The publishing world is full of complicated deals. Contracts, territories, agents, excerpts, royalties, permissions, restrictions, etc. Behind each book there’s a lot of fine print for the subsidiary rights managers and intellectual property mavens to sort through (very thankful for them, by the way). This fall, by some happy coincidence, enough of that fine print aligned for us to make two genuinely important books available from Harvard University Press in paperback for the first time.
One comes from Edward O. Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sociobiology and The Ants, among many other titles. We first published Wilson in the early 1970s, and our long relationship continues with his contribution of the foreword to Michael Canfield’s Field Notes on Science and Nature, a beautiful book we’ll publish this spring. In 1992 we published the original cloth edition of Wilson’s The Diversity of Life, which Steven Jay Gould called “a deft and thoroughly successful mixture of information and prophecy.” The book was an early landmark of environmental alarm, as Wilson predicted that human behavior could become the sole cause of the sixth great spasm of extinction on earth. Our new paperback edition includes the original text as well as a new preface by Wilson.
The other title newly available as an HUP paperback is Albert Hourani’s groundbreaking A History of the Arab Peoples, which we first published in cloth in 1991. Hourani, who died in 1993, was one of the most distinguished scholars of the Arab world and the Middle East, and this book was hailed as the first accessible history of Arab cultures, societies, economies, and thought. On the book’s release the late Edward Said described it as a deeply reassuring and redemptive work, a book whose importance would be difficult to overestimate. Our revised 2003 cloth edition introduced a new afterward from Malise Ruthven, a former editor with the BBC Arabic Service and World Service in London, which is also included in this new paperback.
Harvard University Press, like most scholarly presses, is essentially small potatoes in the grand scheme of publishing, where giants like Random House and HarperCollins positively dwarf us. These things being what they are, we’re a bit like a small market ballclub in that, when we develop great young stars, we can’t always afford to keep them. In the early 1990s, when supply channels looked so different than they do today, it occasionally made sense for HUP to license important books with mass appeal to commercial publishers with their greater resources. Those licensing deals eventually expire, as they did for these two titles, and the evolution of the book world has been such that it made great sense for us to bring these books back home.
Both The Diversity of Life and A History of the Arab Peoples were updated with beautiful new designs, and are priced to encourage their continued inclusion in the many college courses that have long revolved around these greatly influential works. Here’s to a great future for these two books with such illustrious pasts.