Paper: Paging Through History
by Mark Kurlansky
TS1090 .K87 2016
New Arrivals Island, 2nd floor
One of my favorite kinds of historical scholarship is the history of commodities. My shelves at home are filled with titles like Cotton, Gin, Salt, and Cod. I enjoy viewing world history through the lens of a single product and learning about the different ways cultures around the world have interacted with a particular commodity.
Mark Kurlansky, author of the aforementioned Salt and Cod, has written a new commodity history that focuses on an early technology, paper, that is still relevant and important today. He describes the Chinese origins of paper over 2,000 years ago and traces the dissemination of this new technology through Asia, the Middle East, and into Europe. He analyzes many of the reasons why paper became the dominant technology for writing things down (beating out niche technology like papyrus, bark, and clay or stone tablets). Even though many pundits pronounce the “death of the book” or the arrival of the “paperless office” in the twenty-first century, Kurlansky discusses many reasons why paper has stuck around as an accessible and cheap way of transmitting information and why it will most likely remain in heavy use for the foreseeable future.