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Paper: An Elegy Hardcover – May 14, 2013

4 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Elegy is actually not the right word for this pulpy romp through paper's material past and present. Not quite a history, Paper feels more like a commonplace book, one of those predigital scrapbooks of items jotted down for future reference. If anything connects this stream of historical cameos and musings on materiality, it's the idea that paper persists. —Jennifer Howard --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


“With a playfulness that begins with the title, this “elegy” to paper is instead a celebration of its essential, ubiquitous role in society, culture and life itself....[PAPER is] An enjoyable argument that speaks to the paper lover in all of us.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062241435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062241436
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,629,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book was so good I am kind of worried about my review not doing it justice. So, a couple of my favorite quotes: A parenthetical describing a book entitled "Modernity and Self Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age" our author says "one of those breathtaking books written in the kind of jargon-rich prose that one can only sniff and inhale rather than actually digest and understand, and which seems therefore all the more profound, like the evocative smell of perfume, or cigar smoke at the scene of a crime." As an aside about the cigarette, which of course is a rather prominent use of paper in our society, "[n]othing says I'm a despairing intellectual like sucking on flaming paper." The author talks technology, art, history, drama, it's all there and it was a great read. Few books live up to their own billing, but Paper is indeed a celebration.

Mr. Sansom's take on Paper is genius. It holds together as a witty and fascinating one-sided conversation that you can't put down--my reading was delayed because I constantly had to send quotes to friends via cellphone. And, our author cites to an astonishing number of books, thereby making the argument that one cannot be an expert on paper without also being an expert on the highest use of paper, books. The citations are not necessarily backing up scholarly points--they are presented as one would present a favorite book to a good friend. In fact, the bibliography cites to over 250 books (I stopped counting somewhere in chapter 5 because, after all, this is just a review). How many books describe themselves as well as the contents of their drafts?
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Format: Hardcover
Paper is everywhere. It's not just the books we read or the post-its we scribble and stick to the edge of our computer monitors. It's the wrapper of a cigarette. It's the bills we use to buy our groceries. It's the endless pieces of junk mail that appear in our mailboxes every day. Paper has shaped how we package goods, spread information, and even how we think and express ourselves. But paper is disposable and vulnerable to the elements, and as technology moves forward it seems likely that paper will become outmoded and unnecessary. In "Paper: An Elegy", Ian Sansom explores the many ways that we have become dependent on paper, and why it will never disappear completely.

Ian Sansom describes this book as a paper "museum", covering a little bit of everything. There's a chapter that describes the many various methods of manufacturing paper, and another that discusses the use of paper in art both as a surface, as in painting, and as the medium itself, as in origami. One chapter looks at the way paper has been used in packaging and consumer goods. There's even a chapter to consider how paper has changed the way we think. There is a lot of information here - too much, I'm afraid. All topics are touched on lightly before the author flutters on to the next thought, leading to a book that ultimately dabbles in many things. It feels scattered and disorganized. I constantly found myself wanting more, and feeling frustrated because instead of details I was being pushed along to the next exhibit.

"Paper: An Elegy" was far too rambling for my tastes. Each chapter floated rather independently of the others. Yes, everything is themed around paper, but the subject by itself just didn't seem strong enough to unify this into a whole book. The subject matter - rather ironically - would work better as a series of short posts on a paper-themed blog than as a unified book.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a totally fascinating exploration of paper and the ways it is woven into the fabric of our lives in ways we may not even realise. It isn’t a chronological history of paper though there are plenty of historical asides in the book. Throughout the book the author’s love of paper in all its forms shines through and it seems to have been a labour of love to write it. I found it an interesting and well written book and I came across a great many snippets of information of which I was not previously aware.

Books – both printed and hand written are discussed as is paper money, which has been around a lot longer than you might think. Labels and packaging are explored by way of Charles Dickens and his job in a blacking factory and Nick Drake provides the title for the final chapter ‘Five Leaves Left’. Origami merits a chapter to itself – anyone remember Robert Harbin and his fascinating children’s programmes? Paper’s use in art is explored not just as the surface to which paint is applied but also to make three dimensional models.

The book is beautifully produced and designed. It has a comprehensive bibliography for those who would like to see the sources of the information contained in the book and there is an index.
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