Helferich, Gerard

views updated

Helferich, Gerard

PERSONAL:

Married Teresa Nicholas (in publishing).

CAREER:

Editor for twenty-five years at publishing houses in New York, NY, including Simon & Schuster, Facts on File, and Doubleday, and as vice president and publisher of general interest books for John Wiley, until 2002; freelance writer and editor, 2002—.

WRITINGS:

Humboldt's Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Latin American Journey That Changed the Way We See the World, Gotham Books (New York, NY), 2004.

High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta, Counterpoint (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Gerard Helferich enjoyed a long career in publishing before setting out as a freelancer. He worked for various publishers in New York City, making his way up the career ladder from editorial assistant to his last position as a publisher at John Wiley. In an interview with Lynn Andriani for Publishers Weekly, he estimated that he had edited "about 340 books" over the course of his career. After twenty-five years in the industry, however, Helferich felt that he would never achieve his dream of writing his own book unless he quit his job and became a freelancer. He did so in 2002 and then published his debut, Humboldt's Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Latin American Journey That Changed the Way We See the World, two years later. The subject of the book is one of history's greatest scientific explorers, Alexander von Humboldt, who lived from 1769 to 1859. Humboldt explored much of South America and "made important contributions to geology, geography, magnetism, botany, and to what were to become climatology, meteorology, oceanography, and anthropology," according to a Theosophy Northwest Web site reviewer. Many places and geographical and oceanographical features are named in his honor, including the Humboldt Current that runs along the west coast of South America, and Humboldt Bay in California. Yet although Humboldt was enormously famous in his own time, his life is little recalled today, and when Helferich released his book it had been three decades since the previous biography on the scientist had been published. Helferich surmised for Andriani that this is because Humboldt's interests ranged so widely that he is difficult to categorize.

Humboldt explored Latin America during a trip that lasted from 1799 until 1804, after which, he returned to Europe and spent the rest of his life publishing the discoveries he made in biology, botany, geography, geology, the cultures of the Aztecs and Incas, and much more. Among many other people, his work would influence another great scientist, Charles Darwin. Helferich writes about Humboldt's odyssey in detail, while also giving background information for the reader about the places and times that were contemporary to the explorer, including facts about the Spanish colonies that were in Latin America. Critics of Humboldt's Cosmos enjoyed the way the author relates the tale "like an adventuresome diary," making Humboldt's story more interesting than a straight reference title, according to Rita Hoots in Library Journal. Gilbert Taylor asserted in Booklist that Helferich's "presentation is sure to satisfy reader curiosity" about Humboldt.

Helferich next published a contemporary tale about a Southern farmer in High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta. Here, he goes into great detail about the daily life and struggles of a cotton farmer named Zack Killebrew. While discussing the routines and challenges of farming, Helferich digresses to relate the history of the industry in the South, the workings of the cotton gin, the geology and natural history of the Delta region, and social topics such as race relations. Killebrew's farm suffers setbacks from hurricanes, and his wife of thirty years leaves him during the course of the book, though Helferich does not dig deeply into the farmer's personal life. New York Times Book Review critic Dale Maharidge complained that Helferich plays it too safe in not touching on the more emotionally sensitive issues facing Killebrew, commenting: "Helferich seems satisfied simply to be there at key moments in the four seasons, stitching together predictable scenes of Killebrew plowing, planting, harvesting." Mississippi Magazine reviewer Jennifer Barnes Moffett, however, appreciated that "Helferich captures the Delta region in unwavering detail," and a Kirkus Reviews writer described the book as a "generally genial portrait of a rugged man shaped and shoved by geography, weather, economics and race."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of Humboldt's Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Latin American Journey That Changed the Way We See the World, p. 1260; May 15, 2007, Brad Hooper, review of High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta, p. 17.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, October, 2004, M. Evans, review of Humboldt's Cosmos, p. 314.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2004, review of Humboldt's Cosmos, p. 118; May 15, 2007, review of High Cotton.

Library Journal, June 1, 2004, Rita Hoots, review of Humboldt's Cosmos, p. 175; June 15, 2007, Joshua Lambert, review of High Cotton, p. 86.

Mississippi Magazine, September 1, 2007, Jennifer Barnes Moffett, review of High Cotton, p. 192.

New York Times Book Review, September 9, 2007, Dale Maharidge, "Crop Rotation," review of High Cotton, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, February 9, 2004, review of Humboldt's Cosmos, p. 69; February 9, 2004, Lynn Andriani, "Turning the Tables on a Publishing Career," interview with Gerard Helferich, p. 69; May 14, 2007, review of High Cotton, p. 44.

ONLINE

Theosophy Northwest Web site,http://www.theosophy-nw.org/ (February 6, 2008), review of Humboldt's Cosmos.

About this article

Helferich, Gerard

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article