Bibliophilic Crack

March 9, 2010 | 3

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)

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Ah, yes, the 20th-c Bestsellers Database! I always thought that was a great project. Funny story about it: I was a grad student at UVA when John Unsworth was there, and though I never took a course with him, I knew him fairly well from working at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, where he was head.

    Just after he left UVA to go to UIUC, I got a techie position in the English department. (This was 2001.) One of my first tasks was contacting John to tell him that the woman who administered the English department server had decided to delete the 20th-c Bestsellers database and web site. The English department didn’t at all value it, apparently, which I thought was weird.

    The thing was linked to all over the web, and of course moving it broke all the links. I always thought it was short-sighted of the UVA English department not to realize that keeping on their server with a UVA address would have been great publicity for them. But I suppose the University of Illinois justly deserves all that glorious Googlejuice! :)

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