caltech alumni book club


Bookworms Unite! The Caltech Alumni Association offers an online book club for Caltech alumni and the Caltech community including Associates and parents. A new book will be chosen every other month by our alumni, faculty, or staff hosts. Hosts, along with our team, will post interesting and thought-provoking questions on our private discussion boards which are always open. You can chat, participate, and add to the conversation whenever it is convenient for you. You do not have to read every book--there are no tests or quizzes here. Sign up, create your profile and you’re ready.


February 2019

Paper: Paging Through History
by Mark Kurlansky

Hosted by Peter Sachs Collopy


From the New York Times best-selling author of Cod and Salt, Paper is a definitive history of paper and the astonishing ways it has shaped today’s world.

Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. By tracing paper’s evolution from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the contributions made in Asia and the Middle East, Mark Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology’s influence, affirming that paper is here to stay. Paper will be the commodity history that guides us forward in the twenty-first century and illuminates our times.



About Our Host

Peter Sachs Collopy is a historian, archivist, and curator of science, technology, and media. As Caltech’s University Archivist, Peter leads a team that organizes and preserves the historical record of research at Caltech to facilitate understanding of the Institute’s role in the history of science and technology. He recently curated the Caltech Archives exhibit “The Mind’s Eye: Richard Feynman in Word and Image.” Peter also researches the history of the networks of people and institutions—from engineers to artists to psychotherapists—that emerged around the new technologies of portable video recording and video synthesis in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Peter sachs collopy

By the book - book club host profile

Q. What are you reading or listening to now?
A. Professionally, I'm reading Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science by Audra Wolfe. It’s a history of how American scientists came to think of science as both apolitical and inherently democratic, as well as the roles of scientists in Cold War diplomacy and espionage. I’m also reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat, which is interesting as a sort of vernacular chemistry, systematizing cooking into basic principles.

Q. What is your favorite genre? Who are your favorite writers in that genre?
A. I love science fiction that grapples with religion and political theory—Ursula Le Guin and Mary Doria Russell are among my favorite writers—but I don’t read nearly as much of it as I’d like. I do read a lot of comics of all sorts; some of my favorite writers are Alan Moore, Alison Bechdel, Matt Fraction, and Marjane Satrapi.

Q. What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
A. I have a shelf of manuals and how-to guides for video technology from the late 1960s and early 1970s, part of my dissertation research on how video technology was developed and people used it across fields from psychiatry to art to political organizing. I’ve also produced some video myself using this antiquated equipment, so the manuals come in handy.

Q. How do you organize your bookshelf?
A. I organize books fairly obsessively, first by broad fields—US history, history of science and technology, media studies, philosophy, fiction—and then chronologically by either the subject of the book, for history, or by its publication date, for fiction and philosophy.Sachs