In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews a glorious edition of the bestselling scouts’ manual
Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship has become one of a select subset of books: the bestseller which hardly anybody has read. If, as Mark Twain had it, a classic was a book everybody praises and nobody reads, Scouting for Boys is the book everybody buys but (virtually) nobody reads – at least, not these days. Yet the book is, along with the akela (the title lifted by Robert Baden-Powell from The Jungle Book by Kipling, a writer the Scout-founder admired), as synonymous with the Boy Scouts as the famous woggle. Indeed, Baden-Powell’s manual for his new movement, published in 1908, is reckoned to be the second biggest-selling English-language book of the twentieth century: until the post-war period, sales were exceeded only by those of the Bible in the English-speaking world.
Of course, unlike other