Why, when reading is so private an activity, should people want, so simultaneously, the one ‘book of the day’? ‘The modern scene’ evokes the history of bestsellerism in images such as customers jostling to buy copies of Scott's Rob Roy in 1819, Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 or, more recently, Harry Potter. The top of the bestseller list is, culturally, the slipperiest of poles. Few titles survive more than a few months. Where occasional comebacks have been achieved, there is invariably some easily identified extraneous factor such as a TV or film adaptation. Bestsellers rarely repay close literary-critical attention, but are among the most informative literary-historical evidence available.