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Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World Hardcover – November 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Illustrated edition edition (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300089554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300089554
  • Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 8.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though paper was invented in China around 100-200 B.C., it took nearly a thousand years for Europeans to employ it and Muslims were responsible for introducing them to the technology. Bostoon College professor of Islamic and Asian art Jonathan M. Bloom explores paper's early evolution and use in Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World, and argues that "much in the history of Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages... can be seen in terms of the conflicting claims of memory and written record." Accompanying Bloom's elegant prose are 48 color plates and 53 b&w illustrations of maps, illustrated texts of Islamic poetry, pages of the Koran, and papermaking techniques.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A very ambitious book of wide intellectual scope and down-to-earth relevance to the humanities - not just to the study of Islamic culture. It is brimful of ideas and fizzes with life." Robert Hillenbrand, University of Edinburgh

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mills on May 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paper Before Print is very iconoclastic. It suggests the European Renaissance is related to declines in a commodity cost (writing material), rather than the birth of now-familiar geniuses and renewed interest in ancient classics. While the scope of the book outlines a complete history of 'cellulose pulp using people' (paper users), the central theme addresses the cultural transmission of technology. Specifically, it describes the transmission of paper making skills from China to Europe via the Muslim Caliphates. Most of the narrative covers the period between 700 and 1200 AD, but ancient and modern detours intrude regularly. This is entirely appropriate, since most readers will have a difficult time giving credence to commodity prices playing any role in European intellectual development. Bloom seems to have decided to zig-zag back and forth across 3 thousand years of history, hoping to keep the 'big picture' in view.
The book makes an excellent argument for 'cultural' issues dictating technological change. For example, paper emerged in China as a 'wrapping' material. It wasn't until Buddhist influences from India made 'writing' important that it's utility as 'voice recording substrate' was discovered. In other words, until the economic demands for precise and voluminous reproduction of Buddha's voice emerged, 'paper' was only used to bundle things together. The combination of a cultural need (reproducing Buddha's voice) blended with a Chinese skill (making a cheap membrane that happened to soak up ink), what we know as the 'writing' industry never got off the ground. Of real interest is the fact that India ignored the Chinese innovation for 2000 years. Paper was not used frequently there until Muslim culture was imposed on it 2000 years later.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Smilin' Jack on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paper Before Print is a glorious achievement from all perspectives: historically, culturally, and as an impeccable model of how books of this sort should be presented (though too often they do not). Jonathan Bloom's text is revealing and intellectually stimulating without alienating the average reader. His premise, though not a popular one -- that the Middle East played a far more important role in refining and introducing paper to the West than is usually acknowledged -- carefully unfolds with unassailable research and arguments. The illustrations, mostly early Islamic texts (700s-1300s), are tastefully selected and compliment the text perfectly. The typography, layout, and presentation are superb. Anyone interested in history, art, and printing will profit from having this book on their shelves.
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Format: Hardcover
Jonathan M. Bloom is a historian of Islamic and Asian art who ventures a little bit afield of his usual subject in "Paper before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World". Bloom feels that the impact of paper in the Islamic world has been unjustly neglected by scholars, because the Muslim world was late to adopt the printing press. Unlike the Chinese, who invented paper and from whom papermaking came down to Muslim conquerors in the 8th century, or the Europeans, who were fairly quick to invent the printing press after paper was introduced to Northern Europe, the Islamic world did not adopt the printing press until the 18th century, a full millennium after it embraced paper. But Bloom proposes that paper, itself, was a catalyst to many intellectual and artistic developments in the Islamic world and, as such, is worthy of attention.

"Paper before Print" follows the Islamic world's evolving relationship with paper: the invention of paper in China by 2nd century BC, its contact with Islam in the 8th century, the 2 centuries it took to spread throughout the Islamic empire, its impact on book production, on mathematics, commerce, cartography, and its eventual use for preparatory sketches for artwork, allowing artists to transfer designs between media. Finally, Islamic expertise in papermaking is transferred to Europe through Moorish Spain in the 12th century and to Northern Europe in the 14th century. Without it, Gutenberg's printing press would not have made such a revolution in the 15th century. Meanwhile, the arts, science, and literacy of the Islamic world were transformed. Bloom touches on many aspects of Islamic society that were affected by paper.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn L. Thomas on November 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
However, my only problem so far is that print is too small for easy reading. Slightly taller book than the norm and so difficult to read with page magnifiers. Just saying, I am a bookbinder and so picky about readability and format.
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4 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Neer on July 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As part of the epic clash between the great cultures of the world, markedly the West and Islam, Westerners have often discredited Islamic civilization's contribution to the global propagation of paper. In his book Paper Before Print, Jonathan Bloom details Islam's contribution to the proliferation of paper from its birth in China and through to Europe. Bloom's argument that Islamic civilization has a major role in the proliferation of paper is extremely plausible and convincing; however, many of his claims about the artistic and intellectual growth resulting from its proliferation are questionably misguided in that they are inferred from Bloom's own logic rather than compelling historical evidence. Nevertheless, Bloom's book makes an interesting reading experience and is very useful in the study of Middle East history.
Bloom's claims about the proliferation of paper through the Muslim world to Europe are both plausible and convincing. He provides an abundance of information and details to prove his points. He details numerous factors, changes, and events, all of which coalesced to create a flourishing of paper throughout the world. His notation of multiple events and his diverse range of evidence converge to form a cogent and logical explanation of the growth of papermaking. The actuality that his claims are based on a variety of different factors make it extremely difficult to refute his argument, since even the successful rebuttal of one or two of his claims would be outshined by a tremendous amount of additional substantiation provided by him.
The subject of the proliferation of paper throughout the world is an extremely important part of Middle Eastern history for a number of reasons.
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