Left Book Club

As part of the Bissett collection of Left Wing publications, the Left Book Club editions represent publisher Victor Gollancz’s effort to educate a mass audience in economic, social and political issues.

In the context of economic slump, mass unemployment and the rise of fascism, from 1932-1946 Gollancz (advised by LSE Political Science professor Harold Laski, Labour MP Stafford Cripps and Marxist writer John Strachey) selected books to send to subscribing members on a monthly basis. Editorial control lay with Gollancz, as the Club remained an imprint of his publishing business; although keen to point out that authors were free to express their own opinions, nonetheless control was exercised to maintain a common sense of purpose.  Having commissioned George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, a foreword was included to distance the Club from the expression of views critical to socialists in its second part.  For criticising Soviet Russia, then Britain's allies in the Second World War, Orwell's later works were not printed by the club; similarly Sidney and Beatrice Webb's Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation?  was published without a question mark to appear less critical of the USSR.

Each in striking bright paperback covers with black typeface, 214 copies of Left Book Club editions from Bissett's original collection are held in Special Collections. The total has in 2011 been increased to 216 thanks to the generous donation of a further two rare imprints: Penn'orth of Chips by Charles Segal and I went to the Soviet Arctic by Ruth Gruber (both printed in 1939).

A useful introduction to the Left Book Club (including a chronological list of the monthly choices and other selections) may be found in John Lewis: The Left Book Club: an historical record (London: 1970).

How to find material from the Left Book Club