Why do books and publishing matter to the contemporary history of Britain? In Penguin Books and Political Change: Britain's Meritocratic Moment, 1937–1988 (Manchester UP, 2020), Dean Blackburn, a Lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Nottingham, explores Britain in the twentieth century through the story of Penguin’s ‘Specials’. The book charts the shifting social, political, and intellectual context for the publication of the books, looking at key texts as well as offering a broader framework for understanding the social changes that the books shaped, and were shaped by. In addition, the book adds a fresh perspective on the idea of meritocracy, engaging with directly with the current moment’s critical interrogation of that term. Packed with rich and detailed case studies of 50 years of Penguin books, the book will be essential reading across arts, humanities, and social sciences, as well as for anyone interested in the history of the UK.
Dave O'Brien is Chancellor's Fellow, Cultural and Creative Industries, at the University of Edinburgh's College of Art.