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I thought you would be interested in this article from environment: YALE magazine, the Journal of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
By Richard Conniff
Over the course of their careers, most book editors get accustomed to writers ardently proposing ambitious pet projects, and the editors become adept at rapid evasive maneuvers. Thus, roughly 15 years ago, when a University of Massachusetts comparative literature professor named Eric Beekman cold-called an editor to pitch the project of a lifetime, he had everything going against him. He wanted to translate the works of an obscure 17th-century Dutch naturalist named Rumphius, who had spent his career in the utter back of beyond—a 10- by 32-mile island called Ambon in the Banda Sea in what is now eastern Indonesia—and had been largely forgotten in the 300 years since.
It sounded “too obscure, not relevant,” and likely to result in large, unwieldy and inordinately expensive publications, says Jean Thomson Black ’75, executive editor for science and medicine at Yale University Press. But Beekman “was just very good at selling this,” and Black, who started out as a plant ecologist, was “a vulnerable target because of my background. I love old natural history sorts of treatments, and he talked about opening this amazing world of natural history that wasn’t available to readers in English.”
In the years since, the partnership between Beekman and Black has produced two Rumphius books, The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, published in 1999, and Rumphius’ Orchids in 2003. Rumphius’ masterpiece,…
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