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The Paper Trail : An Unexpected History of the World's Greatest Invention - Alexander Monro

The Paper Trail

An Unexpected History of the World's Greatest Invention


Published: 25th June 2014
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RRP $39.99

This is the story of how you came to be holding this book, how you came to be following its printed words across dozens of pages, pages made not from bamboo, silk, parchment or papyrus, but from paper.

The emergence of paper in the imperial court of Han China brought about a revolution in the transmission of knowledge and of ideas. For over two millennia, it has allowed ideas, religions, philosophies and propaganda to spread around the world with ever greater ease. Paper was the first writing surface sufficiently cheap, portable and printable for books, pamphlets, prints and journals to be mass-produced and to travel widely. It enabled an ongoing dialogue between communities of scholars who could now engage with each others ideas across continents and years.

The Paper Trail traces the westward voyage of this ground-breaking invention; beginning with the Buddhist translators responsible for the spread of paper across China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. It describes the theologians, scientists and artists who used paper to create the intellectual world of the Abbasid Caliphate, and journeys with the missionaries and merchants who carried it along the Silk Road. Paper finally reached Europe in 1276 and was indispensable to the scholars and translators who manufactured the Renaissance and Reformation from their desks.

Paper created a world in which free thinking could flourish, and brought disciplines from science to music into a new age: the paper age. Paper still surrounds us in our everyday lives - on our desks, wrapping our food, in our wallets. It has become universal, and also supremely disposable. But is the age of paper coming to an end?

This is the story of how a simple Chinese invention has wrapped itself around our world, with history's most momentous ideas etched upon its surface.

About the Author

Alex Monro studied Chinese at the University of Cambridge and in Beijing before working for The Times in London and for Reuters in Shanghai. He has contributed chapters to The Dragon Throne (a history of China's dynasties) and The Seventy Great Journeys in History, and edited two travel poetry anthologies, inc.

Page-turningly readable... Exceedingly well informed... The chronological narrative, beginning with prehistoric charcoal scribbling on cave walls and ending with e-paper, is laden with research carried admirably lightly... A terrific read -- John Sutherland Literary Review Monro's expertise as a European historian and scholar of Chinese gives this book a uniquely broad perspective, which would mean less if he were not also a picturesque writer with an eye for a good story and an ear for a readable style -- Iain Finlayson The Times Detailed, scholarly, yet beautifully written, Monro's history is a sweeping account of the astonishing impact of paper on human culture -- Tristram Hunt Fascinating... Insights abound... Alexander Monro is a perceptive and insightful guide Quadrapheme Paper may be derided as a waste of trees, and as dead as the dodo in our digitized world. But, as Alexander Monro reminds us in this erudite history, it has been the base layer of world culture... From Islamic scientific tracts to Copernicus's 1543 De Revolutionibus, paper, as Monro eloquently shows, has filled the supremely important role of placing "truth in the reader's hands" Nature Monro...has left no archival material unexamined, no relevant histories unread, no avenue unexplored, no lead allowed to go cold, in short, no stone unturned... his brilliantly articulated chapter on the Prophet, the Revelations and the Koran is worth a re-read. Equally fine and, by the way quite prescient, is his writing on the proscribing and licensing of all written material in the pre-revolutionary France of the 1680's and, as was expected, the world's first taste of organized book piracy...The Paper Trail is a book that had to be written, and must be read. Telegraph India Elegantly presented Economist [Monro] highlights the role of the thing that is so easily overlooked because of its very ubiquity... This intricate history also emphasises the role of writing...while also holding out hope for the future of the book in the digital age Sydney Morning Herald Formidably learned...Monro is a Sinophile...who follows the trail westwards, emphasising paper's place in the circulation of the Qur'an and in the "great crescendo of learning" under the Abbasids...before print finally allowed paper to achieve its destiny -- Jason Scott-Warren Times Literary Supplement

ISBN: 9781846141898
ISBN-10: 1846141893
Audience: General
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 367
Published: 25th June 2014
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.3  x 2.9
Weight (kg): 0.65