Paper: Paging Through History

Mark Kurlansky – what’s not to love? Kurlansky, author of “Salt,” “Cod,” “The Basque History of the World” and “Birdseye,” does it again – this time on paper.

The history of paper and its impact on the world is given the Kurlansky treatment in “Paper: Paging Through History.” That is, it is a history of paper, and a history of civilization through the object of paper.

The story is well-told, starting in China, slowly moving west, with innovations along the way, including more sophisticated papermaking, printing and finally the intrusion of computers. Kurlansky makes a good case that technology doesn’t bring about change, but that change requires new technology. If the Chinese weren’t such bureaucrats, they wouldn’t have needed paper to keep records, etc.

This book proceeds chronologically, and ends by debunking the oft-held argument that computers will replace paper, but we know by now that is not the case. New technology rarely wipes out the old, it just offers a new path.

Kurlansky also manages to weave insights from his other legendary books (cited above) into his tale of paper – because everything is connected somehow, and he’s found the connections again. With Kurlansky’s next book, “Havana,” don’t be surprised if paper somehow plays a key role in it.