The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention
The Paper Trail by Alexander Monro is described as an unexpected history of a revolutionary invention. It is all of that. Writing itself was a wonder but the limitations of clay, bark, split bamboo, or animal skins kept writing to an elite few. Papyrus was better but not until the Han dynasty, when paper was invented did the sharing of ideas begin to accelerate. Then paper comes into its own facilitating the spread of ideas, bureaucracy, religion, art, science, essays and revolution. Earlier religions are limited by oral recitation or limited written medium. Buddhism, a second resurgence of Daoism, Islam, Christianity, the Renaissance, and Revolution are all made possible by the burgeoning use of paper to share, spread, and import advancing ideas from far away. Literacy becomes the mark of status, the time from the invention of paper to our current day can be called “The Paper Age”.
The book is written well. It has a wealth of knowledge and anecdotes. This is not a general history and though the author touches on major events, his focus is how paper moved through history lubricating change. This is a book to read, to ponder, and to re-examine history using a different lens. It is enlightening and entertaining. I recommend it highly.