During the four centuries when printed paper was the only means by which texts could be carried across time and distance, everyone engaged in politics, education, religion, and literature believed that reading helped to shape the minds, opinions, attitudes, and ultimately the actions, of readers. In this 2004 book, William St Clair investigates how the national culture can be understood through a quantitative study of the books that were actually read. Centred on the Romantic period in the English-speaking world, but ranging across the whole print era, it reaches startling conclusions about the forces that determined how ideas were carried, through print, into wider society. St Clair provides an in-depth investigation of information, made available here for the first time, on prices, print runs, intellectual property, and readerships gathered from over fifty publishing and printing archives. He offers a picture of the past very different from those presented by traditional approaches. Indispensable to students of English literature, book history, and the history of ideas, the study's conclusions and explanatory models are highly relevant to the issues we face in the age of the internet.
'... magnificent, original and compelling study ... stretches far wider than its title suggests. He has a mass of new and fascinating things to say about the centuries that followed the invention of printing and also about the Victorian age which succeeded the Romantic period ... The Reading Nation is clearly written and is throughout enjoyable to read.' Ian Gilmour, London Review of Books 'Over the next half century many scholars will rely on this book, argue with it, and produce further evidence to support or challenge conclusions. I am prepared to say without qualification, however, that The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period is one of the most important scholarly books I have ever read.' Rob Hume, Philological Quarterly '... a rich, ambitious, and invariably stimulating study of publishing practices in the English-speaking world that reaches back to the sixteenth century and forward to current debates about the globalization of intellectual property' Heather Jackson, Times Literary Supplement 'it is absolutely indispensable. ... It is strongly recommended reading for everyone interested in English literary history. There is nothing like it. We shall not be able to do without it. It defines a new standard in research into the history of reading.' Anglistik ' ... shows how one can revise many of the old unexamined truisms concerning romanticism by scrupulous quantitative analysis, without necessarily forfeiting an evaluative and critical stance ... Even more important is the dire story which the book tells, and the warning which it delivers to our own era, about the social and historical consequences of monopolizing knowledge.' Nigel Leask, History Workshop Journal '... this dazzling, compulsively readable, intellectually challenging tour de force ... St Clair brilliantly explores and explains the impact of economics, legal history, popular culture, societal structure, and bibliographic evidence, creating a seminal work, one that is truly indispensable to Romantic period scholars of every discipline. ... This is a work of rigorous scholarship, imagination, supportable conclusions, and disciplined speculation. It is not to be missed.' Jack Gumpert Wasserman, The Byron Journal 'St Clair's voluminous book is important in the inter-related fields of publishing history, history of the book, and history of reading on two grounds - its methodology and its detailed data. St Clair's commentaries are informative, and his deductions will likely be regarded as bases for further studies.' Mid West Book Review 'The biggest idea the Tories ever had was to stop the people reading. Byron did more than anyone else to expose that crime and William St Clair has presented the whole story in an original guise.' Michael Foot, Tribune 'Mr St Clair's The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period is the most important and useful book I've ever read on the history of the English book trade. It covers a much greater time period than the title implies.' Terry Belanger, University Professor, Macarthur Fellow, University of Virginia 'St Clair's first few chapters are so well written and lucid that readers will be very quickly propelled into the subject, ready for the always pertinent supporting detail in chapters that range from Shakespeare to Frankenstein.' Times Higher Education Supplement 'William St Clair's The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (CUP) is a masterly investigation ... St Clair pieces together a picture that is both startling and disturbing. St Clair's narrative is fascinating, illuminating and provocative with a liberal dash of humour, and at every stage his arguments are supported with an abundance of data gleaned from an astonishing array of sources ... this book is a rare find, challenging and profoundly important and at the same time intriguing and eminently readable. I cannot recommend it highly enough.' The Edinburgh Academy Chronicle 'The footnotes in St Clair's narrative constantly refer the reader to his own appendices, a sign that the author has ploughed new and compelling scholarly furrows and has derived his interesting and equally compelling conclusions from a massive piece of genuinely new archival research. ... undoubtedly worth every penny.' Rare Books Newsletter 'To anyone interested in intellectual property, or competition law, this scholarly, but eminently readable, work is highly commended. ... it is invaluable as a well researched and readable discussion of the practical working such property rights in the publishing trade. It would not be surprising were this outstanding work to be found as 'lecture de chevet' for officials of the competition authorities in DG IV in Brussels or elsewhere.' Hon Lord Eassie, Legal Information Management 'William St Clair's monumental new book is the most important contribution yet of the expanding field of book history to the study of Romantic literature ... he has provided a firmer empirical foundation for speculation about the mentalities of Romantic readers than anything available before, and the implications of his stunningly original research will be pondered for years to come.' BARS Bulletin ' ... an extraordinarily ambitious and impressive attempt to reformulate our knowledge of literary production and reception in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With nearly 300 Circle pages devoted to thirteen appendices and bibliography, The Reading Nation is one of the most useful volumes ever published on Romantic literature.' Wordsworth Circle '... covers far more ground than its title implies, stretching from Shakespeare to the eve of the First World War, and concerns a wide variety of topics, including ballad culture, chapbook men, astrological almanacs, women's commonplace books, pornography, book clubs, circulating libraries, pirate publishers, the North American marketplace, literary annuals, mechanics' institutes, and the melting of stereotype plates for munitions' Essays in Criticism 'St Clair is good with numbers; he once worked as a Treasury official for the British Government. Yet he writes with a verve that refutes humanists' preconceptions about the aridity of economists' prose... the most important contribution to cultural history since Elizabeth Eisenstein's 1979 The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.' Deidre Lynch, Journal of British Studies 'This is a remarkable book, in which the author's expertise as an ecomonist and his understanding of the literature of the romantic peruiod come together to produice an excitingly new perspective on the history of publishing ... a magisterial study which will surely provoke debate and stimulate more research, and which no serious historian of the book or critic of the literrature of the Romantic period can affort to ignore.' Journal of the Printing Historical Society ' ... the rigour of St Clair's discussion is a refreshing change from the hermeneutic obsessionalism of so much writing in this field.' Literary Review 'The footnotes in St Clair's narrative constantly refer the reader to his own appendices, a sign that the author has ploughed new and compelling scholarly furrows and has derived his interesting and equally compelling conclusions from a massive piece of genuinely new archival research. ... undoubtedly worth every penny.' Rare Books Newsletter 'The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period is a heroic production. Almost on the scale of the epic texts of the Romantics, it contains 22 chapters and a dauntingly impressive 300 pages of appendices. ... fascinating details are to be found throughout this book. ... a witty and iconoclastic book that should be read by both book historians and literary scholars.' SHARP News The results are dramatic ... a quirky book ... for which one can only feel deep gratitude.' Modern Language Review 'St Clair has written with enviable wit, clarity, and precision, a keenly intelligent book, rich in argument and insight, that belongs on the shelves of everyone who can afford it.' Doucet Devin Fischer, Keats-Shelley Journal '... if we want to recover the geographical culture of past ages as opposed to which texts we retrospectively value as geographers, we will be sent to the grammars and gazetteers which have too long been dismissed as dinosaurs just as assuredly as St Clair sends students of romantic literature to Bloomfield rather than Blake. The idea may sound rather offputting to some, but the result will be a better grounded form of intellectual history, towards which endeavour St Clair's book serves as both a powerful manifesto and an important exemplification.' Robert J Mayhew Journal of Historical Geography 'Again and again, St Clair calls us to see that economic and monopolistic realities were behind trends that we often attempt to analyze as if they merely reflected t