John Grafton
Senior Editor John Grafton, the driving force behind our math and science publishing program, is celebrating 50 years at Dover!

While the field of math and science has always been John's main focus, Dover's diverse catalog gave him the chance to acquire books in a wide variety of subjects, from classic literature and history to children's titles, art instruction, philosophy, photography, magic, chess, and much more. Over the past fifty years, John has not only risen to the title of Senior Editor, he has been instrumental in building the Dover library, which currently stands at more than 10,000 titles that span over 50 categories, including groundbreaking works by dozens of Nobel Laureates. "There's a missing-persons aspect that makes this job fascinating," muses Mr. Grafton. "Finding the right authors and the right books for our readers, making the very best of what's available — it never gets stale. There's always something new." To learn more about John in his own words, please enjoy his letter below.

To help honor his golden anniversary, we asked John to handpick 50 of the most important titles from Dover's history, covering cornerstone works of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering. Click here to see his 50 top titles.

John Grafton: My 50 Years at Dover
I came to work at Dover Publications' offices at 180 Varick Street in New York City, in the neighborhood now known as SoHo, on August 12, 1968, 50 years ago this summer. I was 24 then and I'm 74 now, but it doesn't seem like 50 years, whatever that should seem like — in memory it seems like a much shorter time.

Dover had just about as many people working on Varick Street in 1968 as now work in Mineola, New York, but the first thing a time-traveler to the 1968 offices would notice is that there weren't any computers. Electric typewriters, telephones, an old-fashioned switchboard out of a 1940s movie with an operator sitting there and routing everyone's calls, that was it. The first photocopying machine wasn't there yet in August, 1968, though there was a primitive copying machine which involved running a document to be copied and a blank sheet of paper through a very obnoxious liquid and rollers which would press and dry it — you had to really want a copy to try that, and unfortunate mishaps were a daily happening.

I had been hired to be the assistant to Dover's President and founder, Hayward Cirker. Going to work for a publishing company seemed natural to me — my father was a professional writer and I grew up in a big house in Connecticut with lots of books everywhere, kind of like my house now. I had been to college (the University of Chicago) and spent a couple of years in graduate school studying European history (New York University), but I increasingly didn't see myself as a college professor. So my first thought for working for a living was book publishing. In those days, there were lots of entry-level positions available in book publishing, which were advertised every week in several columns in the Sunday New York Times, jobs from all kinds of publishers, from the industry giants to obscure one- or two-people operations. Since none of them, big or small, paid very much in those days, young people like me often made their choices based on other considerations. I certainly wanted to be in New York, that was a big plus, and I was very intrigued by the vast range of subjects in which Dover published books. And I was especially intrigued by the chance to work directly with Mr. Cirker, who even from just the one hour I spent with him when he interviewed me seemed to me to be a relentlessly curious and engaging person, fascinated by the potential of publishing books in all kinds of fields to appeal to all sorts of interests: recreational mathematics one day, art history the next day, early American architecture the day after that. I felt intuitively that it would be a little like going to college all over again. I was right.

On the day I was hired, when Mr. Cirker had completed my interview, he said to Mrs. Cirker simply enough, "Well, he doesn't know too much about publishing, but he seems like a very nice young man." He knew then, and I soon found out, that publishing experience would come my way very quickly. While Dover's science and mathematics reprint program was from my first days, and always would be, a major focus, it took a very short time before I was immersed in researching and eventually acquiring books in many other areas — chess, magic and other types of games and recreations, literature and history. Shortly after I started, Dover launched new series of reprints in African American history, the history of anarchism, and the early history of the movies. I worked with our outside consultants on all of these projects. Not long after that, we launched a major initiative to reprint classical music scores in inexpensive paperbacks, a new venture which started small and became a major part of the company's identity. Being part of all of this reprinting of older books, it soon became evident that it would be useful if I actually knew something about the history of books and printing. Help was on the way. Booksellers and rare book auction catalogs came in the mail every day, and reading them soon took over a large part of my free time. Everett Bleiler, Dover's Senior Vice President, one of the dozens of remarkable people I came to know, was my guide here. A polymath who was the author of both a highly regarded Japanese grammar and one of the earliest published bibliographies of science fiction, Everett and I sat together every morning for my first eight years at Dover and looked through the incoming mail together — proposals from authors, offerings from book dealers, just about everything. That was time well spent and really was like going to college all over again. One day Mr. Cirker came into my office with an auction catalog and pointed out an item he thought we should get — an early American children's book, a good area for reprinting at that time. I had never been to an auction of any kind, and as my book was the 10th lot for sale, I had nine items to watch being sold and learn how it worked. I got the book for a bit under the limit I had been given, and for the next several decades I bought rare books for Dover from all the New York auction houses, especially the book specialists, Swann Galleries, Inc. Not surprisingly, this experience also turned me into an enthusiastic book collector.

As the years went on, Dover's focus shifted in various ways, as was to be expected: some older categories became less active, and new ones developed. New York history and books on the history of photography were both active areas for a long time, dual-language texts in many languages became a growing area, as did crafts in general, art history, philosophy, clip art and postcards, cookbooks and military history, classic baseball cards, and Thrift editions of the whole range of the world's literature — there was very little that we didn't try. I still find the variety and new challenges as exciting today as I did 50 years ago. I sometimes say that I hope one day to figure it all out. Knowing what I do now, would I take this ride again if I could be that time-traveller walking into Dover's offices on Varick Street on August 12, 1968? Absolutely!
John Grafton
Senior Editor

August 2018
For even more fascinating history from John, click here to read a brief history of Dover mathematics and science from our 75th anniversary celebration in 2016.
John Grafton's Top 50 | History of Dover Mathematics and Science | Join the Dover Math & Science Club