Viking Portable Library

Viking Press (New York, US)
Series dates: 1943-date
Size: 4.25″ x 6.75″

Conceived of by literary critic and WW2 journalist Alexander Woollcott, who had compiled a pair of compilations for Viking in the 1930s. As You Were (1943) began the series, a compilation of writings for soldiers fighting in the war. “The books were meant to be ‘built like a Jeep: compact, efficient, and marvelously versatile.’ Woollcott wrote that As You Were was designed for ‘the convenience of men who are mostly on the move and must travel light.’ (source) This was followed by The Portable Steinbeck, also in 1943.

At least for the author-specific titles, the series followed a general format: about 700 pages of selected material including full and partial books, essays, short stories, letters, newspaper writings and other miscellaneous content. Compilations were less regular in their content and format. Sixty titles were published by 1953. By the early 1990s, 109 titles had been published (some revisions of earlier titles).

The Triumph of Life edited by Horace Gregory was the third title published in the series, in 1943 (also the first year of the series). The jackets are unique to each title but tend to follow a general pattern with the series name at the top of the front of the jacket. In this case, the series is also described on the bottom of the front of the jacket. The price ($2.50) is indicated on the front flap, along with a note about the book’s editor.

The rear of the jacket describes this compilation. The rear flap describes the series (paraphrasing the series description on the front of the jacket). The first two titles in the series, As You Were (a compilation edited by Alexander Woollcott) and Steinbeck are listed.

Spines include the series name, printed in gold over a red cloth binding. The book’s title is debossed on the front of the book. This pattern persists over the first generation of Viking Portable Library titles.

The half-title page:

The title page, with the date of printing (1943).

The copyright page includes a statement about the book’s production being in compliance with US wartime conservation efforts. The copyright to Viking as well as a first printing (October 1943) indication follow. A note on the font, unusual on reprint series, is also included.

Six Novels of the Supernatural is a 1944 second printing (first printing, earlier the same month) and #7 in the series. Jackets have text worked into the design which describes the content and there is usually a graphic component. The series name is on the jacket spine, front, and front flap. The editor of the book, here Edward Wagenknecht, is typically on the jacket spine and book front and flap also. In this case, the jacket design is by Robert F. Hallock. The price, $2.50, is clipped in this case.


Laudatory quotes from reviews of books in the series are included on the rear flap. The back of the jacket, in this case, lists the titles that are currently (as of 1944) available in the series and the prices, at this point $2 or $2.50.


The bindings tend to follow the same design throughout the 1950s. The series name is included on the book spine. A graphic element from the jacket is included on the front of the book for this title. In this case, the type and graphics are printed on the cloth binding.


A basic half-title page:


Titles in print face the title page; the title page includes the year of printing.


Copyright and printing information tends to be complete for the Viking Portable Library titles.


A 1948 first printing in the series of The Portable Veblen is #36 in the series. The jackets are modified to reflect the rapidly growing number of titles in the series. Additional titles are listed on the front jacket flap, along with direction to the reverse of the jacket for a full, descriptive list of titles in the series (as of 1948). The back of the jacket describes “The Portable Plan” for the series and the specific book (in this case, Veblen). The back jacket flap contains a numbered list of available titles.


A descriptive list of titles in the series as of 1946 on the reverse of the dust jacket. Titles up to #38 (Hawthorne) are listed.


The binding is similar to the 1944 copy with text rather than a design on the book cover.


A 1949 first printing of The Portable Sherwood Anderson is very similar to the Veblen title above, but the series is up to 44 titles.


The descriptive list of titles in the series is printed sideways on the jacket (here rotated to make it easier to read). Categories include Favorite Americans, Giants of World Literature, Distinguished Europeans, and Readers & Anthologies.


A list of the 75 titles in the original series are below (source).

1. As You Were (1943)
2. Steinbeck (1943)
3. Triumph of Life (1943)
4. Dorothy Parker (1944)
5. World Bible (1944)
6. Hemingway (1944)
7. Six Novels of the Supernatural (1944)
8. Shakespeare (1944)
9. Reader’s Companion (1945)
10. Carl Van Doren (1945)
11. Walt Whitman (1945)
12. Poe (1945)
13. Murder Book (1945)
14. Fitzgerald (1945)
15. Novels of Science (1945)
16. Oscar Wilde (1946)
17. Woollcott (1946)
18. Faulkner (1946)
19. Irish Reader (1946)
20. Mark Twain (1946)
21. Rabelais (1946)
22. Wolfe (1946)
23. Russian Reader (1946)
24. Lardner (1946)
25. Emerson (1946)
26. Blake (1946)
27. Elizabethan Reader (1946)
28. D.H. Lawrence (1946)
29. Maupassant (1947)
30. James Joyce (1947)
31. Thoreau (1947)
32. Dante (1947)
33. Conrad (1947)
34. Johnson and Boswell (1947)
35. Chekhov (1947)
36. Veblen (1948)
37. Swift (1948)
38. Hawthorne (1948)
39. Greek Reader (1948)
40. Plato (1948)
41. Voltaire (1949)
42. Sherwood Anderson (1949)
43. Charles Lamb (1949)
44. Milton (1949)
45. Matthew Arnold (1949)
46. Medieval Reader (1949)
47. Chaucer (1949)
48. Coleridge (1950)
49. Medieval and Renaissance Poets (1950)
50. Elizabethan and Jacobean Poets (1950)
51. Restoration and Augustan Poets (1950)
52. Romantic Poets (1950)
53. Victorian and Edwardian Poets (1950)
54. no title
55. Henry James (1951)
56. Roman Reader (1951)
57. Cervantes (1949)
58. Melville (1952)
59. Arabian Nights (1952)
60. Gibbon (1952)
61. Renaissance Reader (1953)
62. Nietzsche (1954)
63. Age of Reason Reader (1956)
64. Romantic Reader (1957)
65. Greek Historians (1959)
66. Prescott (1963)
67. Hakluyt’s Voyages (1967)
68. Stephen Crane (1969)
69. Victorian Reader (1972)
70. Jung (1971)
71. Arthur Miller (1971)
72. no title
73. Nabokov (1971)
74. Dorothy Parker (1973)
75. Graham Greene (1973)