Out on 09 May 2024

Literature for the People

Sarah Harkness

09 May 2024
600 pages


Read by the author, Sarah Harkness.

From an impoverished childhood in the Scottish highlands to Victorian London, this is the inspiring story of brothers Daniel and Alexander Macmillan who built a publishing empire - and brought Alice in Wonderland to the world. Their remarkable achievements are revealed in this entertaining, superbly researched biography.

Daniel and Alexander arrived in London in the 1830s at a crucial moment of social change. These two idealistic brothers, working-class sons of a Scottish crofter, went on to set up a publishing house that spread radical ideas on equality, science and education across the world. They also brought authors like Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy and Charles Kingsley, and poets like Matthew Arnold and Christina Rossetti, to a mass audience. No longer would books be just for the upper classes.

In Literature for the People Sarah Harkness brings to life these two warm-hearted men. Daniel was driven by the knowledge that he was living on borrowed time, his body was ravaged by tuberculosis. Alexander took on responsibility for the company as well as Daniel’s family and turned a small business into an international powerhouse. He cultivated the literary greats of the time, weathered controversy and tragedy, and fostered a dynasty that would include future prime minister Harold Macmillan.

Including fascinating insights about the great, the good and the sometimes wayward writers of the Victorian era, with feuds, friendships and passionate debate, this vibrant book is bursting with all the energy of that exciting period in history.

Harkness is the best kind of biographer: meticulous, insightful and a great storyteller. This tale of two lives in all their messy reality is so much more enjoyable than any dry or self-promoting publishing history, while at the same time its rich historical, social and intellectual context makes this essential reading for anyone interested in the Victorians.
This is a tremendous read. The story of the Macmillan brothers will captivate anyone with an interest in books and publishing. So well researched and incredibly readable. Sure to be a book of the year
Through meticulous and exuberant detail, this chronicle of two men’s determination to bring literature to the masses blows apart the stereotype of a prim Victorian era. It proves yet again that nothing is inevitable in history – and even the great publishing empires like Macmillan needed adventurers to cut a swathe through established ideas of what people should read. They transformed the canon of English literature through their bold editorial decisions – and this book is an important reminder that stories and ideas flourish in the public imagination because of the combined work of publishers, editors and booksellers cherishing and exploiting the original works of great authors