Penguin's Great Ideas series returns

Penguin's Great Ideas series returns

Penguin is to relaunch its non-fiction Great Ideas series after a decade's hiatus with a new selection of 20 pocket-sized titles, featuring bespoke cover designs.

The series, priced at £5.99 per paperback, features the works of the many "great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas have shaken civilisation and helped shaped the world", including Martin Luther King, Oscar Wilde and Friedrich Nietzsche. It has been 25 years after the series' inception and 10 years since the last instalment in the series which, according to the publisher, has sold over four million copies to date.

Simon Winder, publishing director at Penguin Press, said that when the series was launched, it had been born out of a frustration that within Penguin Classics it was "assumed that the great non-fiction of the past should just be studied", with "notes, a bibliography and introduction. While these were invaluable for students, they might be seen as a lot less fun just for readers," he explained, posing the question: "What if a series could be created where readers came as close as possible to the original experience, with nobody holding their hands?"

"The enormous success of the series has vindicated this view," he continued. "There really is something wonderful about the raw, direct encounter with great ethical, political, religious and philosophical writing. The concept hardly counts as a very original one. This was, after all, simply the form in which books such as The Prince and The Communist Manifesto had been published in the first place! It was also inspired by the famous Italian series, the Piccola Biblioteca.

"Millions of copies later Great Ideas continues to inspire, confuse and enrage new generations of readers. This new set of 20 has come about because we had accumulated, from different fans of the series within Penguin Press, 20 really excellent omissions. As usual, the series owes a great deal to the designs of David Pearson (who also came up with the Great Ideas name all those years ago).”

The full list of titles includes: l When I Dare To Be Powerful by  Audre Lorde; Ain’t I A Woman? by Sojourner Truth; The Power Of Words by Simone Weil; Why Vegan? by Peter Singer; One Swallow Does Not Make A Summer by Aristotle; How To Be A Stoic by Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius; Three Japanese Buddhist Monks; Being Happy by Epicurus; Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazō Nitobe; Anarchist Communism by Peter Kropotkin; The Freedom to be Free by Hannah Arendt; A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart by Martin Luther King; God is Dead. God remains Dead. And We Have Killed Him by Friedrich Nietzsche; Suffragette Manifestos by "the voices of women who fought for equal rights"; What is Existentialism by Simone de Beauvoir; Reflections on the Guillotine by Albert Camus; The Narrative of Trajan's Column by Italo Calvino; Steps Towards a Small Theory of the Visible by John Berger; Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One's Books by Georges Perec; and The Decay of Lying by Oscar Wilde. 

Pearson, who designed the new covers–with series art direction by Jim Stoddart and additional cover designs/illustrations from Alistair Hall, Joe McLaren, Felix Koeberlin, Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon–said it had been "a really interesting process" picking up work that had been put down a decade ago, and the project's range had enabled him to work in a host of different styles, as "some [covers] shout and some whisper".

"After 100 books it feels like the series has created its own rules and its own version of reality, which is an unbelievably fertile space for a designer to work in," he said. "Whereas the first series dealt mainly with straight cover versions it feels like we are now in the realm of thrillingly-inauthentic remixes. The changing list of books naturally revitalises the look of the series, removing the Medieval and Renaissance periods reduces the scope for all-out decoration for example, but the challenge has always been to develop a sort of pleasing inconsistency, so that books play nicely together but also jar and spar when displayed in different combinations.

"I’ve always loved this about the series: the surprising effect that different pairings create and this seems to be reflected in the way that people buy them. It is incredibly rare that anyone would buy all 20 on a visit to a bookshop and the books encourage a kind of pick-and-mix approach to buying, especially given their reduced price and size.

"Some covers prescribe, some misguide; some are formal, some informal; some are minimal, some maximal; some shout and some whisper. Some are legible and some – let’s be honest – require a good deal of deciphering. It was great fun wearing all these different hats, often on the same day!”

The new titles will be published on 24th September in e-book and paperback.

The publication of the new selection brings the total number of titles published in the series to 120 titles.