Publishing and The Advancement of Science/p>
Author: Michael Rodgers
Kindle Price: £16.80
Hardback Price: £39.00
Get it here from Amazon.
Michael Rodgers was at the forefront of science publishing for almost 35 years. He has commissioned and published works for a list of authors that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of science in the 20th century. They include Jim Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, and Richard Dawkins, whose book The Selfish Gene was commissioned by Rodgers. As Richard Dawkins says of Michael in the foreword to this book, ‘His successes as a commissioning editor are probably unrivalled in the field.’
In Publishing and the Advancement of Science, Rodgers gives an insider’s view of the ever-changing world of publishing, and the twists and turns that his own career took. The journey through Michael’s career takes us from his first job as science field editor at the Oxford University Press, England, through positions at four further publishers, before returning to his original employer for the final six years of his career.
Throughout the book, you get a sense that publishing a successful book is often a case of being in the right place at the right time. For example, Rodgers recalls how he came to publish The Selfish Gene in what was essentially the result of a tip-off from one of Dawkins’ colleagues, who told Michael ‘I have no idea whether it is any good but it might be worth looking into.’ It turns out it was very good advice: the book went on to sell over one million copies and has been translated in 25 languages.
Publishing and the Advancement of Science is not a rose-tinted look at the insides of the publishing machine but shows it as an often fickle industry, with publishing houses deciding to embark on new lists, only to close them down shortly thereafter. He also describes the growing globalisation of publishing, which is seeing small publishing houses, each with their own character and flavour, being crunched into ever-larger, more characterless operations.
Michael is a fine orator – as I have had the good fortune to witness on numerous occasions – and his mastery of the spoken word translates into the narrative of this book. There are times, however, when the narrative slips towards becoming a catalogue of author names and book titles, whereupon the reader risks losing sight of where Michael is trying to take them. I also came away from the book feeling that he had hidden his light under a proverbial bushel: it would have been nice to learn more of Michael the person – how the ups and downs of publishing made him feel, and how his editorial instinct impacted the books on which he worked, and the authors with whom he met.
Ultimately, only a handful of people have the breadth of experience to write a book like this, and Rodgers capitalises on his unique viewpoint to deliver something very special. Publishing and the Advancement of Science is as an enjoyable and stimulating read for anyone who wants a fly-on-the-wall view of how some of the most enduring and influential science books of our time came into existence.