A History of Island Press

The story of Island Press is the story of how an idea for change comes to life. In the late 1970s, Chuck Savitt resolved to study the economics and business of publishing so he could apply what he learned to non-profits. During a brief stint at commercial publishing house Pergamon Press, Savitt established a division focused on the non-profit policy community. His experience taught him the value of developing a focused publishing program that presents individuals in the environmental field with the most useful information to help them do their jobs more effectively. While Savitt was wrestling with how to make public-interest publishing work, a little-known, not-for-profit publisher named Island Press was preparing to go out of business.


Founded by philanthropist and conservationist Catherine Conover, the California-based Island Press published books on a range of topics. In 1984, Savitt joined Conover and Island Press’ sole editor, Barbara Dean, to reshape the company’s mission into a two-pronged approach that remains the core of Island Press’ mission today. The founders refocused Island Press’ mission to serve both those who use environmental information and the broader professional community that provides that information – from scholars and government agencies to activists and environmental organizations. With this change, Island Press worked to build a reputation as a trusted source of information among a specific community of professionals, students, scholars, journalists, activists, and concerned citizens working on solutions to environmental problems. To reinforce the founders' aspiration to affect environmental policy and inspire change, Island Press moved its main office to Washington, D.C., where it remains today.


In the years since, Island Press has readily adjusted its literary focus as new issues and information concerning the environment were brought into public awareness. Beginning with only four to six titles per year and just three employees, Island Press has grown to employ a staff of more than twenty, governed by a Board of Directors comprising representatives from the scientific, philanthropic, academic, and conservation communities. Since 1984, Island Press has sold over 3 million books, making it a leading source of environmental solutions.