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Penguin Special: The Story of Allen Lane,…

Penguin Special: The Story of Allen Lane, the Founder of Penguin Books and…

by Jeremy Lewis

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I was put off by the cad-ness of Allen Lane. But the review promising a nuts and bolts of the publishing industry in those days says I should read.

Astonishing how many copies per title were sold back when there were 20% as many people today and no internet. ( )
  Mark-Bailey | Jul 1, 2017 |
I was put off by the cad-ness of Allen Lane. But the review promising a nuts and bolts of the publishing industry in those days says I should read.

Astonishing how many copies per title were sold back when there were 20% as many people today and no internet. ( )
  torreyhouse | Jun 25, 2016 |
A biography of Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin books.

Very interesting account of his life and how publishing changed in his lifetime, many of the changes brought about by Lane himself. As publishing goes through another upheaval with the advent of ebooks, it's good to look back at what happened when good quality paperbacks were introduced. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Jun 9, 2013 |
Almost all readers must have a soft spot for Penguin Books. This is the story of Allen Lane, the founder and driving force of Penguin. It is written in a believable and pleasantly un-fawning manner. Lane is not made out to be a saint, or an unmitigated sinner.

Penguin was the first company, certainly in Britain, and arguably the World, to take paperback publishing seriously. This book takes one through the early days right through the various machinations to Lane's death and the takeover by Pearsons. Lane, as so often can be said, started out as a revolutionary and ended up as a stick in the mud. He seems to have found friendship difficult. People would be taken on, in both his private and his business life, with great enthusiasm, only to be ditched, unceremoniously at a later date. One story in the book is of a trip to Australia, where an arm of Penguin had been created. It was known that change was in the air and the three directors hung around Lane like limpets throughout the visit, but nothing was said. At the airport, when Lane was on his way home, he turned at the foot of the steps up to his iron bird and said, "You're out, you're in and you're out; and I'm off." Not the mark of a decent chap.

Lane's love life seems equally odd. He married Lettice, fell out of love, but kept her on a string, took a lover, cooled towards her and restored Lettice, although, they seem to have lead separate lives, together. He was equally undecided upon publishing appointments; seemingly getting worried once someone became a challenge but, disappointed if they did not.

Lane was a socialist, but tight with his money. When he wanted to put toilets into his original warehouse and office block, the visiting council employee walked away saying that if he were to admit to having visited, the firm would be shut down for breaching so many health and safety regulations: and this was in the days before PC!

In later years, the plotting at Penguin seems to have been more concerned with the covers - Penguin were launched with plain covers; two swathes of orange, green or blue (depending upon the series) with a cream centre stripe. The decision as to whether to follow the trend for picture covers became a fight that cost more than one person his job.

Lane's final slap in the face to anyone wishing to paint him as a nice person came with his will: he cut out both his wife and his daughters. How can this be the man who was as concerned to bring decent literature to the masses as he was to make money?

A good read, but another hero bites the dust. ( )
1 vote the.ken.petersen | Mar 30, 2011 |
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Family trees are baffling at the best of times; Allen Lane's become more complicated than most when he learned that, as a condition of his joining The Bodley Head at the age of sixteen, he and his immediate family must exchange his father's surname, Williams, for his mother's maiden name of Lane.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141024615, Hardcover)

The founding of Penguin Books in 1935 revolutionized the publishing industry with the idea that great writing ought to be made available for the price of a pack of cigarettes. In telling the story of Penguin and its founder, Allen Lane, Jeremy Lewis traces the changes the company wrought in cultural and political life in England and in the publishing industry worldwide, from the publication of Ulysses, with its attendant obscenity trial, to the Penguin Specials that alerted prewar Britain to the Nazi threat. Rich with anecdote and suffused with Lane’s larger-than-life personality, Penguin Special touches on the entire twentieth century in its portrait of a man and a company that have changed the way the English-speaking world reads.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A stocky, dapper Bristolian who left school at the age of sixteen and went on to found Penguin Books, Allen Lane was the greatest publisher of the twentieth century and a major influence on the cultural and political life of post-war Britain. He revolutionized our reading habits by his insistence that the best writing in the world should be made available for the price of a packet of cigarettes. Decked out in their livery of orange and white, the first Penguins were published in the summer of 1935 and were followed in due course by Pelicans, Puffins and Penguin Classics." "Though never a bookish man himself, Lane was adept at sensing the spirit of the age and always ready to follow his hunches: he commissioned Nikolaus Pevsner to write the Buildings of England, persuaded Kenneth Clark to mastermind the Penguin Modern Painters, and gave his backing to John Lehmann's Penguin New Writing, arguably the finest literary magazine of its times. He risked prosecution by publishing James Joyce's Ulysses for the first time in this country, and a quarter of a century later he appeared at the Old Bailey to defend Penguin's publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover, thereby anticipating the liberal reforms of the 1960s." "But his influence stretched far beyond the world of publishing: his pre-war Penguin Specials alerted the British public to the threat of Nazism; the books he published during the war helped to ensure a Labour victory in 1945; and Penguin itself came to be seen as a benign monopoly, akin to the BBC or the National Health Service." "By the end of his career, publishing was changing too fast for his liking, and his last years were blighted by illness and his battle with the mercurial Tony Godwin, brought to its climax when Lane set fire to the stock of a book he detested. Lane combined ruthlessness with affability, courage with moral cowardice, loyalty with unpredictability. Few publishers are remembered after their lifetimes: Allen Lane is a rare exception to the rule."--Book jacket.… (more)

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