Les Misérables was born of one of the riskiest—and shrewdest—deals in publishing history.
Earlier this month, Penguin Random House bid more than sixty-five million dollars for the global rights to books by Barack and Michelle Obama, breaking the record for U.S. presidential memoirs. Despite the stratospheric price tag and the international headlines, the transaction lacked a certain excitement—it was a fantastic deal, but without frisson. After all, a behemoth publisher signing an iconic political couple, brokered by a top litigation firm … it’s merely another example of the establishment in lockstep.
Compare this cozy corporate pact—one that epitomizes big publishing today—with the romance and risk associated with another record-shattering deal widely regarded as the publishing coup of all time. Signed in 1861 on a sunny Atlantic island, it tied an exiled French genius to an upstart Belgian house, resulting in the printing of that perennial masterwork, Les Misérables. In a new book, The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’, the professor and translator David Bellos condenses tranches of research into a gripping tale about Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. Read More