A publisher's perspective

During the latter part of his first period as the editor of Nature (1966–73), John Maddox combined his job with responsibilities as managing director of Macmillan Journals — a division of what became Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

As such, Maddox's influence within the company spread beyond Nature and indeed far beyond the other journals it published. At that time, Macmillan was living off its past as publisher not only of Nature, founded in 1869, but of such authors as Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, W. B. Yeats and John Maynard Keynes. The list of books and journals was fading, however, and had not been renewed, and the company had been overtaken by newer, more assertive publishing houses.

Maddox believed that, if a newcomer had enthusiasm and a good brain, he or she could be handed real responsibility after a minimum of (invariably on-the-job) training. This attitude was very attractive to bright undergraduates and postgraduates, and such recruits flourished if they could meet his exacting standards. In this way, Maddox was responsible for an inflow of young and able publishers and scientists into Macmillan.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, this policy dramatically enlivened an ageing organization and kick-started it into growth. It was not always possible for Maddox's charm and Macmillan's growth to accommodate the increasing ambitions of so much talent. Some staff members inevitably left after a few years, usually for great success elsewhere in publishing. But many stayed, and Macmillan was enriched and rejuvenated each year as a result.

Maddox was also responsible for a range of new journals, such as Education and Training, Drugs and Society and Science Studies. Science never claimed him exclusively. He participated fully in other expansionist plans, most notably being involved in reference books for all manner of academic disciplines, most of them outside the sciences. His watch as managing director also saw the experiment of publishing additional biology and physics papers in two companion weekly journals, Nature New Biology and Nature Physical Sciences. This was an idea that was ahead of its time, at least commercially, and it was discontinued. But it was successfully revisited in the early 1990s, and when Maddox retired in 1995, three monthly research journals existed under the Nature banner (now there are many more).

Even before his appointment as director of the Nuffield Foundation in 1975, Maddox had been active in a wide range of public-service appointments, and in 1974 had initiated the much-praised fortnightly programme Scientifically Speaking for what is now BBC Radio 3. Maddox's great ambition, however, was to make Nature more accessible and to reach more readers, and when he returned again as editor in 1980 he devoted his main energies to that end. His eye for raw ability remained: in large part through his encouragement of bright and committed staff, Nature prospered as never before.

If his energy challenged and exhausted (and sometimes provoked) his younger colleagues, and if his motorway driving terrified the older ones, John Maddox's enthusiasm proved contagious and he remained admired and forgiven in exactly the right proportions until his retirement. He was intolerant of boredom and incapable of boring anyone else. A kind, very clever man, his friendship was treasured, and with pride, by many.

Nicholas Byam Shaw joined Macmillan Publishers Ltd in 1964, and was managing director from 1969 to 1990.

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Byam Shaw, N. A publisher's perspective. Nature 458, 984–985 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/458984a

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