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Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention Hardcover – May 1, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (May 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141893
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141898
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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

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, including China: City and Exile. In 2011, he won the Royal Society of Literature's Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction for The Paper Trail, his first book. He lives with his wife in the Cotswolds, and writes on contemporary China.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rod Winder on September 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting book to read. A bit heavy on the development of religious understanding through ability of paper as a cheap media to provide access of thought to the masses and loss of power of those controlling by ignorance
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kiwiflora on December 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
It is highly unlikely that you are reading this review on a piece of paper held in your hand. And yet, it was the invention of paper that enabled mass communication and exchange of information quickly and effectively. Now we have the internet rapidly replacing the likes of the daily newpaper, but we must cast a thought back to where it all began. First produced over 2000 years ago in China, paper very quickly replaced bamboo as a writing surface and from then on was unstoppable in its spread. Although, it was not till over 1000 years later that paper made its way in a westerly direction to what is now Iran, Iraq, then Turkey to Europe.

The movement and development of paper has been integral to the history of these regions over the last 2000 years. As a form of storing religious texts, whether they be Buddhist as in the early centuries of paper use in China, the Koran or the Bible; as a means of distributing religious messages amongst the populace as seen in the work of Martin Luther in the 1500s looking for an alternative to the Catholic church, or as fuel to the French Revolution in the late 18th century, paper has been at the centre of it all..

Even New Zealand's very own Treaty of Waitangi has two pages in this book devoted to it. Apparently the Treaty was a very rare type of document in British imperial history, in that it was a bilingual document - Maori and English - drawn up for both sides to sign. Which is what happened. Although as we now know, the two versions actually had two different meanings. However it is considered remarkable for its time, as it attempted to come to a political settlement without going to war.
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