My Review of Nicholas A. Basbane’s On Paper

41ciixA3kEL__AA240_“… a guiding premise of this book has been to demonstrate that paper is a substance of utility, almost always defined by the task at hand.”

Written with a travelogue like quality, Nicholas A. Basbane, “a self-professed Bibliophiliac” as indicated on the cover, takes us on a journey of paper’s “two thousand years” of development and history. The result, Basbane’s Paper: The Everything of Its Two Year History. is a fascinating, informational, educational, and inspirational look at paper.

Beginning with paper’s origin in the Far East followed by its westward journey through the Middle East, then into Europe and the New World of America, On Paper brings the reader through the development of both paper and its impact and shaping of World Civilization from law, to religion, to architecture, government, and consumer products. Basbane’s detailed telling of how paper was made, from rags and then from wood pulp, makes it clear that as the availability of paper increased,  it made its impact on both daily life and human history in ways large and small.

And as with any great travelogue, On Paper contains numerous stories of how paper made both companies and people successful and even famous. For example, if you play cards with Bicycle playing cards or, if you just filled a small soufflé cup of ketchup at your favorite fast-food place, then you have a product of the P.H. Glatfelter company of Spring Grove, Pennsylvania. Never heard of them? I didn’t until I read this book and discovered what I believe Basbane well illustrates about the future of not just paper industry but paper itself:

“During George Glatfelter’s… stewardship… the company became the leading producer of more than a thousand different specialty papers for a varied cluster of “niche” markets.”

Those papers run the gauntlet from United States Postal Service postage stamps, Hallmark greeting cards, tea bags for several leading tea companies to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups wrappers. The result was a company using presses (updated to be sure) designed for papers of another time in a new age, and with a very niche minded approach to making paper in the plural, when the much heralded “paperless society” is often believed to be the norm.

And speaking of the “paperless society” Basbane’s chapter Hard Copy chronicles the on-going bureaucratic/governmental/political obsession of both keeping, and, at times getting rid of, paper with an enlightening look red tape, the “impulse to “keep a hard copy,” and the need to “cover one’s backside” when it became politically expedient to do so. Conversely, the value to historical studies and historical meaning of paper and what it contains is highlighted in the same chapter with a look at the use of paper related to the prodigious output of John Adams and his family in their journals, letters, and papers and the use of paper documents by the Allied prosecution in the Nuremburg Trials following the Second World War in Europe. And in the concluding chapter and epilogue, Basbanes reminds us of the value of paper in an electronic age with a moving account of how paper was used to communicate in the tragic hours and days during and after September 11, 2001.

But Basbane also writes of those individuals, in history and of today, who make paper itself the subject of artistic inquiry and focus. Detailing the work of Michael G. LaFosse and Robert J. Lang, the wonderful art form of Origami is given a full chapter treatment in Slight of Hand and in a chapter titled In the Mold, people such as Dard Hunter, Henry Morris, and Kathryn and Howard Clark, who across both the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries, have worked to keep alive the ancient practice of paper making in the United States.

What I liked about this book is the diversity of stories and the broad sweep of history in which the role of paper has played a part. It is well-written and lively and kept my interest to the final page. I was not sure what to expect when I decided a review an uncorrected proof of it via the Amazon Vine program. But I am glad that I did and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Based on my rating system I rate this book a ‘magnificant’ read!

Note: I received an uncorrected proof this this book from the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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