Emanuel Haldeman-Julius and his Little Blue Books
From the current issue of The Believer, an article by Rolf Potts on Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, publisher of those 5-cent “Little Blue Books” that educated the masses in the 1920s: “The Henry Ford of Literature.”
Here’s how it starts:
…Selling for as little as five cents and small enough to fit in a trouser pocket, these books were meant to bring culture and self-education to working people, and covered topics ranging from classic literature to home-finance to sexually pleasuring one’s spouse. Distributed discreetly by mail order, Little Blue Books disseminated birth-control information not available in small-town libraries, advocated racial justice at a time when the Ku Klux Klan influenced politics, and introduced Euripides, Shakespeare, and Emerson to people without the means for higher education.
Haldeman-Julius’s Kansas press debuted writers like Will Durant, Bertrand Russell, and Clarence Darrow to the American public, and titles by Henry James found more readers in their Little Blue Book editions than in those from any other contemporary publisher. Endorsed by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and carried to the south pole with Admiral Richard Byrd, Little Blue Books figured in the early education of twentieth-century writers like Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Studs Terkel, Harlan Ellison, Louis L’Amour, Margaret Mead, and Langston Hughes.
In the midst of his publishing heyday, when asked how he might be remembered, Haldeman-Julius speculated that his obituary would mention how “I sold hundreds of millions of [books] and usefully served a portion of my generation with fairness, sincerity, and intelligence…. It may mention my forthright attacks on all forms of Supernaturalism, Mysticism, Fundamentalism, and respectable and dignified bunk in general.
“It may even go so far as to say that I changed the reading habits of Americans and created millions of new readers for the book publishers who followed me.”
My Dad’s got a shoe-box full of these Little Blue Books at home. I have looked through them, and they are really great.