Cover Image: Papyrus


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Member Reviews

It's not really about papyrus.

This is a very wide-ranging, fitful, episodic exploration of the development of writing and preservation of knowledge in books and how they were made available.

There's two large sections of the work, Greek and Roman, with the Greek really much more about Alexandria and its library and thus Hellenism more than Greek itself.  But the author will travel far further back to the beginning of literacy, the development of papyrus,  but also will shift forward to the use of parchment and codices and even some aspects of modern life.  

If there's a unifying theme of the work it's the dynamic of the written word: what it has allowed and facilitated, the limitations of the craft, its marketing, its place in society, literacy levels, etc.  

There's a lot of interesting and insightful information here.  But it's a lot longer than you might think it is, and the information presented is far more stream-of-consciousness or according to the author's whim than anything resembling a coherent, linear progression.
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I am sorry for the inconvenience but I don’t have the time to read this anymore and have lost interest in the concept. I believe that it would benefit your book more if I did not skim your book and write a rushed review. Again, I am sorry for the inconvenience.
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This review was originally published on I was given an ebook freely by NetGalley and the book’s publisher in return for a voluntary and honest review.

For being a translation this book reads very smoothly. Irene Vallejo is meticulous in her research and setting a foundation. The first ten or so chapters deal with the history of Alexander The Great and how he set up and designed the city of Alexandria. The same city that would be home to the Library of Alexandria. 

We learn about all of the different forms of containing information. From clay tablets with cuneiform pressed into them, antlers scratching words onto bark, papyrus made from reeds, parchment made from the animals skin to paper.

Vallejo understands that she’s delivering a lot of information and keeps her chapters short to make it easier to digest everything. 

As a book lover this was a joy to read. I learned so many new things about books. I can see this being a regular read every few years. For anyone who loves books, history, human culture it’s well worth the read.
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This is an awfully hefty tome of a book, but surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), the content was nearly all up my alley. Initially, I thought we would stay in the ancient world, much like my Montessori training classes did, but Vallejo weaves in contemporary comparisons and narratives seamlessly. I loved reading this, and I would love to revisit it again--perhaps after retirement, when I have more time to savor what I'm learning even more!
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Every few years someone puts out a book called something like Library or Paper or some such. I always get very excited to read it, and I’m always disappointed. This book is exactly what I wanted all those books called Book or whatever to be.

Vallejo has written a brilliant piece of narrative nonfiction about all things bookish, from the history of libraries to writing to reading to the books themselves. While the content may be a veritable kitchen sink of information spanning millennia, Vallejo brings it together beautifully in a cohesive, enthralling book.

I love the way she combines modern bookish tales and personal anecdotes with ancient book history to flesh out her narrative, and I love the way she achieved the rare combination of writing a nonfiction book that is both deeply informative and also compulsively readable. 

One of my absolute favorites of 2022.
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I was excited when given the opportunity to read this book, but quickly that excitement waned. The topics covered in the essays didn't really do what the title of the book suggested I should expect. Yes, ancient libraries and certain books or book collectors are discussed, but I didn't get much if any new information and didn't really get a sense of the "invention of books in the Ancient World."
Vallejo's writing style is enjoyable, and I can see the appeal for some that have zero background about the topic, but this fell a tiny bit off for me.

Thank you NetGalley and publisher for the dARC of this work in exchange for my honest review.
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I have started reading this book six or seven times but just can’t get into it. I am very interested in the subject matter and was excited to read. The language is invariably dry and just very hard to get into a flow with. I am not sure if the book has been translated but the writing is somewhat awkward. The text is informative but hard to read. The galley I was given also has no formatting which further compounded the language issues.
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What an absolutely enlightening and thought-provoking book for our times now.  Vallejo's erudition, research, and love for literature and language shine all the way through. A treasure of a book that I will now be gifting to all my reader and writer friends for Christmas.
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"In different eras, we have experimented with books of smoke, of stone, of earth, of leaves, of reeds, of silk, of animal skin, of rags, of trees, and now, of light—the computers and ebooks of today...They have taken many shapes, but what’s indisputable is the overwhelming success of their discovery." (Part II, Chapter 48).

Irene Vallejo's Papyrus* is a lively, detailed, tangent filled exploration of the book in ancient Greek and Rome. A full history of stories and literature from oral tradition to our modern methods of reading. The work is divided into two roughly equal portions to each ancient civilization, with both their antecedents and descendants.

Vallejo details the different authors, readers and organizations devoted to sharing and preserving their work. We also have the chance to see the development of writing from cuneiform, to scroll to our present book. The latter with all it's useful features such as title page, index, chapters, or even simple page numbers. Vallejo also details the contemporary cultures and the ways texts were read, discussed, criticized, censored or destroyed. While overall arranged chronologically, some chapters serve as interludes, linking more modern events, writers, or other content to their historic ancestors. Vallejo also reflects on her personal experience, memories of being read to as a child, visiting bookstores and libraries with her parents, or the way she used to think of books.

A wonderful work that celebrates the importance of books. Especially, their importance as diffusers of knowledge, showing humanity our successes and failures.

*Translated from Spanish to English by Charlotte Whittle.
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A carefully curated collection of cultural vignettes and historical anecdotes interspersed with the author's own experiences with literature. The mixture of history, storytelling and the author's own love of literature comes together as an ode to the written word and its dissemination across millennia. Not quite a microhistory, but rather a humanistic approach to the effect writing materials had on various cultures.
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A wonderful, informative, engaging read on the ancient beginning of books and their importance.  Author Irene Vallejo's personality shines through as you read. She's quite humorous and that makes for quite an enjoyable read. Definitely worth reading!!

Thanks to NetGalley for this advanced review, which I voluntarily read.
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A well-written book that is a bit less than I had imagined from the premise. More of a collection of literature on the historical scope of Papyrus in European history than a natural science meets history take on the subject.
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A fascinating and philosophical look at the written word in Greek and Roman culture. However, I feel this book would have been more complete with information on Chinese and Japanese written tradition and the great libraries of Al-Andalus and the Islamic tradition.
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I went into "Papyrus" expecting something of a straightforward, chronological history detailing the origins of books. What I ended up partially reading instead was much more of a collection of author anecdotes and musings about the written word mixed in with an array of historical facts from primarily the Greco-Roman era, all presented in a meandering narrative. It’s a combination that clearly hits the right notes for numerous other readers - there’s much to learn, many sentiments to agree with, and Irene Vallejo’s genuine and enormous passion for her subject matter is undeniable. 

That all being said, for me the end product ended up being an ultimately unsatisfying reading experience. Whereas others may delight in the loose format where chapters bounce about from various points in ancient history to book-relevant topics, I quickly found myself bogged down and struggling to keep up with the flow. Stream-of-consciousness style of writing has never been easy for me, and this proved to be no exception. Also, while I found the history itself interesting, I didn’t find anything in Vallejo’s reflections to be particularly eye-opening or thought-provoking. If anything, I ended up finding them to have a bit of a pretentious feel at times as she described experiences spent reading old manuscripts or visiting old libraries across Europe. I definitely do not assume that this was her intention one bit. But even as a bibliophile whose own love of books can be a lot at times, I found her musings to be a little overdone.

I appreciated what Vallejo was attempting to accomplish here. But that general appreciation wasn’t nearly enough to carry me through the rest of the book. Maybe it was ultimately because my initial expectations were so far apart from what I ended up reading, but in the ned, "Papyrus" was simultaneously too little and too much.
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