Coming soon . . .

Cover for 

Crusoes Books

Available from Oxford University Press

Autumn, 2021

Crusoe’s Books: Readers in the Empire of Print, 1800-1918

Bill Bell

with a foreword by Alberto Manguel

This is a book about readers on the move in the age of Victorian empire. It examines the libraries and reading habits of five reading constituencies from the long nineteenth century: shipboard emigrants, Australian convicts, Scottish settlers, polar explorers, and troops in the First World War. What was the role of reading in extreme circumstances? How were new meanings made under strange skies? How was reading connected with mobile communities in an age of expansion? Uncovering a vast range of sources from the period, from diaries, periodicals, and literary culture, Bill Bell reveals some remarkable and unanticipated insights into the way that reading operated within and upon the British Empire for over a century.

This highly original book takes the metaphorical journey as a key to reading itself and goes on to provide several fascinating field histories of specific readers and reading, from prisoners to polar explorers. Providing several brilliant analyses, Crusoe’s Books is striking in its erudition and its scholarship, offering a fresh reappraisal of the classical questions that have exercised historians of the book and reading.  Bill Bell’s book obliges us deeply to rethink the mobility of cultural hierarchies, the practices of popular literacy, and the uses of literature.”

Roger Chartier, Collège de France

Print is mobile, and where one reads matters. Bell’s compelling study of traveling readers disrupts easy generalizations about what print consumption entails.  Whether writing of emigrants or prisoners, explorers or soldiers, Bell brilliantly shows how reading could build community; offer escape or guidance to individuals; and complicate relationship to nation and Empire.  Full of surprising and telling examples about the range of available texts and the different, often unpredictable ways they were read, Crusoe’s Books is a major scholarly achievement.

Kate Flint, University of Southern California

“In this richly rewarding study of the dissemination of books through the contact zones that mark the edges of Empire, Bill Bell explores the waywardness of reading: the propensity of both free and unfree colonial subjects, Antarctic explorers, men and women at sea, and soldiers at the front to read athwart the cultural and political determinations of the libraries they assembled or the books they came across. Crusoe’s Books is a major contribution to the history of Empire and the history of reading.

John Frow, University of Sydney

Available for pre-order here.

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