Knopf Publishes History Book Which Confuses Woodstock, NY, With Town in Illinois

There’s a meme circulating the publishing industry to the effect that the major publishers have been lowering their standards as they slash costs. I know editors and authors who believe it, and after reading a recent history book from Knopf I believe that meme as well.

The local newspaper in Woodstock, NY reports that they’ve found a few problems with Knopf’s recently published history book on the Catskills region of New York state.

The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America reportedly describes the 500-year history of this region in southeastern NY state, but local experts dispute its accuracy. According to the Woodstock Times, several of the photos used in the book did not match up with the paper’s recollection of the local geography, and it gets worse from there:

In an effort to describe Woodstock “in the early 1950s” the reader is informed that, “manufacturing was represented by the Woodstock Typewriter Company on North Seminary Avenue, where it had existed since 1913. On Clay Street, Woodstock Tie and Die Casting, the town’s largest employer, was home to twenty-two hundred workers producing auto parts for Ford and Chrysler.” Okay, let’s pause there and absorb that information. First, neither manufacturing company every existed here. Second, no street in Woodstock (our Woodstock) ever bore such names. And, finally, unless they were well hidden in some mountain hollow somewhere, I think we would have notice “twenty-two hundred workers” laboring to produce auto parts for two major auto companies. It goes on. “A Montgomery Ward and a Woolworth’s anchored a small but solvent district in Town Square, along with ‘five food stores, two long-established banks, four meat markets…two bakeries, A Sears Roebuck order office, two hardware stores, three drug stores and Wes Pribla’s fur shop,’ according to the Woodstock Independent.” Sorry, none of this is true.

And that’s just the beginning of the problems. A reviewer on Amazon confirmed that that the company and street names quoted above did not exist in the town of Woodstock, NY, adding “Maverick and Byrdcliffe are not so far out of town, by any means. As for Holsteins — there weren’t nearly as many here as suggested in the book.”

I was able to confirm some of the reports in Google Books, and in doing so I also confirmed the clue which may explain how this mistake happened.

A newspaper by the name of the Woodstock Independent is cited as a source, and that detail is interesting because there is no such paper in Woodstock.

Well, there’s no such paper in Woodstock, NY, I should say, because this newspaper actually operates in Woodstock, Illinois. And sure enough, a quick search of that paper’s archives turned up Pribla’s fur shop on the “Square in Woodstock.”

The Woodstock Times contacted Knopf and informed the publishers of the errors, but there’s still no explanation as to how the errors slipped through the editing process. The book was penned by journalist Stephen M. Silverman and filmmaker Raphael D. Silver and presumably edited at some point, but it looks like someone took the easy route and merely confirmed the source of the facts rather than confirming the accuracy of said facts with a second source like a local historian, a town map, or Google.

Given the lack of attention to detail, it’s a wonder that the book doesn’t mention local resident Snoopy the dog.

This is the type of newbie mistake that could lead you to write about the Nazi occupation of Paris, Texas, during WWII, or the rioting in the capital of Georgia during the Greek financial crisis. It’s a common problem in both journalism and book publishing, which is exactly why one needs to confirm details with an independent source.

Someone at Knopf is about to learn that lesson in a very public and very painful way.

image by sashafatcat

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