Marking 20 years of Routledge Classics

Marking 20 years of Routledge Classics

Routledge Classics was launched in 2001 to present the cream of Routledge’s backlist to a new generation of readers and since then, more than 200 titles have been published in the series. For its 20th anniversary in 2021, Routledge (part of the Taylor & Francis Group) is releasing a curated selection of 15 new titles in two batches in March and May, which all include new forewords or introductions and eye-catching cover designs. 

Tony Bruce, senior publisher at Routledge, talks to us about the anniversary publishing plans below. 

What makes a title a Routledge Classic?

Books that have a perennial message, have frequently shaped their fields or disciplines in profound ways and that one can return to repeatedly yet never fail to find something fresh. Some Routledge Classics are enigmatic, even frustrating in their brilliance, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, whilst some are masterful (if opinionated!) introductions to their subjects for the novice, such as Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. Yet others reconfigure entire disciplines, such as Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.

How did you decide which titles to add to the series?

We’re always looking for a good breadth of subjects – anthropology, history, economics, anthropology, psychotherapy, religion and philosophy – and to showcase authors who have not yet made an entry into the Routledge Classics pantheon. A lot of consultation goes on behind the scenes with editors across Routledge and Taylor & Francis (T&F), looking at backlist titles that once shone brightly but may have fallen out of circulation. Whilst a Routledge Classic can speak across the decades (and centuries) we also look for titles that speak to current debates. A good example is Frans Boas’ Anthropology and Modern Life, which tackles racism, nationalism and prejudice head-on. It is remarkable how Boas rose the challenge of populism in his own time.

What can you share about the new Routledge Classics?

We’re proud of the fact that we have a really strong representation from women authors for the 20th anniversary. Joan Robinson’s Economic Philosophy is a real find, as her argument that economics is ultimately driven by values and ideology is just what the former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is talking about in his Reith Lectures. Frances Tustin’s Autistic States in Children is also a hugely important book by one of the first professionally trained child psychotherapists in Britain and has an excellent new foreword by Maria Rhode of the Tavistock Clinic. We’re also very excited to have another title by Judith Butler, Excitable Speech, with a new introduction by the author where she reflects on language in our politically charged and polarised world. History also makes a strong showing, with Peter Laslett’s wonderful The World We Have Lost and Michael Howard’s The Franco-Prussian War, a riveting account of a conflict that had a huge impact on the subsequent course of European history.


Why are you publishing the new additions in two batches?

It gives us our customers increased flexibility around when to promote the series, so they can tailor their own activities more accordingly. It also means that the second wave of eight titles publishing in May have a better chance of hitting a re-opened high street, at a time when booksellers can open their doors again. Coordinating delivery of 15 new forewords and introductions was always going to be a significant challenge, so two waves gave editorial more control over the process and ensured we publish on time.

Are there are particular highlights in the past 20 years of publishing the Routledge Classic series?

Seeing Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble steadily climb up the charts to become a bestseller has been great to see. There have been other smaller but equally rewarding highlights, such as Marshall Sahlins’ Stone Age Economics. Sahlins is a major figure in anthropology, but the book had virtually disappeared. The late David Graeber wrote a lovely foreword for the Routledge Classics edition, published in 2017. Since then it has sold thousands of copies as readers rediscover Sahlins’ argument that the stone age was the original ‘affluent society’.

As well as the new titles, are you celebrating the 20th anniversary in any other way?

Absolutely. We have posters for in-store display, authors blogging about Frans Boas, Joan Robinson and Karl Jaspers on in February, video pieces and events being lined up with key customers and strong supporters of the series, such as Blackwells.

How do you think the series fits into our world today?

I am struck by how often it anticipates debates and controversies that we are still wrestling with today – gender, racism, free speech, authoritarianism and recurrent economic crises, to take just a few. A great example is Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies – the question of what makes open and free societies is more urgent than ever.

What do you envision for Routledge Classics going forward?

Routledge and T&F publish across an extremely rich array of subjects and this will continue to be a hallmark of Routledge Classics. That said, there’s still lots more we can do to reflect this diversity. Anthropology features strongly in the series, but we don’t have anything on archaeology, heritage and conservation or geography.

Seven Routledge Classics titles will be published on 29th March, with a second batch of eight titles following on 17th May.