Pelican books take flight again | Books | The Guardian

Pelican books take flight again | Books | The Guardian

As the non-fiction Penguin imprint relaunches, Paul Laity tells the story of the blue‑spined books that inspired generations of self-improvers – and transformed the publishing world.


“The really amazing thing, the extraordinary eye-opener that surprised the most optimistic of us, was the immediate and overwhelming success of the Pelicans.” So wrote Allen Lane, founder of Penguin and architect of the paperback revolution, who had transformed the publishing world by selling quality books for the price of a packet of cigarettes.

Millions of orange Penguins had already been bought when they were joined in 1937 by the pale blue non-fiction Pelicans. “Who would have imagined,” he continued, “that, even at 6d, there was a thirsty public anxious to buy thousands of copies of books on science, sociology, economics, archaeology, astronomy and other equally serious subjects?”

His instinct was not only commercially astute but democratic. The launching of the Penguins and Pelicans (“Good books cheap”) caused a huge fuss, and not simply among staid publishers: the masses were now able to buy not just pulp, but “improving”, high-calibre books – whatever next! Lane and his defenders argued that owning such books should not be the preserve of the privileged class. He had no truck with those people “who despair at what they regard as the low level of people’s intelligence”.

Lane came up with the name – so the story goes – when he heard someone who wanted to buy a Penguin at a King’s Cross station bookstall mistakenly ask for “one of those Pelican books”. He acted fast to create a new imprint. The first Pelican was George Bernard Shaw‘s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. “A sixpenny edition” of the book, the author modestly suggested, “would be the salvation of mankind.” Such was the demand that booksellers had to travel to the Penguin stockroom in taxis and fill them up with copies before rushing back to their shops.

It helped of course that this was a decade of national and world crisis. For Lane, the public “wanted a solid background to give some coherence to the newspaper’s scintillating confusion of day-to-day events”.

The Internet Really Has Changed Everything. Here’s the Proof. — Backchannel

The Internet Really Has Changed Everything. Here’s the Proof. — Backchannel

Instead I answer his question. “I am writing about how technology has changed humanity.”

Now he looks nervous.

“Basically, this story is a controlled experiment,” I continue. “Napoleon is a place that has remained static for decades. The economics, demographics, politics, and geography are the same as when I lived here. In the past twenty-five years, only one thing has changed: technology.”

“All scientific experiments require two conditions: a static environment and an independent variable. Napoleon is the control; technology, the testable variable. With all else being equal, this place is the perfect environment to explore societal questions like,

  • What are the effects of mass communications?
  • How has technology transformed the way we form ideas?
  • Does access to information alone make us smarter?

As we discuss other apps on his home screen — YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo — I realize that my line of questions are really just attempts to prove or disprove a sentence that I read on the flight to Dakota. The sentence appears on page 20 of Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, a study of the social lives of networked teens:

What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall was in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now.”

Continue reading “The Internet Really Has Changed Everything. Here’s the Proof. — Backchannel”

The Pmarca Blog Archive Is Back… as an Ebook – Andreessen Horowitz

The Pmarca Blog Archive Is Back… as an Ebook – Andreessen Horowitz

Somewhere along the way Marc Andreessen went from being pmarca to @pmarca. He took down his popular blog, and years later took up tweetstorming. Which means you can keep up with his current thoughts on Twitter — and also catch up on them (in the form of tweets, podcasts, and op-eds) here.

But by popular request, you can now also download many of his older blog posts — The Pmarca Blog Archives — as an ebook, below. [And yes, we do get the irony of doing this!]

That said, here are some of our edit notes*: We removed all links (and text) that referenced resources that no longer exist or were otherwise outdated out of a live web context. We kept the original formatting (except to turn some subheads into headers) and did not do significant editing. And finally, while it pained us to not include other popular posts (like “Three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet” or his views on Hollywood and movies and more), you can catch up on some of those posts as archived herehere, and here

To download the free ebook — available in multiple formats for most e-readers — we’d appreciate your filling out the optional form.

ebook download

pick your format and then click ‘download’:.EPUB (for Nook, iBooks, Kobo etc.):
.MOBI (for Kindle):
.PDF (for printing):

Bookshelf | Literary Hub

Bookshelf | Literary Hub

In which bookshelves are installed at the New York Public Library

When the New York City Public Library opened on May 23, 1911, the building spanned over two city blocks and boasted one of the most impressive collections of books—and bookshelves—in the world. “ It is impossible to think of New York without the New York Public Library, ” notes Henry Hope Reed, during the centennial celebrations of the library. “[Its] presence is that of some great natural fact. It would appear to have always been there.”

During its initial construction, the newspaper media talked up the library’s bookshelves something fierce. Since the library was to hold over three million volumes, shelving and storing a collection of that size was no small undertaking. In 1905, initial schematics of the library ’ s bookshelves were published in the New York Times and Scientific American; articles claimed that the library had a set of bookshelves constructed on a practically unheard-of scale, unlike any other shelves in any other library built before it. On October 1, 1905, the Times practically fell over itself, gushing with enthusiasm:

The skeleton of a bookcase that will hold 3,500,000 volumes — without exception the largest bookcase in the world — that is what one may see to-day back of the great central hall of the majestic marble structure that is slowly rising in Bryant Park.

It is just completed, this marvelous network of steel bars and uprights, and exemplifies the very latest methods and appliances for the shelving of books. There is nothing like it in the great libraries of the Old World . . . In the Congressional Library . . . the modern steel bookcase is in use, but not in the solid, impressive mass, distinguishing it over all others, that is shown in the New York Public Library . . . Above it will be placed the spacious reading room of the library, on either side the various halls, offices, and exhibition rooms. Thus surrounded, this monster bookcase becomes, architecturally, the heart of the whole structure, the treasure for whose protection this marble palace is built. Even now, with this maze of steel laid bare, it is difficult to appreciate its immense capacity for the shelving of books. A bookcase holding three and a half million volumes means a series of shelves that if laid together, end to end, would measure over eighty miles.

Continue reading “Bookshelf | Literary Hub”

Happiness to mindfulness, via wellbeing: how publishing trends grow | Books | The Guardian

Happiness to mindfulness, via wellbeing: how publishing trends grow | Books | The Guardian

I’ve written before about my problems with literary decluttering. But who in their right mind would want to keep eight copies of a directory that barely changes from year to year except for the entries that are out of date? Well – sigh! – me. And here’s why. Many volumes ago, I was asked to write an essay on a literary editor’s life for this sturdy compendium of information for people aspiring to a writing career. While extolling the value of making lists, I wrote that it helped to spot the signs of new publishing trends.

My trend-spotting habit dates back to 1999, when it was all commodity books (powered by the success of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod). In 2002, there was a fad for cute micro-histories with titles almost as long as the text – who today remembers Lord Minimus: The Extraordinary Life of Britain’s Smallest Man?

And so it goes. By 2008, it was all about happiness, with a generical range that took in the historical, the scientific and the philosophical: clearly something more interesting was happening than a dozen books with the same word in the title. By 2012, everything was a biography, as the (yet again) updated essay noted: “We’ve had biographies of food, of cities, of an ocean, the Ordnance Survey map and even cancer.”

The point about trend-spotting is that it helps to find a shape in what can seem like one damned book after another. It’s particularly pleasing when, like the happiness boom, it connects different disciplines and appears to be driven by something more significant than simply publishers out to replicate the last big thing. Happiness led to wellbeing, which in turn led to mindfulness. This says something about social neuroses and efforts to analyse, solve and exploit them. With hindsight, it doesn’t seem coincidental that this strand of thinking and publishing coincided with the financial crash of 2007-8.

And hindsight is what those eight volumes of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook give me. They represent a historiography of my reading life, and the points at which it intersected with the wider culture, long after the books involved have been jettisoned.

Watch this space.

In the Future, We Will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing – The New Yorker

In the Future, We Will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing – The New Yorker

My guess is that it wants to kill the software, but it doesn’t want the P.R. nightmare that would follow. Remember the outcry over its decision to shut down its tool for R.S.S. feeds, Google Reader? Nik loyalists are even more rabid.

“The definition of photography is changing, too, and becoming more of a language,” the Brooklyn-based artist and professional photographer Joshua Allen Harris told me. “We’re attaching imagery to tweets or text messages, almost like a period at the end of a sentence. It’s enhancing our communication in a whole new way.”

In other words, “the term ‘photographer’ is changing,” he said. As a result, photos are less markers of memories than they are Web-browser bookmarks for our lives.