Great Lives in Brief

Alfred A. Knopf (New York, US)
Series dates: 1954-1973
Size: 5″ x 7.5″


Brief, commissioned (thus not reprinted) biographies made up the Great Lives in Brief series with its aim: multum in parvo – much in little (along with an acorn icon). The first books in the series were published in 1954, and the last in 1967, with a few additional reprints until 1973. Some of the titles, along with additional biographies not included in the US series, were published in the UK by Hutchinson in their series of biographies called the Stratford Library published from 1955-1957.

Maurois’ Alexandre Dumas is dated 1955. Dust jackets are common to the series and rather bland in design. The subtitle of each book is “A Great Life in Brief” and this is included on the jacket front, suggesting it is the series name. A blurb about the book fills much of the front jacket flap, along with a note on the author, typography and binding design (by longtime Knopf designer W.A. Dwiggins) and jacket design (by Warren Chappell). The price is $2.50.


The rear of the jacket includes 10 titles. An additional 6 titles were published, so 16 titles total in the series.

1956: Garibaldi, Denis Mack Smith
1956: Robert E. Lee, Earl Schenck Miers
1956: Woodrow Wilson, John Arthur Garraty
1956: Napoleon I, Albert Léon Guérard
1958: Louis Pasteur, Pasteur Vallery-Radot
1967: St. Francis of Assisi, E.M. Almedingen

A prospectus for the series is included on the rear jacket flap.


Blue cloth bindings include the series name and book title debossed on the front; the spine includes “A Great Life in Brief” along with the title, author, and publisher.


A list of nine titles in the series faces the half-title page. The Gilbert Stuart title, which is listed on the jacket, is not listed on this page.


The translator (Jack Palmer White) is noted on the page facing the title page. The date (1955) is included on the title page.


The copyright page includes the Library of Congress card number, a copyright date of 1954 for the book, and a first edition indicator.


A note on the type is included on the last page in the book.