Monday, August 11, 2008

Long March of the Penguins

Recently Penguin Books, appropriately as one of the key institutions of British social democracy, have seemed to be in a bit of a state - at least in terms of roster and design. After the anniversary editions and the Penguin By Design book they obviously gave up on creating interesting new objects, merely settling for (in their - ew - 'Celebrations' series) a pale replica of the classic 1930s Gill Sans covers, with a motley selection of writers, from Jeremy Clarkson to Clare Tomalin. But this aesthetic cowardice suddenly seemed entirely irrelevant on finding, in W.H Smiths last week, that each copy of The Times was bundled with a free 'Celebrations' edition of Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival. Surely this wasn't on orders from Fortress Wapping, but the benevolent friend of the British Autodidact slipping a bit of Anarchist geopolitical analysis in with the usual Murdoch bombast?

Similarly, it's pleasing to see that the 'Great Ideas' budget philosophy series, previous editions of which came to the Decent Left conclusion that all great ideas ended with Orwell and Camus (presumably there be dragons beyond that), has now got as far as cheap, pocket-size editions of Foucault, Fanon and Benjamin. Welcome also to see a showing for 19th century Arts & Crafts socialism, with a volume of Ruskin, and Morris' brilliant Useful Work and Useless Toil - there's even some Trotsky, which is a quietly rather extraordinary choice. Some of the covers even manage to be quite elegant without making references to past glories. So hopefully the project of educating the populace via cheap, well-designed mass market paperbacks isn't quite dead, despite apperances to the contrary...


Blogger Blackheath Bugle said...

If their intention genuinely was to educate the public in a low-cost way, they'd make a dirt cheap e-book reader with a direct hotline to Project Gutenburg.

But maybe they're worried about killing off the dead-tree business any faster than it is dying already...

10:57 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Yes, but Project Gutenburg = no covetable fetish object! A matter on which I am a strict Benjaminian...

11:35 pm  
Blogger Robert Doyle said...

Spotting [i]Hegemony or Survival[/i] on a number of Nu Labourite conservative colleagues' desks last week, I was deeply perplexed until I found the freebie source.

I assume someone at Penguin is taking the piss when they include Jeremy Clarkson's "The World According to Clarkson" under "Essays and Belles Lettres" !

10:01 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Heheheh! The thing is, I bet Clarkson does think he's the 21st century Dr Johnson...

11:45 am  
Blogger sex said...







6:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely some thanks has to go to verso for this one? The Great Ideas series is very clearly a response to Verso's own Radical Thinkers. Of course I'm just glad these books aren't consigned to the outer reaches of e-texts / wilted second hand paperbacks / fat over-priced hardbacks any longer.

11:59 pm  
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11:31 pm  

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