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The Paper Trail

paperAlexander Monro argues "that paper is a more important invention than, say, electricity, penicillin … or the internal combustion engine" (The Economist, 6/7/14). Alexander is author of The Paper Trail and his point is plain: "History’s most galvanizing ideas have hitched a lift on [paper's] surface." Indeed, Buddhism became "the first religious movement to reach new followers by writing its sutras on paper. As Buddhism spread throughout Korea and Japan, so did papermaking."

Paper’s inventor, it is believed, was "a eunuch named Cai Lun, a civil servant in Luoyang, China," who in 105 AD "used bark from mulberry trees and plant fiber, pounded into pulp, then dried and matted into sheets. It was cheap, portable and printable; light, absorbent and strong. Within a couple of hundred years, paper had taken over from bamboo and silk in China to carry the written word. Almost 2,000 years later, more than 400m tons of paper and cardboard are manufactured every year."

"The great acceleration in Europe began with the invention of movable-type printing by Gutenberg in 1439; the printing press was the powerful motor that drove the ideas of the cultural, religious and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Protestantism. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible was the first bestseller. The concept of Rights of Man was spread through books; mass communication arrived with newspapers … From money to lavatory paper … paper has made life easier for people as well as advancing ideas."