Richard L. Grossman, publisher of Nader’s ‘Unsafe at Any Speed,’ dies at 92

Ralph Nader was an obscure Washington lawyer and auto-safety authority when he began making the rounds of major publishing houses in early 1965. He hoped to generate interest in “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a book he had written savaging the car industry for its willingness to sacrifice safety for sleek design and power.

Editor after editor turned him down, one with the quip, “This was a very interesting manuscript, but I think it would be primarily of interest to insurance agents.”

(Courtesy of family) - Richard L. Grossman, a book publisher who printed Ralph Nader’s ”Unsafe at Any Speed” and later became a prominent lay psychotherapist, died Jan. 27 at 92.

**CORRECTS LAST NAME TO ROPER ** ** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 4 **Pastor Fred Phelps, right, holds his great-granddaughter, Zion Phelps-Roper, as he sings happy birthday to family members during a gathering at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. April 9, 2006. Phelps and his tight-knit congregation travel the country preaching damnation to a nation of sinners. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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That October, Nader gave the book to Richard L. Grossman, an independent New York publisher of political affairs and photography books. Mr. Grossman’s self-described “non-establishment” sensibility — he frequented draft-card burnings during the Vietnam War while wearing his World War II medals — was well-suited to the burgeoning consumer-advocacy movement that Nader spearheaded.

Mr. Grossman, who died Jan. 27 at 92, rushed “Unsafe at Any Speed” to publication within two months. The whirlwind pace was critical, Nader said in an interview this week, because it allowed the release to coincide with congressional hearings that led in 1966 to the passage of the first comprehensive federal automotive safety standards.

The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies, in part because of the media attention given to attempts by General Motors to harass and intimidate Nader.

Grossman Publishers, which merged with the larger Viking Press in 1968, went on to print most of Nader’s exposes of air and water pollution and pesticides. “He was an avant-garde guy and had a sense of what was coming,” Nader said.

Mr. Grossman also printed “Dallas Public and Private: Aspects of an American City,” Warren Leslie’s portrait on the right-wing extremism that pervaded the city leading up to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. The book appeared months after the killing, and a New York Times reviewer dubbed its findings “courageous.”

In 1968, Grossman Publishers released a controversial biography of the vice president, “The Drugstore Liberal: Hubert H. Humphrey in Politics,” by Robert Sherrill and Harry W. Ernst. Earlier, McGraw-Hill had dropped a promise to print the book — a sharp critique of Humphrey’s political character — reportedly because of White House pressure.

Grossman Publishers put out “84, Charing Cross Road” (1970), the popular epistolary romance by Helene Hanff, in addition to a range of books on art and philosophy. The company’s publications also reflected Mr. Grossman’s interest in what he called “humanistic, existential psychologies,” particularly the works of the influential psychologist Abraham Maslow.

Beginning in the 1950s, Maslow helped define a new school of psychology that rivaled Freudian psychology and behaviorism. Humanistic psychology, in which the therapist acts as an involved and empathic partner with the client, emphasizes lifelong growth and development with the goal of “self-actualization.”

While serving as a vice president of Viking, Mr. Grossman shepherded books, including Frank G. Goble’s “The Third Force” (1970), that helped popularize Maslow’s theories. He also formed a publishing alliance with the Esalen Institute, the healing retreat in Big Sur, Calif.

About that time, Mr. Grossman began teaching humanistic psychology and philosophy courses at New York University, which led to a career change.

“Like Abraham Maslow, I felt the human race has been shortchanged for 5,000 years,” he told New York magazine in 1986. “We know about darkness, but no one explored the healthy personality. I had published the humanistic writers and understood the new therapies but in 1974 I decided to leave publishing and learn the pragmatic stuff.”

As a lay psychotherapist, he became director of the Center for Health in Medicine at New York’s Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center. He was also a faculty member of Montefiore’s residency program in social medicine, a field that combines clinical and primary care medicine with public health perspectives on social, political and economic forces.

Mr. Grossman, who had been recruited to Montefiore by Harold Wise, an early leader in primary care medicine, began a long career as an author and counselor. He wrote books that synthesized his interests in nontraditional medicine and the self-reliance philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Among Mr. Grossman’s best-known titles were “Choosing and Changing: A Guide to Self-Reliance” (1978) and “The Other Medicines” (1985), which focused on alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, meditation, and Chinese and Hindu medicine.

Mr. Grossman served on the faculty of the family medicine department at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York in the 1990s and was a group leader in the Washington-based Smith Center for Healing and the Arts’s program for cancer patients.

Robert Schiller, chairman of Beth Israel’s family medicine department, called Mr. Grossman a “gifted healer and educator” who followed Maslow’s “thinking about healing as aspirational. It isn’t just helping people recover from an illness. It’s giving people direction. A patient might say, ‘Now that I’ve recovered from my illness, now what? What’s my life about, what’s my calling in life?’ ”

Schiller said that while alternative medicine is at times viewed with skepticism, Mr. Grossman “tried to point out that if you’re an oncologist, and your patients are seeking unconventional treatments for their cancer, you can have a nonjudgmental inquiry of their experiences and in some ways become that much more of an effective clinician.”

Richard Lee Grossman was born on June 26, 1921, in Chicago. He grew up in Manhattan, where his father was a bookkeeper for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Mr. Grossman was a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania but left for financial reasons during the Depression, his family said.

After service in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, he owned an advertising business in Canton, Ohio, and through a family connection joined Simon & Schuster in 1953 as an assistant to co-founder Richard Simon.

Among other duties, Mr. Grossman posed as a model for the cover of Sloan Wilson’s best-selling 1955 novel “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.” He became a senior editor and then vice president at Simon & Schuster before launching Grossman Publishers in 1962 in the basement of a brownstone near Gramercy Park in Manhattan.

His marriages to Elizabeth Heiden and Jill Kneerim, a partner in Grossman publishing, ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, novelist Ann Arensberg of Salisbury, Conn.; three daughters from his first marriage, Joan Grossman of Housatonic, Mass., Nancy Nagle of East Hampton, N.Y., and Lucy Rochambeau of New York and East Hampton.

Mr. Grossman died at a nursing center near his home in Salisbury. The cause was leukemia, his wife said.

Mr. Grossman was the editor of volumes such as “A Year With Emerson” (2003) and “The Tao of Emerson” (2007). At his death, he was writing a book on aging modeled on Ambrose Bierce’s century-old satirical reference work, “The Devil’s Dictionary.” The working title: “The Codger’s Dictionary.”

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