Paper, Paper Everywhere

Rag paper making at Jim Croft's Old Ways workshop.

Rag paper making at Jim Croft’s Old Ways workshop.

It’s generally at your fingertips even in this electronic world often under your nose but is as invisible as a tree in a forest. In fact, it can be made from one. The answer to the implied riddle is Paper. In the hands of Nicholas Basbanes, the wonderfully ubiquitous item has a diverse history that is compelling when connecting points of common and not so common knowledge. Within the pages of On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History is many surprises of information making this long and well-documented tale a pleasure to read. Basbanes has the ability to spin a yarn with recorded facts of time and place, along with impressive access–even the CIA at one point. It is an adventure worth pursuing. The volume is for the general reader as well as the scholar. The bibliography is filled with tributaries large and small. Within the text there are also references of people, places and other books to be explored.

Some have found the inclusion of so many aspects of paper jump parts of the story in an unnecessary way. If you’re a person who is also fascinated with everything, you won’t be disappointed. You will learn the names and narratives of the important to the pedestrian, forgers to sensitive document purveyors, ending with a 9/11 postscript. This was not a distraction for me but an extraordinary case in point about the incredible journey a piece of paper can have in its ability to charge or change history.

Check out his website at To hear him speak at length follow this link (50 minute interview on NPR)
Find a library near you to get a copy on loan: