In my first proper job I was a colleague of Michael Rodgers, and I was therefore delighted to see his book Publishing and the advancement of science, which describes his long and successful career as an editor of science books. There are dozens of anecdotes about authors alive and dead – of Einstein, for example, being paid twice the agreed fee for an article in the Manchester Guardian - and of curious events at the meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, or “British Ass” as we used to call it. Above all it tells the rather sad story, which echoes my experiences as an author, of how publishing changed towards the end of the twentieth century. My impression (and recollection) is that Michael was doing a splendid job throughout his 30 years in harness, and yet his career was continually in jeopardy, and he had to keep moving from one publisher to another.
The book features in particular Michael’s super-stars Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins, but also many other authors, from R V Jones to Jim Watson, each with their titles and their sometimes scurrilous stories, and should make an amusing read for anyone interested in science books and publishing. During the Guildford meeting of the British Ass in 1975, he recounts, Richard Gregory was president of the psychology section, and when he greeted the mayor of Guildford his presidential medal became entangled with the mayor’s chain of office. “Aha!” said Richard, “A clash of symbols.”
But be warned. In his epilogue Michael says, as one of his reasons for writing the book “… it would be wonderful if reading just one of my stories ignited enough curiosity to motivate someone to go out and buy and read the book in question.” Well, he did it for me. With this book he has seriously tempted me to go out and buy every one of the books he so lovingly describes.