Wednesday, November 24, 2010

First City, Second Edition

The Encyclopedia of New York City has been very important to me. When I joined its staff in 1989 I was still searching vainly for a direction in my career as a historian. I eventually became its managing editor, and every success I have had in my subsequent career, directly or indirectly, comes from my involvement in the Encyclopedia. I owe it, and its editor, the redoubtable Kenneth T. Jackson, my deepest and most humble thanks.

And now, fifteen years after the encyclopedia appeared, a second edition has appeared. (A thanks to Ken and Lisa Keller for including the entire staff page for the first edition.) I have had very little to do with this second edition, and if I can offer my unbiased opinion, it is great. One of the truisms of the reference editing biz is that second editions of reference works are often more difficult than starting fresh, without any existing text as a constraint. One has to integrate the older edition into the new edition, and make it all seem seamless, and often, as is the case with the Encyclopedia of NYC, add a ton of new material, while keeping everything the same size. Ken starts his introduction by saying September 11th transformed all of our lives, and it hangs heavy over the book , though the general impression the book provides is one of continuity with the past, and that the city of 2010, despite 9/11, and such dramatic changes as the drop in crime and the financial crisis of 2008, is much the same as the city of 1995, in some ways more so, and in some ways less so.
There are a few errors in the updates. Chase Manhattan bank hasn’t gone by that name for over a decade, and is no longer located in NYC. Over two pages were added on the winners of the Forest Hill/Flushing Meadows tennis championships (perhaps a little too much), dating back to the late 19th century, but contrary to the table headings, they were only open championships after 1968. There were some nice additions, such as a table of retail establishments—Dunkin’ Donuts is in first place, with 341 in the city, beating out Subways, McDonald’s, and Starbucks, and one on executions of NYC criminals (which perhaps was modeled on a similar table in the Encyclopedia of New York State.)
I don’t know if print encyclopedias are essentially obsolete or not. Certainly Wikipedia has profoundly changed the nature of reference publishing, but it is a pleasure to be able to hold an encyclopedia and all of its contents in one’s hands, and I urge people to pick one up. Ken, Lisa, et al., congrats on a job well done.

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