In an abrupt move this week, Context Books, publisher of "Truth Versus Lies" by Theodore Kaczynski, pulled the plug on the Unabomber's memoir as it went to press.
"I think it's a shame," said publisher Beau Friedlander yesterday. "No, I don't think it's a shame. I feel as though it was the right thing to do."
Friedlander, 30, said the whole publishing venture had taken about a year. During that time he received some 700 letters from Kaczynski. Near the end of the editing process, Friedlander proposed changes to the manuscript because of copyright infringement concerns. The Unabomber, in turn, submitted a list of changes he wanted to make. That's when Friedlander began to get cold feet.
"Kaczynski's recent letters," Friedlander said in a statement, "were like the 13th stroke of a clock, which calls not only itself into question but the 12 other chimes that preceded it. Changes to the text were required to meet legal concerns that we had expressed. Kaczynski was uncooperative and expressed himself in ways that made it impossible for the book to be published by Context, or anybody else."
Friedlander would not elaborate on the content of the letters other than to say the book "could no longer be considered a sound project." But, he added, "I was loath to force anything that would set up an antagonistic situation" with Kaczynski.
Kaczynski, who is serving a life sentence for killing three people and wounding 23 with homemade bombs between 1978 and 1995, pleaded guilty last year in Sacramento, Calif., to avoid the death penalty. On Oct. 22, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear his request for a trial.
According to the publisher's description on the Amazon.com Web site, Kaczynski's 368-page book "describes in penetrating prose his undergraduate years at Harvard, his budding activism, and the Cain and Abel nature of his relationship with the brother who eventually turned him in."
The publishing plan, according to Friedlander, was to print 12,000 to 15,000 copies the first go-round. The books were to sell at $25.95 apiece. Asked how much money the venture cost him, he said, "a whole lot."
Context Books is a young operation, with one book in print and others on the drawing board. Friedlander runs the show from offices on Broadway in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York. He has a staff of two full timers and five part timers. His lone publication, by a Vermont law professor, also concerns the Unabomber. Next year he plans to publish several volumes of short stories and a series of "Grassroots Guides," including "The A to Z of Hate Groups," "How to Disappear . . . From Abusive Spouses, Bloodhounds or the CIA" and "Hacking: What It Is and How It Works."