Which Lost New York?

“Lost New York” by Nathan Silver or Marcia Reiss

This morning I received a strange “press release” in my inbox. It was from Nathan Silver, a frequent Metropolis contributor. Silver is the author of the seminal 1967 Lost New York, a book that was hugely influential in helping to spur the nascent historic preservation movement. Lost New York has been in print, continuously, since its publication four and a half decades ago.  An updated and expanded version appeared in 2000. Apparently, there’s now a new book with exactly the same title, on exactly the same subject, and it has the original author crying foul.

Here’s Silver press release:
Author Finds New Publication of His Book Title Is Not By Him

Nathan Silver is an American architect and critic now working in London. His book LOST NEW YORK, about great New York buildings that have vanished, came out in 1967 and was nominated for the US National Book Award. It has been continuously in print since, with an expanded and updated edition appearing in 2000. Recently Silver was emailed by a New York friend who drew his attention to a new publication called Lost New York. Except it isn’t by him.

Silver searched for the book on Amazon. The new Lost New York, by Marcia Reiss, came up first, with Silver’s own book further down the list. Silver ordered a copy and found that it is published by Pavilion Books, a UK imprint of Anova Books Company Ltd. Silver, now a retired head of a London school of architecture, was The New Statesman’s architecture critic for many years and is author of four leading works on architecture and design. He was outraged by what he considered a substandard work on the same subject deliberately titled to be mistaken for his own, devaluing its 45-year reputation.

Silver also learned that Marcia Reiss is a great fan of not only his book. Another of her titles, New York Then and Now (2007), has the same title and subject as a previous New York Then and Now, by Annette Witheridge (1999). Silver alleges a form of identity theft: using the title Lost New York while a book with the same name, on the same subject, is still in print. He believes the re-use of title was immoral and damaging, and it was also knowing, in that it was intended to confuse book buyers by passing off Reiss’s Lost New York as the book by Silver. (A clue to this having been deliberate is the avoidance of reference to Silver’s Lost New York in Reiss’s bibliography of leading books on the subject, though Silver’s Lost New York was the most obvious book to have included.) Pavilion Books’ complicity seems even less excusable to him.

Silver’s Lost New York was published in the UK from the start, at first with a Macmillan imprint.

Pavilion flatly ignored its long history of publication in both countries. Susan Canavan, the editor for Silver’s Lost New York at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has had a subject-by-subject and photo-by-photo comparison of the two books completed, and HMH’s considered response in defense of the particularity of Silver’s work is now expected.

Silver notes that his publishers earned a considerable sum from Lost New York during the 45 years it has been in print. When they asked Silver to do a Lost series on other cities as well, he agreed that they should go ahead with different authors. Houghton Mifflin enlarged the franchise by publishing Lost Boston, Lost Chicago and Lost London, written by others.

The wider context shows that at a time when the future of traditional publishing is being challenged by online self-publication, a publisher’s defense of the author’s work is of value. Mainly it drives home the point that in addition to issues of copyright and plagiarism, the intention to mislead cheats readers and damages writers. If we accept that bogus Great Gatsbys or Female Eunuchs would be intolerable, we should scorn cheesy authors and their publishers who help themselves to other well-known book titles.

18 March 2012

For further information: Nathan Silver, ns@nathansilver.com, or (004420) 7834 9300.

(An 8-page comparison of the contents of the two books, with conclusions, is available upon request.)

Categories: Cities