Jack Page, editor of making science accessible, dies at 80

Jake Page is an editor and columnist for Smithsonian Magazine, where in dozens of books he has brought the wonders of science to general readers and transformed his interest in the Indians of the American Southwest into a The series of popular mystery novels, at his home in Lyon, Colorado, on Wednesday. He is 80 years old.

The cause was vascular disease, his daughter Lindsey Truitt said.

Mr. Page finished high school and college without taking any science courses, but found himself cornered in the 1960s as an editor for Doubleday, where he oversaw an imprint called Natural History Books. “My job is to edit them so any idiot can read them,” he told a recent interview with publisher Rio Nuevo. “For the next seven years, I was an idiot.”

He spread his wings at the Smithsonian Institution, and with light, elegant style and a sense of humor, he has written on a variety of topics such as Zane Gray, Hollywood makeup artist Michael Westmore, the history of aspirin and Blind anthropologist Martha Ogilvy, meanwhile, wrote an article. Monthly Science Column, “Phenomena, Commentary, and Notes.”

“My monthly column started as an advert in a young magazine, but it morphed into an attempt to lure people into reading about science through humor,” he once said. “Science, which always seems suffocatingly serious, is too important to be reserved for scientists.”

His many books are on earthquakes, dinosaurs, Arctic exploration, zoos, the language of cats and dogs, and the history and culture of the American Indians starting in the 1980s.

He was introduced to the subject in 1973 by photographer Susanne Anderson, who had just finished “Songs of the Earth Spirit,” a book about traditional Navajo life in Arizona. Mr. Page was intrigued by the book and asked her to write an essay on Navajo witchcraft. The article didn’t come to fruition, but when the Hopi asked Ms Anderson to document their tribe, allowing photographs for the first time since the turn of the century, Mr Page retired from the magazine to assist her. The two married soon after.

At the request of the Hopi chief, Mr Page wrote about four sacred artifacts stolen from their ritual hideout. When both the Smithsonian and connoisseurs rejected the work — for fear of offending certain museums and galleries, he said — he turned the material into a mystery novel, “Stolen Gods.” Published in 1993, it is the first of five books by blind sculptor and detective Mo Bowdray and his half-Hopi girlfriend Connie Barnes. The series ended in 1996 with “Deadly Companions”.

James Keena Page Jr. was born in Boston on January 24, 1936, and grew up in Chappaqua, New York, where the family moved after his father graduated from Harvard Law School. He attended Gunnery, a small preparatory school in Washington, Connecticut.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1958, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Book Publishing, a short-lived venture at NYU where students worked on coursework in the morning and a publishing house in the afternoon.

Mr. Page worked as an apprentice at Doubleday, and after graduating with a master’s degree in 1960, the company hired him as editor of Anchor Books, the company’s trade paperback.

“Most memorable was that Anchor’s editor-in-chief rejected my idea that we should publish a fascinating trilogy of British authors, so the entire $1 billion Hobbit business was taken over by Ballantine’s ,” Mr Page told an interviewer at Rio Nuevo.

“My boss says The Hobbit is not suitable for publishing books for college students,” Mr Page said, referring to JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series.

In 1962, Mr. Page was named director of Natural History Press, a joint venture between Doubleday and the American Museum of Natural History, which also put him in charge of the journal Natural History. “It all put me in the intellectual delights of natural sciences, ecology, conservation, mostly biology and anthropology,” he told American Culture Journal in 2003.

After serving as editor-in-chief at small publisher Walker, he worked as a science content editor at the then-startup Smithsonian. The job led him to a new course devoted to popular science.

His Smithsonian and Science columns were included in “Pastorale: A Natural History of Sorts” (1985) and “Songs to Birds” (1993).

He co-authored “King of the Sky: The Smithsonian’s Book of Birds” with Eugene S. Morton and co-authored several books with geologist Charles B. Officer, notably “The Big One” (2004). ). Subtitled “The earthquake that shook early America and helped create science,” it describes an 1811 seismic event in New Madrid, Missouri, so powerful that it rang church bells in South Carolina, changing destroyed the Mississippi River and engulfed the city.

After The Hopi was published in 1982, he again collaborated with his wife on the tribal portrait Navajo (1995). In “The First Americans: Pursuing Archaeology’s Greatest Mysteries” (2002), co-authored with JM Adovasio, Mr. Page explores one of the great unsolved questions in North American history: who were the continent’s first Residents, where do they come from?

His most ambitious book on American Indians is “In the Hands of Great Spirits: A 20,000-Year History of the American Indians” (2003), a compendium covering the histories of some 500 tribes.

His most recent book, Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom, was published in 2013.

His first marriage ended in divorce.

In addition to his daughter Lindsey, Mr Page is survived by his wife Susanne Page. Three sisters, Brooke Pesci, Kathy Willis and Reed Herman; one brother, Charlie Perkins; five other daughters: Dana Page, Lea Page, Brooke Page, Sally Truitt and Kendall Barrett; and 14 grandchildren.

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