MLA Gold Award Site

Excerpt from On Paper by Nicholas A. Basbanes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

On Paper

The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History

by Nicholas A. Basbanes

On Paper
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2013, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2014, 448 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Bob Sauerbrey

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"I can see why people are talking about our going back to the World Series," one of those highly paid Red Sox, J. D. Drew, had told Dan Shaughnessy, the estimable baseball columnist for the Boston Globe, as opening day drew near in April. "On paper, we have that kind of team." It was that blasé comment of presumed inevitability—all of it worked out abstractly on an imaginary notation pad—that gave Shaughnessy reason to pause and comment forebodingly, with uncanny prescience, "But it never plays out the way it does on paper, does it?"

At a meeting in Hanoi in June 2012, American secretary of defense Leon Panetta presented to Vietnamese minister of national defense Phung Quang Thanh a small maroon diary taken from a fallen North Vietnamese soldier by a U.S. Marine in 1966. In return, Thanh turned over to Panetta a passel of personal letters removed from the body of Army sergeant Steve Flaherty of the 101st Airborne Division after he was killed in action in 1969. The Washington Post summed up the arti- fact exchange by noting that these two relics, from a time when the two countries "were bitter enemies," had in an instant become "symbols of the evolving U.S.-Vietnamese relationship"—and each was recorded on otherwise unremarkable sheets of paper

My research model for this book has been fairly straightforward, and should be apparent in each chapter. I traveled in China along the Burma Road, because Old China is where the story begins, and I proceeded in due course to Japan, because that was the only place where I could meet with a Living National Treasure papermaker. I spent seven months trying to get a tour of the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland, because the cryptologists there pulp one hundred million ultrasecret documents a year (give or take) and send them off for recycled use as pizza boxes and egg cartons. I spent two days at the Crane Paper mill, in Western Massachusetts, because, as Willie Sutton is purported to have famously said, "that's where the money is"—or, more to the point, that is where all the paper for American currency is made. Since the idea of "disposability" is very much a paper theme, too, the same goes for a Kimberly-Clark mill in Connecticut, where close to a million boxes of Kleenex tissue, and as many rolls of Scott kitchen towels, are made every day. If there's a common thread to be discerned, it is what Graham Greene sagely called, in one of his novels, "the human factor."

A few years ago, the British Association of Paper Historians noted in a description of its activities that there are something on the order of twenty thousand commercial uses of paper in the world today, and that the organization's members are interested in each and every one of them. Rest easy, dear reader: I am not about to explore twenty thou- sand different uses of paper here. But if that claim is accurate—and one Pennsylvania company you will meet in Chapter 17 alone has a line of one thousand different products for its output—then the paper- less society we hear being bandied about so much today may not be as imminent as some people suggest. The words of the great Fats Waller seem especially relevant on this point: "One never knows, do one?"

Excerpted from On Paper by Nicholas A. Basbanes. Copyright © 2013 by Nicholas A. Basbanes. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Saving Montgomery Sole
    Saving Montgomery Sole
    by Mariko Tamaki
    Understanding identity is one the most important parts of adolescence. For some teenagers, those who...
  • Book Jacket: All Tomorrow's Parties
    All Tomorrow's Parties
    by Rob Spillman
    In this absorbing memoir, co-founder of Tin House magazine, Rob Spillman, recalls his artistic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Never-Open Desert Diner
    The Never-Open Desert Diner
    by James Anderson
    James Anderson's debut novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner, starts off as an entertaining ...
Win this book!
Win The 100 Year Miracle

50 Copies to Give Away!

The 100 Year Miracle is a rich, enthralling novel, full of great characters.

Enter

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Spinster
by Kate Bolick

A bold, original, moving book that will inspire fanatical devotion and ignite debate.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Alaskan Laundry
    by Brendan Jones

    A fresh debut novel about a young woman who moves to Alaska and finds herself through the hard work of fishing.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
    by Phaedra Patrick

    In a poignant and sparkling debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I A Sign O T T

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.