An alternative history of Western civilization told through its most emblematic invention, the book. As well as taking in the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, The Secret Library brings to light more neglected items among the bookshelves of the world. As well as discussing Darwin's groundbreaking On the Origin of Species, we'll learn why that bestseller was outsold in Darwin's own lifetime by his book on earthworms, and how Edgar Allan Poe's biggest-selling title was a book on molluscs. We'll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, how Sherlock Holmes's famous illustrator got the job because of a clerical error, and how the word 'trilby' – taken from a Victorian novel – was originally applied to people's feet before it became the name of a hat. The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersection between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.