You see book reviews here now and again. Publishers send me books. They send books to the desk of my boss, downtown, and those often come to me. I usually review books that I find worthy of praise, books that you might find interesting, regardless of what I think, but also books I think should immediately be remaindered.
I often review books from Princeton University Press. They pretty much unfailingly publish good books, books that meet a need, books that are well done. I have 20 Princeton books on my shelves at the moment, and I’ve often given their titles away.
Two recent Princeton books, both are field guides, differed in several ways. I wondered why, so I called the executive editor of field guides and natural history at Princeton University Press. His name is Robert Kirk.
Kirk answered my questions, told some stories, and visited with me about this and that. It was a thoroughly delightful conversation.
It takes a long time to produce a birding field guide. Years and years. A decade or more. That Crossley ID Guide you might or might not have on your bird-book shelf? It took Richard Crossley four years to bring that together, Kirk told me. Ten-thousand photographic images on 544 pages.
A piece of work, and, relatively speaking, four years was pretty quick. It was published in 2011.
Kirk looks for niches for his books. He wants books of particular excellence, books that will fill a gap. He finds authors, artists, and photographers. He determines the press run for each book, and when a previous edition will be updated and re-issued. Princeton book editions following the first edition always contain new or revised material, he told me.
Kirk decides if one artist should do all of the paintings or photos, as in the Crossley case, or if a team will do the work. Either could involve thousands of images. Kirk has a field guide in progress where one person is producing all of the art. It is projected to take 10 years to bring the book to press. “It might take 11 years,” he said, as an afterthought.
“This is a very expensive art program, the art one for that book,” he said. “We do it because we want consistency from plate to plate, a seamless presentation. That’s expensive.”
Princeton has about 120 books on its biochemistry list (which includes birds.) The web address for the subject list is http://press.princeton.edu/complist/subjects.html#birds.