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The Industry of Human Happiness

10 June 2019

Continuing the Make a Noise in Libraries theme of getting connected it seems fitting to look at a novel about the early days of the music recording industry in late Victorian London. After all the first audiobooks would not have been developed without the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877. Even so, it took almost sixty years until enough storage was developed to accommodate a complete book when Long Playing records (LPs) were brought into production. It still took around 10 LPs to hold an average-sized audiobook such as Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the first audiobook to be sent out to visually impaired war veterans and civilians in the UK back in 1935.

The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall (13121) is by turns a fascinating look at a period of history when inventors and businessmen were desperate to come up with a means of bringing recorded music to the masses (and thereby making a fortune), as well as a great whodunit. The story revolves around cousins Mat and Rusty who work out of a Covent Garden basement. Their ambitions are thwarted when an opera singer is murdered, and by a contested legacy which divides the cousins who subsequently become fierce rivals, each launching his own talking machine.

You can read more about the history of audiobooks in a guest post by Matt Rubery on the English and Drama blog on the British Library website. Or you can listen to The Untold Story of the Talking Book (11989), also by Matthew Rubery, which is available from the Calibre Library.