John Sutherland's contribution to Oxford's VSI series is an informative condensation of major themes in the sociology of literature. It is not a comprehensive analysis of all bestselling genres (e.g., self-help books, popular history, etc.), nor is it exhaustive of all geographic areas (confining itself to the Anglo-American book markets). Nonetheless, Sutherland stays true to the VSI format (brevity and readability) and provides his readers with a pithy survey of major bestsellers and their social, literary, and cultural contexts.
While it is true that there are other studies that deal with the bestseller phenomenon more extensively (of which Sutherland cites a handful in his bibliography), this VSI book has the advantage of inviting lay readers to reflect on the origins and development of bestseller marketing over the course of the twentieth century. Drawing from his wide knowledge of bestselling titles in the U.S. and Britain, Sutherland offers numerous examples of books that happened to capture their historical moment perfectly, only to fade away once that moment had passed. Sutherland is careful to point out the importance of genre (especially with crime fiction and westerns), political ideology (see his discussion of Tom Clancy and John Grisham), and media tie-ins (with 1976's *The Omen* as the landmark screenplay-novelization tie-in) in establishing a book's bestseller status in a given time and place. The examples are brief, but by the end of Sutherland's survey one has a good impression of the various strategies authors, publishers, and advertisers have used to secure books' lucrative, albeit fleeting, place on the bestseller lists.
Again, there are other books out there that delve deeper into the bestseller phenomenon. Two titles Sutherland doesn't cite but that remain illuminating are Thomas Whiteside's *The Blockbuster Complex*, based on a series of articles he wrote for the *New Yorker* in the 1970s, and Andre Schiffrin's more recent *The Business of Books*. Still, Sutherland's VSI is a pleasant, accessible read, and one that brings lay readers into conversation with an enduring object of study in the sociology of literature.