A university press is a curious institution, dedicated to the dissemination of learning yet apart from the academic structure; a publishing firm that is in business, but not to make money; an arm of the university that is frequently misunderstood and occasionally attacked by faculty and administration. Max Hall here chronicles the early stages and first sixty years of Harvard University Press in a rich and entertaining book that is at once Harvard history, publishing history, printing history, business history, and intellectual history.
The tale begins in 1638 when the first printing press arrived in British North America. It became the property of Harvard College and remained so for nearly half a century. Hall sketches the various forerunners of the “real” Harvard University Press, founded in 1913, and then follows the ups and downs of its first six decades, during which the Press published steadily if not always serenely a total of 4,500 books. He describes the directors and others who left their stamp on the Press or guided its fortunes during these years. And he gives the stories behind such enduring works as Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being, Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture, Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key, and Kelly’s Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings.
A vivid record of publishing personalities and pitfalls.
Absorbing. Hall’s character sketches are understated, critical, captivating, and wry. But he is at his superb best when he recounts the saga of various books. Hidden in this quietly dramatic chronicle is an account not only of a press but of one kind of learning that a great university should foster—authoritative, humane, imaginative, and popular in the best sense of that often abused and sometimes pejorative word.
Hall has evidently done a great deal of research in the archives of the university and the press to uncover the story of the press’s origins and the struggles of its first sixty years… It is both a cautionary and an inspirational tale for all scholarly presses and their administrators… A full record, one that is honest about difficulties and failures as well as about the many accomplishments of the press’s first sixty years.
[An] amiable, frank, often dramatic account of the first sixty years of the Harvard University Press… An entertaining, frequently poignant account of great dreams and deeds.
Hall’s work should be a model for all that may follow, not only in terms of its exhaustive research but in its exemplary style, not to mention the fine production job which we have come to expect from the Press… Hall does not gloss over, pull punches, or adopt the usual company tone… Nor is it a parochial book…[but] excellent narrative history, about a subject almost unknown to most people, including those in commercial publishing… A significant contribution to publishing history.
An eventful history, and also a central document in the history of the university press movement.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-3/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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