The Story of “The 36 Hour Day”

by Jack Holmes, Institutional Outreach and Publicity Officer

In honor of University Press Week, the American Association of University Presses (AAUP) invited publishers to select one title from their full catalog of publications that they felt exemplifies the work they do. Here, JHU Press—with 134 years of history to choose from—shares how we made that decision.  An abridged version of this post was originally published in Fine Print* (*and digital!), AAUP’s online gallery of titles—books, journals, online collections, and reference works— selected by AAUP members for this purpose.

It is easy to imagine that all the presses participating in the AAUP Fine Print* project had difficulty selecting just one publication to represent a legacy that might include decades of publishing, numerous subject areas, various formats, and many distinguished achievements.

That was certainly true for us at the JHU Press as we considered our Fine Print selection. We might reasonably have chosen the American Journal of Mathematics, which J. J. Sylvester founded in 1878 and which remains a centerpiece of our journals publishing program. We thought Project MUSE, the highly regarded online collection of journals and books, would be a compelling choice because it represents the innovation and success not just of our press but of the broader community of university presses, libraries, and scholars who collaborated to create it and work to sustain it. We could have chosen any of several discipline-changing titles, from Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology to Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms, to highlight the capacity of key scholarly works to revolutionize how we think about certain subjects. We could, of course, sensibly select one of our best sellers. And it turns out that our best-selling title also gives us one of our best stories to tell.

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss, by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, is indeed JHUP’s best-selling book, with more than 2.5 million copies sold in the five editions published since it first appeared in 1980. It has been called a legend, a bible, and the best of its kind. We are proud to include it as the Johns Hopkins University Press title in the AAUP’s Fine Print* collection.

How The 36-Hour Day landed on the JHU Press list, how it almost never found a publisher, and how it ties our press to esteemed friends and colleagues at Johns Hopkins also adds up to a good university-press story, one that we believe echoes the shared mission, values, and aspirations of all AAUP’s member presses.

By the late 1970s, Alzheimer Disease was becoming increasingly known but remained barely understood among the general public as the cause of dementia and memory loss in older patients. Managing the condition medically within psychiatry or geriatric departments was becoming more common, and the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of the first in the nation to establish a special unit for patients with dementia. As growing awareness of the disease brought more frequent requests for advice and information, two members of the program staff at Hopkins, Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, collaborated on a short booklet advising caregivers on understanding the disease, helping the person with dementia, and coping with the challenges of the caregiver’s role. The booklet was mimeographed repeatedly by the department, and requests for copies continued to increase. With the department overwhelmed by requests, Mace and Rabins explored the possibility of expanding the booklet into a book, but they were turned away by numerous commercial publishers who didn’t see a market and found the topic depressing and uncomfortable.

In the lore of our Press, JHUP author and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Paul McHugh, advised that Mace and Rabins “talk to the Press.” The 36-Hour Day found an appreciative home here, and our press embraced the mission of publishing trusted, expert medical information for general readers. Our successful series, Johns Hopkins Press Health Books, with some fifty similar books available in print and digital formats, is part of this legacy.

While the good The 36-Hour Day has done in the world is arguably beyond measure, we can point to at least some of the numbers that suggest the scale of its impact and success: five editions published since 1980, the most recent in 2011; sales in excess of 2.5 million copies, not including mass market paperbacks, which were published for three of the five editions; praise and affection generated over the years that easily matches those sales figures; massive review attention and numerous awards from both professional and advocacy organizations; strong e-book sales and an audio-book edition in production. With dozens of books about Alzheimer Disease now available for general readers, The 36-Hour Day remains the leading resource for caregivers, one of the few titles that B&N will never allow to go out of stock.

For all of us at JHUP, The 36-Hour Day and its success are a somewhat larger-than-life expression of the hope we always have when we publish a book or journal under the Johns Hopkins imprint. We want to deliver knowledge, discovery, and expertise to the people who need it. We want to publish works that have an impact, whether on a small circle of scholars in a dedicated field of study or on the hundreds of thousands of readers who are informed and comforted by a book like The 36-Hour Day.

That is our aim with 200 new books each year and with every new issue of the 80 journals we publish. But few works the Press has published match the reach and impact of The 36-Hour Day, and we salute and thank our friends and colleagues, Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, for their exceptional work and achievement.