It's a socialist classic, written almost a century ago, by an author who was completely unknown then, and about whom we know little enough now. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists first appeared in 1910 under the pseudonym Robert Tressell, three years after its writer, Robert Noonan, had died in obscurity.
Noonan himself had worked as a housepainter, and his novel records the lives of working men, who are 'philanthropists' because they toil all hours to make their employers rich. The book is overtly political, and its readership has always been heavily left wing and working class.
It's hardly a pacey, thrill-a-minute page-turner. And yet, this year, it has become an unlikely publishing sensation. There are at least six different editions of the book, and an audio CD, still on sale. One edition alone, the 2004 Penguin Classics, stands proud at 175 on the Amazon bestseller list.
Sales picked up suddenly last year after the BBC turned the book into a radio series featuring a troop of popular comedians including Bill Bailey, Timothy Spall, Paul Whitehouse, Johnny Vegas and John Prescott (yes, that John Prescott). That may, in part, account for the spike in popularity. But the book's revival is also a sign that readers, disillusioned with a capitalist system rocked by recession, are increasingly in the mood to revisit the landmark texts of left-wing literature.
So which other socialist classics might deserve rediscovery? Click the image to the right for a shortlist of red-tinged reads - some of which deserve to be re-read in 2009, and a few perhaps best forgotten...
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