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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Cod and Salt, a definitive history of paper and the astonishing ways it has shaped today's world.

Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. One has only to look at history's greatest press run, which produced 6.5 billion copies of Mao zhuxi yulu, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), which doesn't include editions in 37 foreign languages and in brailleto appreciate the range and influence of a single publication, in paper. Or take the fact that one of history's most revered artists, Leonardo da Vinci, left behind only 15 paintings but 4,000 works on paper. And though the colonies were at the time calling for a boycott of all British goods, the one exception they made speaks to the essentiality of the material; they penned the Declaration of Independence on British paper. Now, amid discussion of "going paperless" and as speculation about the effects of a digitally dependent society grows rampant, we've come to a world-historic juncture.

Thousands of years ago, Socrates and Plato warned that written language would be the end of "true knowledge", replacing the need to excise memory and think through complex questions. Similar arguments were made about the switch from handwritten to printed books, and today about the role of computer technology. By tracing paper's evolution from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the contributions made in Asia and the Middle East, Mark Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology's influence, affirming that paper is here to stay. Paper will be the commodity history that guides us forward in the 21st century and illuminates our times.

©2016 Mark Kurlansky (P)2016 Recorded Books

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Flawed Recording Ruins a Fascinating History

Any additional comments?

I've read all of Kurlansky's books. All of them have been interesting and extremely enjoyable reads. Unfortunately Amazon has released a horribly flawed recording that skips and jumps, rendering the recording unlistenable. That this was allowed to be released in this condition is pathetic. I highly recommend the book. I can't recommend Amazon's shoddy release.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Vicki
  • Montpelier, VA, United States
  • 02-16-17

Very enjoyable

I almost didn't get this book because of the comments about a bad recording. Maybe they fixed whatever was wrong because I found nothing wrong with it at all. It was just an enjoyable history of paper and printing.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Quite disappointing

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A different reader would be a good start.

Would you be willing to try another book from Mark Kurlansky? Why or why not?

Probably not.

What didn’t you like about Andrew Garman’s performance?

The entire performance is quite aggressive. Wrong for a book of this type. He's clearly a talented performer but didn't hit it right for this book.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Paper?

I'd reorganize the entire book.

Any additional comments?

Some great content presented in an unsatisfying manner.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Paper here to stay

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is not just a history of paper, but of communications, language, art , ecology and economy. As a very amateur artist I especially the art angle. Makes one appreciate this common material.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Cod and Salt are better

There were interesting histories throughout. I ceased trusting the authors ability to make a coherent argument during the discussion of the technological fallacy and change. He doesn't have an ear for science for example mistaking energy for power. Really basic. Needs a science and engineering editor. Missed many opportunities to make the story interesting. For example he states that DeFoe was literally pilloried but doesn't tell the whole story nor give a reference. I read the book on paper and listened to it. What shocked me was that he missed the importance of writing on paper to science and our engineered existence. This disproves both the fallacy and change arguments. Too bad. Cod and Salt were better. Much better.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Kurlansky Scores Again

If you could sum up Paper in three words, what would they be?

Amazing Thorough Research

What was one of the most memorable moments of Paper?

There was not just one moment. It was the continuous flow of the story and how he wrapped it up at the end. He includes so many parallel events and analysis.

What about Andrew Garman’s performance did you like?

He has a perfect voice. Clear and smooth. Just the right emphasis. When I speed it up, it does not lose clarity.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The destruction of libraries in the ancient word. As one country conquered another, they would destroy their library rather than read what they found. Horrible.

Any additional comments?

A wonderful author. This book reminded me why I loved the author's book SALT so much.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Informative and more fun than I thought a book simply called paper would be

I enjoyed the ancient history part immensely.
The author hammers his thesis pretty constantly, though, and the modern history part therefore tends to repetitiveness.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

I got this book after enjoying the author's earlier work on Salt, but now I wonder how much I should have trusted that. This thin popularization is not really about paper so much as the history of writing and printing, and there are many other works that do that history better. This one is superficial and misleading about real history. But it gets worse. There are numerous downright errors, as well as several serious misunderstandings. It doesn't help that the narrator mispronounces many words and names.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

For history geeks

This was my second book by Mark Kurlansky having listened to “Salt” previously. I enjoyed this one just as much as I did Salt. He puts so much research into his books. You can’t help coming away with a wealth of knowledge on the topic. Some might think it a mundane or boring topic, but to the contrary it was most interesting.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Occasional mistakes left in

Amazing and fascinating read, but a little slow and some mistakes are left in the recording.