Heidi Neilson alerted me to the existence of something amazing yesterday: the Little Blue Books:
Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951), noted American-Atheist-Socialist-Jewish social reformer, with his wife Marcet, purchased controlling interest in the Socialist newspaper Appel to Reason, using the paper’s presses and mailing list to start a publishing empire designed to bring education and information to the masses, in a series of affordable pocket-sized editions. The series began in 1919 and went through a few different name and design changes before settling into the name Little Blue Books.
Sold through mail order and promoted through exciting advertising slogans like “At last! Books are cheaper than hamburgers!”, the series caught on and sold thousands of titles. Subjects ranged from How to Make all Kinds of Candy, The Joys of Walking, What Every Girl Should Know, to editions of classic literature and political theory.
We have J. Edgar Hoover to thank for consigning the series to history; the FBI under his direction put Haldeman-Julius on their enemies list due to his publication of works that frankly addressed socialist, atheism, and sexuality. Bookstores began to shy away from stocking the books, and circulation fell.
You can still apparently find copies for sale on ebay and the like, and there is a healthy archive of the series online here: http://www.haldeman-julius.org. There’s a great article here from the Believer about the series as well.