James Fleming

Reams of Our Fathers

Paper: Paging through History

By Mark Kurlansky

W W Norton & Co 354pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Mark Kurlansky is the author of twenty-nine books, some of them novels. Where he’s really made a name for himself is in and around the food business. The first of his bestsellers was Cod. He followed this with Salt and, in 2014, a biography of Clarence Birdseye II, the founder of the frozen-food industry. Prizes and praise have been his in equal proportion.

Paper is aimed at a general readership and is also excellent. Kurlansky takes us steadily through the origins of paper and the reasons (usually bureaucratic) why there was a demand for it, starting with China and the Islamic world and ending, of course, with the age of email and the most rapidly declining type of paper, newsprint. Once again, bureaucracy is the driving force: the volume of records generated today could not possibly be stored anywhere except on computer hard drives. There is much in this early story that is arresting. The case of the Chinese bamboo strips is a good example.

Subscribe to read the full article

University of Chicago Press

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • ‘Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose’. Ian McEwan in a Nutshell ,
    • RT : I've got approx. 100 copies of from early 1990s-2000s to give away (most w/ covers).… ,
    • 'I Contain Multitudes is popular science writing at its best.' Wendy Moore is fascinated by a study on microbes ,
    • 'Costume of the life force? Words fail.' Germaine Greer on an ode to the condom ,
    • It's Write on Kew for the next four days. There are free copies of Literary Review about; why not dip your toe into the magazine?,
    • Which sci-fi author time-travelled to ancient Rome and lived a parallel life a persecuted Christian named Thomas? ,
    • You can pick up free copies of Literary Review at Write On Kew, which begins tomorrow. Fill your boots (with magazines).,