A Revolution in Reading: 1935–1960
‘‘Whether this revolution in the reading habits of the American public means that we are being inundated by a flood of trash which will debase farther the popular taste, or that we shall now have available cheap editions of an ever-increasing list of classics, is a question of basic importance to our social and cultural development.’’ —Harvey Swados, 1951
From the 1935 launch of Britain's Penguin until 1960 – the year in which dollar sales from paperback books first surpassed those of hardcovers – the paperback revolutionized the readership, marketing, distribution, circulation, and reception of books and reading in the United States, Canada, and many other nations. This website begins an investigation into this history with the dual aim of inspiring further interest and research into both paperback history in general and in our local repository, The Edmonton Collection.
Experience the Revolution
Between 1935 and 1960, the paperback revolution created a new industry overnight, permanently changed our understanding of "the book," helped to democratize reading by increasing readership and eroding the lines between "high" and "low" literature, and created its own, unique genres and forms of expression. Our animated timeline traces some of the companies and personalities which shaped the birth and growth of the paperback industry.
A large part of this site's artwork and research is drawn from the Edmonton Collection, an archive of approximately a hundred "revolution-era" paperbacks located in Edmonton, Canada. Some of these books can be browsed using the virtual paperback rack in our gallery section.
Much has been written on the subject of the Paperback Revolution. To continue your investigation with a variety of other resources, visit our links section.