- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Don't look for celebrity diets or self-help psychobabble from Encounter Books. The new San Francisco-based publisher aims to make "serious nonfiction" books its stock in trade.

"We need good books," says Encounter publisher Peter Collier. "Good nonfiction is an endangered species in our time."

Since bringing out its first title racial preferences foe Ward Connerly's "Creating Equal" in March, Encounter has quickly published a list of serious nonfiction books by authors new and old. Some examples:

• "The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America" by Roger Kimball, managing editor of the conservative journal New Criterion.

• "The World According to Gore" by nationally syndicated San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders.

• "Hegemon: China's Plan to Dominate Asia and the World" by Steven W. Mosher, president of the Front Royal, Va.-based Population Research Institute.

This fall, the Encounter list will expand still further, with new titles including:

• "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left" by Ronald Radosh of George Washington University.

• "The Culture of Death: The Destruction of Medical Ethics in America" by anti-euthanasia activist Wesley Smith, who has co-authored four books with Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

• "Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization" by California State University humanities professor Bruce Thornton.

• "The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana" by British journalist Peter Hitchens.

Encounter Books is a nonprofit firm bankrolled with a $3.5 million initial grant from the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in March, Encounter's list "reflects the foundation's bent for conservative thought and politics."

In fact, Mr. Collier explained, Encounter was intended to fill a gap that developed in the publishing world after the New York-based Free Press moved away from its original conservative niche.

Encounter "was kind of the idea of Michael Joyce, who is head of the Bradley Foundation," Mr. Collier says. "The Free Press became … part of that Simon & Schuster empire and lost its identity. The need was felt by certain people for a kind of new publishing enterprise."

Under publisher Erwin Glikes, Free Press shook the publishing world in the 1980s and early 1990s with such titles as Allan Bloom's best seller "The Closing of the American Mind" and Dinesh D'Souza's expose of political correctness on college campuses, "Illiberal Education."

Mr. Glikes died in 1994, and at the same time, a wave of consolidation and cost-cutting swept through the publishing world.

As a result, some of the "serious nonfiction" books Mr. Collier wants to rescue from extinction were dropped by major publishers and went out of print. Encounter was able to snap up the paperback rights to two Free Press titles Fred Siegel's 1997 urban history, "The Future Once Happened Here," and Keith Windschuttle's 1997 critique of radical theory, "The Killing of History."

"All of these books wouldn't be in paperback if we hadn't done them," Mr. Collier says.

Encounter's real coup, however, was securing the paperback rights to "The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties' Legacy to the Underclass," a 1993 book by City Journal editor Myron Magnet, which Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush credits with helping inspire his "compassionate conservative" philosophy.

Asked by the Wall Street Journal which book, other than the Bible, was most important to him, the Texas governor answered, " 'The Dream and the Nightmare' by Myron Magnet crystallized for me the impact the failed culture of the sixties had on our values and society. It helped create dependency on government, undermine family, and eroded values which had stood the test of time and which are critical if we want a decent and hopeful tomorrow for every single American."

"The Dream and the Nightmare" was "hit by lightning" due to Mr. Bush's endorsement, Mr. Collier says, adding that the original publisher, New York-based William Morrow & Co., "was commercially short-sighted … to let it go out of print."

Still, he says, "This is a book that should be in print, regardless of whether it has this big boost from Bush's statement. It's arguably one of the three or four most important books ever written about the sixties and their destructive impact on the country."

Mr. Collier, 60, knows that impact firsthand. A leader of the radical student movement at the University of California at Berkeley, he became editor of the left-wing magazine Ramparts. He and colleague David Horowitz collaborated on a series of biographies, including the Rockefeller and Kennedy families. Ultimately, they fell out with their radical past.

While Mr. Collier is a conservative, he says that the problem in publishing today is not a matter of political issues.

"The crisis is one of serious books. We live in a publishing culture that has become addicted to celebrity biographies, this sort of kitschy stuff that sells easily in this country… . It's the vulgarization of the culture and trivialization of the publishing culture that is the problem as I see it, rather than some sort of left-wing hegemony," he says.

So far, Mr. Collier says, Encounter has done well, selling 20,000 copies of Mr. Connerly's "Creating Equal" and 15,000 copies of Mr. Kimball's "The Long March." But Encounter's slogan "Promoting intelligent debate" signals the kind of mission Mr. Collier has in mind.

He cites "Against All Hope," Cuban dissident Armando Valladares' account of 20 years in Fidel Castro's Cuban political prisons, as an example of Encounter's mission. Originally published by Knopf, Mr. Valladares' book was out of print until Encounter secured the paperback rights.

"For that book to be out of print is like 'Darkness at Noon' being out of print," Mr. Collier says. "It's particularly important now as we re-orient ourselves toward Cuba in a new administration. It's ridiculous that that book should ever be out of print. That story should never be forgotten [as] life in the tropical gulag."

Keeping important books in print is one of Encounter's major commitments, Mr. Collier says.

"What is kept in print, it becomes part of our collective memory," he says. "It's important to build a publishing house that has a solid backlist that you're committed to keeping in print. A backlist is sort of the spinal column of a publishing house, so you're not just publishing in a slash-and-burn fashion for today. You're making a commitment to keep an idea in circulation."

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