibly rich and thought-provoking reading experience—for those who have the dedication and determination to get through it. The author tracks paper’s development from China through the Arab world and into Europe, examining both its development as a product and its diffusion, in a multitude of forms, into Western society. Eschewing a comparison between the “Gutenberg era” (the age of the printing press) and our digital era, Müller instead looks at paper itself in order to evaluate today’s shift toward digitization. We also live not just in the Gutenberg era, but the broader “Paper Age,” and Müller concludes that this age is not over yet. He supports historical facts with close literary analyses of works by writers such as Cervantes, James Joyce, and Paul Valéry. By nature, this book elevates the reading experience, bringing the physical sheets of paper to the forefront of the reader’s consideration. Although the term white magic is not an explicit theme of the book, the title feels appropriate; the academic tone and density of the text may put off most non-scholarly readers, but Müller’s work leaves the reader admiring something that feels magical. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/22/2014
Release date: 01/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-7456-8184-9
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-7456-8185-6
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 352 pages - 978-0-7456-8183-2
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-0-7456-7254-0
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