Dennis Duncan at The Times Literary Supplement:
It would be an exaggeration to suggest that the general public has always found paper fascinating – remember how the sitcom The Office used a paper merchant to epitomize deadening banality – but for the last few years it seems to have been having a moment in terms of popular history. We’ve had Ian Sansom’s Paper: An elegy (2012), Nicholas Basbanes’s On Paper: The everything of its two-thousand year history (2014), Lothar Müller’s White Magic: The age of paper(2014), and Alexander Monro’s The Paper Trail: An unexpected history of a revolutionary invention (2014). This summer another pair of books tell paper’s story, the processes by which it has been made, and the slow spread of this technology across the globe.
Credited as the invention of Cai Lun, an official of the Han dynasty, in 105 AD (though fragments have been found in China which predate Cai Lun by several centuries), paper made its way westwards, firstly through the Islamic world – the first paper mill in Baghdad opened at the end of the eighth century – before arriving, via Spain, in Christian Europe by the middle of the thirteenth. By 1495, Britain, a late adopter, was producing its own paper at John Tate’s mill at Sele in Hertfordshire. For the couple of decades before that, Caxton and the other early English printers had been relying on European imports.