boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
ALEX BEAM

There's a place for this encyclopedia

I have perused the just-published 1,600-page Encyclopedia of New England, and I don't feel as strongly about it as my friend Katherine Powers does. In Sunday's Globe, she wrote: ''The book's organization is a testament to chaos. . . . [It] has all the signs of a project breakdown. There is no governing logic except for political correctness of comic proportions."

Powers bemoaned the lack of a separate entry for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Likewise, I was surprised to see no mention of America's oldest school, Boston Latin. There is a photo on page 1,143 of a woman named ''Terry Maitlan," a homeowner featured in WGBH's ''This Old House" series. The last time I saw real estate broker Terry Maitland, whose house was featured in the show, he was a stocky, cheerful man in his early 50s. Sheepishly, the publisher, Yale University Press, now says the woman in the picture is Hazel Briceno, and the error will be corrected in future editions.

Yes, the topical organization of the New England book -- echoing the University of North Carolina's much-praised 1990 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture -- leaves some details out. But it's chock-full of good stuff, specifically the foreword by poet Donald Hall. I love this line: ''New England is empty mills, new inventions, wooden scythes . . . and contrails from Logan and Pease Air Force Base streaking the blue air above the cellar hole of a farmer who came north after the Revolution to build his land."

It turns out that there is quite a cottage industry in regional encyclopedias, some successful, some less so. Examples include the 1994 Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, the 1987 Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (on the Web at ech.cwru.edu), and last year's Encyclopedia of Chicago, available since May on the Web at encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. The website cost about $1 million to set up, says project director Sarah Marcus, and receives about 4,000 visitors a day.

Yale scored big -- for a university press, that is -- with the 1995 publication of the Encyclopedia of New York City, a joint venture with the New York Historical Society that sold 70,000 copies at $65 apiece. ''It was a huge success, and it continues to sell," says Yale's publishing director, Tina Weiner. ''It made us want to do more. That said, they're very hard to do. They're expensive, and you have to find the right editors." Yale's 2003 Encyclopedia of Ireland sold a respectable but hardly barn-burning 15,000 copies.

The Encyclopedia of New York State, published this May by Syracuse University Press, took seven years to compile and cost about $2.6 million, reports editor in chief Peter Eisenstadt. About half the money came from the National Endowment for the Humanities and half from the state Legislature. This New York book has sold 7,000 copies so far, Eisenstadt says, and that number should grow. ''The Encyclopedia of Kentucky sold 17,000 copies, and New York is a lot bigger than Kentucky. We ought to be able to sell plenty more."

Editor's note: William Koch

An Aug. 9 column by Alex Beam about William Koch, published prior to a museum exhibit of his collections, omitted facts that might offer a perspective for readers that contrasts with Beam's own view of the businessman.

Writing of domestic violence charges once brought against Koch, Beam did not mention what led prosecutors to drop the charges: Koch's estranged wife recanted her allegation that he threatened to beat her, and the wife's original account was disputed by witnesses. There is no evidence or suggestion that terms of a divorce settlement influenced the wife to recant. Writing of Koch's effort to evict a mistress from an apartment, Beam did not note that she was given 30 days to move out, that the successful litigation began well before Koch hoped to host a Christmas party in the apartment, and that the eviction was not motivated by his party plans. In referring to litigation involving bequests of family monies, Beam referred imprecisely to Koch's ''invalid mother." She was not an invalid when she was named as a nominal defendant.

The Globe and Beam regret the omissions.

Alex Beam's e-dress is beam@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives