John Gaudet: Papyrus | Book Review

“A resource treasured by the kings of Egypt, a prince among plants, a giant among sedges, and a gift of the gods, the papyrus plan has been with us since the dawn of civilization” – Powerful opening words from a very pleasant read about the significance of the curious plant that gave the book its title: The Papyrus plant.

I knew very little about papyrus before I dove into the pages of John Gaudet’s book, but finishing the book gave me insight into so many aspects of how the plant has changed the course of history and continues to affect our planet today. Mythology, geography, ecology, economics, and curious anecdotes from the author is sharing the book-pages together in a flavorful blend.

One of the things I appreciate the most that I learned from this book is how versatile the plant is, and how it was used to its fullest potential in ancient Egypt – With the marshland people being the best at taking advantage of everything papyrus could offer their class: Ropes, housing, boats, emergency rations and, the more famous, paper.

And since millions of sheets and rolls of papyrus paper were produced every year, and every stem produced three strips of skin, it was natural for the Egyptians to use these for something. Why not rope? With one blow they would solve two problems: How to make money off a waste by-product of papermaking and how to produce cordage that allowed small craft and large vessels to be built“. – John Gaudet

Plenty of illustrations, photographs, and maps to help the author out in guiding us through the mysticism of ancient Egypt to modern day Africa and the way papyrus can be a possible solution to the pollution-problem facing the emerging industrial powerhouses of East Africa.

The personal experience the author has of living and traveling in Africa gives a very authentic feel and weight to the words within ‘Papyrus’ and absolutely fascinating stories you’d never get if Gaudet never experienced it, like the African saying of “Crocodiles are afraid of Papyrus” underlined with a story of a river-incident, to give one example.

In the East African marketplaces, the shopper can often find a light cloth wrap, a khanga, useful fro many things and typically emblazoned with Swahili proverbs. One says ‘Wapiganapo tembo manayas huumia’, or ‘when the elephants fight, the reed gets hurt’, which is appropriate to the times and coming war along the nile” – John Gaudet

The later parts of ‘Papyrus’ take a look on the conflicts of our time along the Nile River basin, as more and more people need to compete on less and less usable water – And how important the papyrus-rich marshlands are to filtrating the pollution from industry and households, acting as a cleaner to protect the fresh water.

The different agreements regarding water and the different disputes get a rough look at, without going to deep into details. ‘Papyrus’ is a perfect trampoline into those deeper waters though, its excellent as a reference book to make a timeline from and getting a brief understanding of what’s going on in the conflicts.

I was happily surprised how interesting and complete the book is on its topic, without getting too much into the weeds (pun intended!) on any particular part and giving a well-rounded reading experience – The Papyrus isn’t for everyone, but anyone interested in history, particularly Egyptian one that wants a light-weight book on the topic should definitely pick this one up.

Interested in getting a copy of ‘Papyrus’? Get it on Amazon.

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