An intimate partnership of three brothers – Allen, Richard and John Lane – lay at the heart of Penguin Books, the twentieth century’s greatest publishing house. In a spirit of daring and creative opposition, the brothers issued quality books on a massive scale and at minuscule prices – and achieved a revolution in publishing.
The Lane boys did their best thinking together in bathroom board meetings, where at least one director would always be ‘mother naked’. They innovated in countless ways – in the early years, a church crypt served as their office and warehouse. Penguin was an unconventional upstart, bringing literary giants such as Agatha Christie, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and Graham Greene to vast new audiences, and it seemed unstoppable.
Yet the 1942 death of John Lane brought the troika to a halt. Allen, the enthusiastic frontman who relied on his younger brothers to drive Penguin’s success, became more erratic and suspicious over time. Ultimately, he would force Richard out of the company he had cofounded and built.
A portrait of a remarkable family and a publishing powerhouse, Penguin and the Lane Brothers also explores the little known story of Richard Lane – the heart and backbone of Penguin, and its strongest influence. Richard’s experiences as a youth in Australia shaped his character and outlook; his dedication to the business was matched only by his devotion to his brothers.
Relying on unprecedented access to Lane family sources, including Richard’s diaries, Penguin and the Lane Brothers sheds new light on the relationship of Allen, Richard and John, so crucial as a driver of Penguin’s spirit and success. By turns hilarious and tragic, moving and insightful, this is a groundbreaking counter-history of an unlikely publishing triumph.