This 2000 year history of paper is told through personal stories of paper-makers, fascinating historical tidbits, and the author's near-obsession with paper, books and the written word. It's not a perfectly linear history. Basbanes writes about a trip to China, and the amazing families of paper-makers he met there, and tells a bit of the paper-making history in that region, before going on to talking about Japan and the spiritual connection the Japanese people have with paper. He tells a story about how paper was a key component in the only deaths on American soil incurred during WWII because of an attack by the Japanese. I don't want to say too much about it, because it was quite a surprising story. Then it's on to France and the first manned hot air balloon flight, and a bit about how paper influenced the development of Islam.
On Paper is not just a dry history book, but a collection of stories about people from all over the world, and throughout the last 2000 years, who's lives have been changed by, or dedicated to, the art and craft of paper-making. From toilet tissue, to sticky notes, to handmade art paper, to ornate wrapping paper, we all use mass quantities of paper every day without a second thought. Knowing a bit about how it all came about and how all of the various types of paper are produced makes this a great book for readers who are interested in art or books, but also for people who are just interested in history in general. Nicholas Basbanes' conversational, story-telling style makes this book very readable for most people who enjoy nonfiction.