In the spring of 2006, John Unsworth taught a graduate seminar on “Twentieth-Century American Bestsellers.” It led to one of history’s finest class projects–a browsable database of bestsellers, 337 in all. As with any bestseller lists, you’ll find a range of titles, everything from Thomas Wolfe to Tom Clancy, but click through and find that each entry includes an extremely detailed description of the book’s history (these were compiled by graduate students, after all); a mini-essay on its reception; images of covers, page layouts, and even some ads; and more. It is, in short, bibliophilic crack. (Thanks Craig)
When John Steinbeck wasn't busy writing 600-page novels, he might have been a Cold War CIA spy. In 1952, Steinbeck approached the CIA and suggested he could do some spying on an upcoming European trip. "The pace and method of my junket together with my intention of talking with great numbers of people of all classes may offer peculiar advantages," he wrote to an agent.