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Book cover for the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability

When we first started doing our big idea encyclopedias (Leadership, Community, and so on), timid publishing people asked, “Aren’t you afraid of running out of ideas?” It’s a big wide world with lots of questions to ask, lots of problems to be solved. So, no, I’m not at all worried that we’re going to look around one day and say we’ve done it all.

The new project dearest to me is the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability. We’re in early days with this one, and it’s unique in many ways. First, it is even more interdisciplinary than the usual Berkshire titles, truly integrating the social sciences with physical and life sciences. It is a huge subject, much debated, and fast developing. It absolutely requires a global perspective. And, most important, it is not simply timely but urgent.

Some of these points conflict: how do we do something so difficult as quickly as it really should be done? We started with a plan to do a standard four-volume encyclopedia. The plan has already evolved into an eight-volume encyclopedia that will be published serially, with volumes designed to be used separately as well as with the rest of the set. It includes a Sustainable Business Reader that we’ll publish next spring. And we’re also planning a website that will provide information from the project as it develops, so important resources and our coverage and organizational strategy can be commented on and improved as we go forward.

But editorial development isn’t the only thing I have to think about. We also have to start promoting forthcoming titles, and that requires graphic design as well as scope statements and headword lists. Our original cover design was attractive (you can see it in our 2006-7 catalog), but not right for the enlarged work. At staff meeting Wednesday I said something about our needing a new image, something evocative and beautiful and not too specific to a particular region or place.

When I went back to my desk there was an e-mail forwarded by Tom from a professor of his at Grinnell College. Jon Andelson is an anthropologist who has contributed to many of our publications, and he had just received a photo from a friend who is both a farmer and a photographer, and felt it was something he had to share with his students.

This photo, by Carl Kurtz, who raises prairie plant seeds for restoration projects, is going to be the cover of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability. Fireflies (or lightning bugs, as many people call them) above the prairie at dusk is a beautiful image, obviously, but it’s more than that: it shows life humming above a restored landscape, and, for me, the many points of light reflect the small efforts that are needed, all over the world, to create a sustainable future. While this image comes from one particular place on earth, there’s a universal quality to it that will, I hope, be meaningful to readers around the world. FirefliesCarlKurtz.jpgHere’s a book with more of Carl’s photographs: Iowa’s Wild Places.

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