Click here to skip to content

National Life Stories: Book Trade Lives

Book Trade Lives, launched with a grant from the Unwin Charitable Trust, documented the experiences of those who have worked in publishing and bookselling between the 1920s and 2006.

Interviews cover bookselling in the 1920s and publishing in the 1930s, and accounts of work at Simpkin Marshall wholesalers both before and after the Second World War. The project includes recollections about Leonard Woolf at Chatto & Windus, of Collet's trade with Eastern Europe during the Cold War, of Collins, Blackie's, Nelson's and Odhams from the 1950s onwards, as well as of independent family bookselling firms (from James Thin of Edinburgh to Maureen Condon of King's Lynn).

Interviews with well-known figures such as André Deutsch and Max Reinhardt of Bodley Head have been enhanced by recordings with those who worked with them. Secretaries, sales managers, editors and publishers' representatives describe their own perspectives on the book trade, and a series of recordings has been made with specialists in production and design (including Ronald Eames, Allen & Unwin; Ron Costley, Faber & Faber; Iain Bain, The Bodley Head).

Further information about Book Trade Lives can be found in the National Life Stories Annual Reports and Newsletters, particularly in the 2007/2008 Report which featured Book Trade Lives in-depth.

A CD featuring extracts from the project entitled Book Trade Lives was published by The British Library in 2002.

Over 80 interviews from Book Trade Lives were used in The British Book Trade: An Oral History (British Library, 2008 and 2010), edited by the project interviewer Sue Bradley. 

Advisory committee

  • Martyn Goff OBE
  • Penny Mountain
  • Ian Norrie
  • Michael Turner
  • David Whitaker
  • David Young

The Advisory Committee met between 1999 and 2005.

Partners and sponsors

  • Unwin Charitable Trust
  • Max Reinhardt Charitable Trust
  • Private Donors
  • Royal Literary Fund

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.