Joseph Gies

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FARMINGTON – Joseph Gies, editor, author and co-author of 20 books as well as many articles and short stories, died at Sandy River Nursing Home on April 13, after a long illness.

He was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Oct. 8, 1916, to Charles G. Gies and Jane Sturman Gies. He grew up in Rochester, N.Y., returning with his family to Ann Arbor in 1932, and graduating from Ann Arbor High School in 1933. He worked for two years before entering the University of Michigan, where his official major was history, but in his own words, he “majored in the Michigan Daily,” serving as associate editor and book editor in his senior year.

After graduation from Michigan in 1939, he went to New York in search of an editorial job, editing a Latin-American trade paper and reading scripts for 20th Century-Fox’s New York story department, and eventually becoming an editor of This Week Magazine, the Sunday supplement, where he remained for 23 years.

He married Frances Carney in New York in 1940. During World War II, he served with the 42nd Division in France and Germany and was present at the liberation of Dachau. When the European war ended, he worked for Yank in Paris and later Stars and Stripes in New York.

His first book, a war novel, They Never Had It So Good, was published in 1949, and was described by a New York Herald Tribune reviewer as “a most ingenious argument against war.” His college novel, A Matter of Morals, appeared the following year. In the 1960s he published a series of books on technology: Adventure Underground, the Story of the World’s Great Tunnels in 1962, Bridges and Men, in 1963, and Wonders of the Modern World in 1966. The latter was translated into Japanese and Thai and into basic English for Japanese readers.

In 1965, he left This Week to become an editor at Doubleday & Co., where he wrote two pictorial biographies, Harry S Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the same time he began a collaboration with his wife, Frances Gies, with Life in a Medieval City, published in 1969, the first in a series of nine books on medieval social history, eight of which are still in print.

Moving to Chicago in 1967, he became senior editor/technology for a revision of Encyclopedia Britannica that was completed in 1974. While in Chicago, the Gieses produced two more books in their medieval series, Merchants and Moneymen and Leonardo of Pisa, and Joseph published Crisis 1918, a book about the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Gieses moved again in 1974, to Washington, D.C., where he was named editor for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. Several more books appeared during the Washington years: Life in a Medieval Castle (1974); a Bicentennial book about American technology, The Ingenious Yankees (1976); and Women in the Middle Ages (1978). Joseph also collaborated with Melvin Kranzberg of Georgia Tech on a history of the organization of work, By the Sweat of Thy Brow (1975), and published a biography of Chicago Tribune owner Colonel Robert McCormick, The Colonel of Chicago (1979).

In 1982, he retired to Michigan, settling on a lake near Ann Arbor, where he and his wife continued their medieval series with Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages (1987), a main selection of the History Book Club; Life in a Medieval Village (1990); Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel, Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (1994), a split-main selection of the Book of the Month Club; and A Medieval Family, the Pastons of Fifteenth-Century England (1998).

In 2001 the Gieses moved to Wilton.

He is survived by Frances, his wife of 66 years; two sons, Charles Gies and his wife, Heloise, of Sterling, Va. and Paul Gies, a mathematics professor at UMF and his wife, Kenlyn Clark; four grandchildren, Dorothy Diaz of Ashburn, Va., Nate Williams of Houston, Texas, Rose Williams of Eureka Springs, Ark. and Thomas Clark of Wilton; two great-grandchildren, Makena and Ronan Diaz.

He was predeceased by a daughter, Jenny Gies in 1997.

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