The little-known story of the man who, a century ago, made Girard, Kansas, one of the world’s publishing capitals.
Lee (Emeritus, History/Univ. of South Dakota; A New Deal for South Dakota: Drought, Depression, and Relief, 1920-1941, 2016, etc.), who has written prolifically about the Great Plains, observes a traditional chronology as he leads us through the life of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951), the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father was a bookbinder, and Emanuel grew up with a passion for books, which he would carry with him through his life as he became involved in the leftish, socialist world in early-20th-century America. He became friends with Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis and got to know Jack London, Charlie Chaplin, Clarence Darrow (he attended the Scopes trial in 1925), and numerous other notables. His wife, Marcet, was equally impressive, displaying a “puritanical sense of duty.” They built their publishing business together, co-wrote novels essays, and other works, and had something of an open marriage—though, as the author reminds us continually, it was far more open for him than for her. Lee is a bit too playfully coy in his characterization of Haldeman-Julius’ carnal ways, writing that he had “an eye that tended to stray toward members of the opposite sex, especially the pretty ones.” But the author’s subject is undoubtedly fascinating. Haldeman-Julius was a pioneer in the paperback book business, selling enormous numbers (as many as 500 million) of his Little Blue Books, a series that reached nearly 2,000 titles of reprints of classics and original works. Lee appends a sample list of them, noting that, for a time, Haldeman-Julius even employed vending machines in urban locations.
The diction is a little dense at times, but the surprising story will propel readers through even the thickest of it.