What do we mean by reading? To understand reading we need to appeal to a wide range of disciplines: myriad forms of history, literary and textual studies, psychology, phenomenology, and sociology. What is now widely accepted is that reading is far more than the decoding of messages that have been previously encoded. ‘What is reading?’ considers the world’s earliest readers and the earliest examples of writing. It explains how the invention of paper in 105 ce triggered the extraordinary expansion of reading throughout East Asia. It also discusses the processes of learning to read and explains how literacy allows for the assimilation of useful knowledge and the means to communicate it.