cover image On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History

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

Nicholas A. Basbanes. Knopf, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-307-26642-2

Journalist and unapologetic bibliophile Basbanes (A Splendor of Letters) sets out to explore the nature of paper and returns with an absolutely fascinating tale. Told in an engaging, accessible manner, his coverage of the topic is a wide-ranging, freewheeling, authoritative look at one of society’s most ubiquitous products, from its origins in China nearly two millennia ago through its methodical spread across the world. Basbanes digs into the means by which paper is made and recycled, manufactured and repackaged, created for mass consumption and manipulated as art. He examines the implications of its cultural uses—in historical documents, architectural drawings, government paperwork, currency—and in doing so reveals how many roles, directly and indirectly, paper plays in our lives. Basbanes leaves no page unturned, and finishes with a poignant story of how a paper trail keeps the legacy of 9/11 fresh and has led to the further identification of some victims. Through interviews, personal visits, and extensive research, he has created an engrossing, essential book that no book lover should be without. The wealth of information Basbanes includes barely scratches the surface, but it whets the appetite and forces us to rethink how we view this versatile material. Agent: Glen Hartley, Writers Representatives (Oct.)