Chapter

Bestsellers on Big Issues

in Science for All

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226068633
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226068664 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226068664.003.0006
Bestsellers on Big Issues

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Most of the books about science written for non-specialist readers were not bestsellers. Well-produced books sold for 15/- or a pound and had print runs of around 2,000. Publishers made money despite the low sales because the price was high. Stanley Unwin insisted that a bestseller could not be created by advertising—people had to be talking about the book anyway before advertising could begin to boost the sales. He gave no definition of what counted as a bestseller in Britain—sales of 50,000 were what raised a book into this category in America, but the British market was much smaller. Michael Whitworth has given us a detailed study of the cosmological bestsellers. In the years following the Great War, the revolution in physics and cosmology was at last beginning to make itself known to the general public. The new idealism so publicly linked to developments in physics was resisted by the rationalists, but their preferred area of scientific debate was biology, where the legacy of nineteenth-century Darwinism and materialism still seemed relevant.

Keywords: science; bestsellers; Britain; public; physics; cosmology; biology; Michael Whitworth; advertising; publishers

Chapter.  8162 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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