May 12, 2009

James M. Reid, an editor at Harcourt Brace from 1924 to 1960, played a crucial role in the history of biology textbooks in the United States.

In his 1969 autobiography, An Adventure in Textbooks, Reid discussed how he helped Ella Thea Smith bring her homemade textbook, complete with its thorough discussion of the theory of evolution, to market in 1938. Reid also described how he connected Smith with paleontologist and modern synthesis architect George Gaylord Simpson. Through Reid, Smith and Simpson significantly influenced each other’s work. Smith reviewed the MS of Simpson’s breakthrough college biologoy textbook, Life, as it was being written in the early 1950s. Reid hoped positive encouragement from Smith would boost Simpson who was struggling with his text. In return, Simpson provided a detailed critique (handwritten on the back of 7 sheets of American Museum of Natural History letterhead) of Smith’s textbook leading to significant improvements between its fourth (1954) and fifth (1959) editions.


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