For several centuries books in America customarily were pages bound between hardcovers and, in this century, had dust jackets wrapped around them, initially just to protect the cloth covers, but eventually as an attention-grabbing advertising poster.
In 1938, an experiment was launched. The cloth cover was exchanged for a paper one, and the colorful illustration and information that appeared on the dust jacket (author, title, publisher, a few lines about the book) was printed directly onto those paper covers. Cheaper paper was used, since these artifacts were no longer expected to form part of a permanent library, but were to be as disposable as a newspaper or magazine. And they were cheap: a 25-cent price made books affordable for a huge portion of the population. They became immeasurably successful almost overnight.
Today many of those books are highly sought-after collectors' items. In spite of the huge numbers printed, they are scarce now simply because almost no one ever thought to save them in colorful, pristine condition. The Great American Paperback illustrates in glorious full color more than 600 of the most interesting and collectable paperbacks, each with an informative caption that provides as much fascinating anecdotal information as the text, which is a masterly and scholarly history of the American paperback, tracing its roots to the early 19th century and concluding with a look at the future.
There are samples of the paperback originals of Ed McBain, Richard Stark, Jim Thompson, Harlan Ellison, and James M. Cain, as well as illustrations of such rarities asThe Maltese Falcon, which was issued as a paperback with a dust jacket, and Ellery Queen's Halfway House, which was offered in two formats by the publisher, one bound the usual way, the other bound at the top edge.
If this massive work hadn't been produced in Hong Kong, it would have cost twice as much and is, believe it or not, a bargain, even at a price as hefty as the book itself. --Otto Penzler
Ed here: Dick Lupoff has distinguished himself as a writer of both mystery and science fiction and fantasy. He has also been and editor and biographer of great renown. I first heard of him when he and his lovely wife Pat began publishing the legendary science fiction/comic book XERO back in the early 1960s. If you'd like to know (or remember) what genre fiction as all about in that lost age I suggest you but the hardbound collection of XERO's including Donald E.Westlake's scorching goodbye to his science fiction career.
But this magnificent history--because it's nothing less--of paperbacks books in America would be enough to make you well known and respected. The covers are knock-outs and the text is packed with stories and tales of writers and editors and publishers are told with Dick's usual wit, high style and erudition.
There are many books about paperbacks but I can't think of any that come even close to this sprawling, hilarious, melancholy, fact-packed tribute to the highs and lows of American publishing.
This is a singular accomplishment and Dick Lupoff should be honored for it.