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Preliminary Reading List

The History of the Book in America: A Survey from Colonial to Modern

Michael Winship


Preliminary Advices

Recommended Advance Reading

  1. Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, et al. The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States. Rev. ed. (New York: Bowker, 1951).
  2. Still the best summary after 60 years. If at all possible, read the second (1951, and several later printings) rather than the first (1939) edition. Unfortunately, the book has long been out of print, but there are many inexpensive used copies listed for sale on www.bookfinder.com and copies are readily available via interlibrary loan. You may wish to skim or pass over parts that seem too detailed or tedious.

  3. Perspectives on American Book History: Artifacts and Commentary. Ed. Scott E. Casper et al. (Amherst: U. of Massachusetts PR, 2002).
  4. A fairly recent work, reflecting much of the best of current scholarship in the field, but a book for browsing rather than reading straight through.  The “artifacts” are mostly brief excerpts reprinted from primary resources, with many available in facsimile along with additional illustrations on the accompanying cd-rom.  These are gathered in chapters around various topics, from “Literacy and Reading in Puritan New England” to “Newspapers since 1945,” each introduced by a brief essay and followed by commentary and suggestions for further research.  Joanne Chaison’s concluding “Resources for Studying American Book History” is a useful guide.

  5. Extracts from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: electronic version, based on the “Library of America” edition edited by Leo J. LeMay. To be distributed in advance.
  6. A personal account of the world of printing and books in the colonial era.

    Suggested Further Reading

  7. A History of the Book in America, David D. Hall, gen. editor (Cambridge: Cambridge U. PR, Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 2000; Chapel U. of North Carolina PR, 2007–2010).
  8. This recently completed series of five volumes is the standard scholarly history of the book in America, though it is probably best for browsing and selective reading for those who are just developing an interest in the field.

  9. Richard W. Clement. The Book in America. (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996.)
  10. Richard W. Clement. Books on the Frontier: Print Culture in the American West, 1763-1875. (Washington DC: Library of Congress, 2003). Distributed by the University Press of New England.
  11. These two books are a bit like coffee table books, but the scholarship is generally sound, and they have nice illustrations and are a manageable length for reading.

  12. James N. Green & Peter Stallybrass. Benjamin Franklin: Writer and Printer. (New Castle DE: Oak Knoll PR; Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 2006).
  13. Published to accompany an exhibition celebrating the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s birth, this provides a fascinating exploration of his career as a man of letters..

  14. James L. W. West, III. American Authors and the Literary Marketplace since 1900. (Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1988).
  15. A useful supplement to Lehmannhaupt (see above) for the 20th century.

  16. Kenneth C. Davis. Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.)
  17. An interesting study of the place of paperbacks in American culture during the 20th century, again supplementing Lehmannhaupt.

  18. Ellen B. Ballou. The Building of the House: Houghton Mifflin's Formative Years. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.)
  19. Eugene Exman. The House of Harper: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Publishing. (NY: Harper & Row, 1967.)
  20. Two of the best traditional “house” histories, chronicling the development of two major American publishing firms.

Final advice: The past decade has seen the publication of several dozen specialized academic studies reflecting the “history of the book” approach.  If you are interested in glancing at these, look for works by many of the authors who are contributors to the Perspectives on American Book History volume or for volumes in the University of Massachusetts Press’s Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book series.