Paul Brooks on Roger Tory Peterson

One of the most vivid memories of my early years at Houghton Mifflin was the arrival, one summer day in 1933, of a young man with a plan for a new sort of pocket bird guide. His project had already been turned down by four publishers in New York, and one in Boston. The book business was still suffering from the “Great Depression,” and this project looked like a poor risk.

The man Roger Tory Peterson had come to see, Francis H. Allen, was more likely to appreciate what he had to say than any of the publishers he had previously approached. I myself had since boyhood an interest in the subject, and wrote an enthusiastic editorial report on his project recommending publication, but I had no real authority in those days. Mr. Allen, however, was an experienced editor as well as a distinguished ornithologist and Chairman of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. He was in a position to convince our Board of Directors that this project was a good risk.

Not all local birders shared our confidence. I happened to be dining with Judge Robert Walcott, President of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. I mentioned this new publishing venture with some enthusiasm. “How much will the book cost?” asked the judge.

“Two dollars and seventy-five cents,” I replied.

“Paul,” he said firmly, looking at me with judicial authority over his half-moon glasses. “You will never be able to sell a bird guide at that price, when the famous Reed Pocket Guides can be bought for only fifty cents.”

A year later, when I was again dining with him, the judge immediately inquired: “Have you heard about that wonderful new book, A Field Guide to the Birds? Every ornithologist has one in his pocket.”

“Yes,” I replied. I had heard of it.

Source: Adapted by Jeffrey S. Cramer from Paul Brooks’ unfinished memoir, Worth Remembering (from The Paul Brooks Collection)