Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo. Translated by Charlotte Whittle

Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo.

Translated by Charlotte Whittle


Long before books were mass produced, those made of reeds from along the Nile were worth fighting and dying for. Journeying along the battlefields of Alexander the Great, beneath the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, at Cleopatra’s palaces and the scene of Hypatia’s murder, award-winning author Irene Vallejo chronicles the excitement of literary culture in the ancient world, and the heroic efforts that ensured this impressive tradition would continue.

Weaved throughout are fascinating stories about the spies, scribes, illuminators, librarians, booksellers, authors, and statesmen whose rich and sometimes complicated engagement with the written word bears remarkable similarities to the world today: Aristophanes and the censorship of the humourists, Sappho and the empowerment of women’s voices, Seneca and the problem of a post-truth world.

Vallejo takes us to mountainous landscapes and the roaring sea, to the capitals where culture flourished and the furthest reaches where knowledge found refuge in chaotic times. In this sweeping tour of the history of books, the wonder of the ancient world comes alive and along the way we discover the singular power of the written word.

My Review:

Imagine a book that would take you back to the earliest days of writing when before the earliest forms of paper it was on tablets of stone, then the same book would bring you right up to modern times. One of the most incredible books of this year has to be Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World ( Hodder & Stoughton) by Irene Vallejo and translated by Charlotte Whittle. A book that has become an international bestseller.

This really is the story of the birth of the alphabet and the first papyrus scrolls. These were fought over and died for. Irene Vallejo takes the reader on journey that for anyone who has a love of books and their history will rejoice. It is a pure delight to read from the first page to the last. I can really understand why Papyrus has sold over a million copies worldwide. But this this is not just a history of books, as Irene Vallejo covers a wide spectrum of topics, which is why I think this book will become a classic over time, of this I have no doubt. When you think back thousands of years to the great library of Alexandria and the thousands of scrolls that that must have contained. It was Mark Antony who brought many thousands of scrolls to the great library as a gift to his love that was Cleopatra.

Irene Vallejo really has done her research and her love of the written word really pours out of every page. There are so many stories and facts about ancient literature that it one of those books you can dip in and out of and learn something each time you do. This is not a heavy book for academics as such, but anyone with a love of a history of ancient literature and where and how it all began as well as the great philosophers are all here. This is a book about libraries of the past and of the present and also the booksellers. As Irene will tell the reader about how you can create a parallel world when opening a book and reading every word, and yet at any moment you can move you gaze away and return to the world that is.

When you think of the first ancient letters on clay to papyrus and move through the ages to leather bound books to the modern day books on both paper and then those words read on electronic devices, think back to where it all began in the ancient world. This really does bring those earliest moments of ancients times alive. It is a phenomenal achievement and a book that will stand the test of time. Just to mention that the translation is by Charlotte Whittle. A book of discovery and wonder and Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo I highly recommend.

464 Pages.

Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo is Published by Hodder & Stoughton and is now available in hardback through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through that supports your local independent bookshop. UK