The Most Important Books, Best-Selling Books, and Best Projects Missed

by Richard Grossinger on March 14, 2010

Chapter Eleven
The Most Important Books, Best-Selling Books, and Best Projects Missed

Our Twenty-One Most Important (not Best-Selling) Books All-Time, publisher’s opinion only

1. In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets by Richard Strozzi Heckler
This title not only changed the way that the United States Army and Marines trained soldiers but provided an accessible model for using military forces constructively and compassionately across the Earth.  This is where the Defense Department meets the Zen Center, the Buffalo Lodge, the Aikido dojo.  (See also Chapters Two, Three, Seven, Eight, and Ten.)

2. Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman by Luis Eduardo Luna and Pablo Amaringo.  (See also Chapter Nine.)
A horizontally super-oversize art book that reveals an undiscovered system of Amazonian art, metaphysics, healing, and soul transformation.

3. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford
Paul created a food-as-consciousness text for a generation (and those to follow) and awakened many people to the fact that food is spiritual practice, is meditation.  For readers over the years HWWF has become a dietary and life bible.  (See also Chapters Two, Seven, and Eight.)

4. Book of Theanna: In the Lands that Follow Death by Ellias and Theanna Lonsdale
The key flaw of life on Earth since the Ice Ages may be the artificial separation between its embodied and disembodied denizens, between the planet’s animals (including us primates) and its spirits, between its living and its dead.  This book takes the first step toward excavating and healing that breach at its source.  (See also Chapter Eight.)

5. Amazing Grace: The Nine Principles of Living in Natural Magic by David Wolfe and Nick Good
Here is the twenty-first century’s steersman’s (and steerswoman’s) handbook for how to be a superhero in a time of apocalypse.  It contains indispensable principles for rebuilding and remarking the planet and for cultivating hope at the precipice of cataclysm and despair—and it is real, for anyone.  (See also Chapter Seven.)

6. A Child’s Life and Other Stories by Phoebe Gloeckner
She is the most important and radical Comix artist that North Atlantic has launched—aesthetically and politically.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

7. Maya Atlas: The Struggle to Preserve Maya Land in Southern Belize by the Toldedo Maya Cultural Council and the Toledo Alcaldes Association
This document essentially demarcated traditional Mayan lands and enabled an unregistered nation of indigenous people to educate themselves in their own geographic legacy and cultural ground; to use the tools of modern technology to pass their knowledge and brief on to the world, the world’s courts, and their own future generations.  The text was presented as a legal article to the Organization of American States and the United Nations.  We have attempted, thus far unsuccessfully, to use a similar template for the Northwest Territories of Canada tentatively entitled The Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project and the Creation of Nunavut.

8. The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever by Richard C. Hoagland
Whatever else you may think of the dude, Hoagland changed forever NASA’s imaging priorities for Mars, while creating the first set of protocols for how to conceptualize extraterrestrial life outside a SETI model.  He birthed a genre midway between astrobiology and science fiction.  (See also Chapter Eight.)

9. Embryogenesis: Species, Gender, and Identity by Richard Grossinger
It was never just my book; it melds the collected wisdom of many biologists, osteopaths, and spirits who informed and educated me.  This work deconstructs the underlying bias of scientistic biology and foreshadows a new phenomenological science yet to be born—a kinesis of morphology and consciousness.  Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings: How the Universe Makes Life is a continuation of the same text.  (See also Chapters One, Nine, and Ten.)

10. Cell Talk: Transmitting Mind into DNA by John E. Upledger
If consciousness and intention can be packaged into psychosomatic bites, mutated effectively into unconscious spies, potentized, and delivered into cells and organelles, everything about medicine and health changes.  Dr. John doesn’t mince words here or try to convince the unbelievers.  He talks the talk as he walks the walk.  (See also Chapters Seven, Eight, and Ten.)

11. Hidden Casualities: Environmental, Health, and Political Consequences of the Persian Gulf War by Saul Bloom, John M. Miller, James Warner, and Philippa Winkler
You have to know that war is primarily about birds, bugs and worms in the soil, atmospheric carbon, water, cells, and genes, not Saddam Hussein, oil, jihad, tribal honor, or the Bush family.

12. Prisons: Inside the New America—From Vernooykill Creek to Abu Ghraib by David Matlin
When a society starts putting its arms and legs and half its youth behind bars and exports torture as a commodity, you know something has gone dreadfully wrong.  This is the indictment.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

13. Calm Healing by Robert Newman and Ruth Miller
These two wrote the textbook for twenty-second-century medicine—using mind, breath, yoga, and conscious movement not only to heal but to get to know your actual body (as opposed to the robot body of technological medicine)—your real phenomenological and somatoemotional soma and chakra-field with its secrets and intelligences.  I consider this totally neglected classic the fundamental spiritual healing book of all time.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

14. Cheng Hsin: Principles of Effortless Power by Peter Ralston
One could choose any of Ralston’s books for their blend of ontology and fighting, but this is the first and most basic of them, and it serves as a primer for an emergent field of human inquiry and practice—the real empirical martial arts and ontology of combat.  (See also Chapter Ten.)

15. Axial Stones: An Art of Precarious Balance by George Quasha
My old friend and nemesis GQ presents a syncretic mode of meditation and practice, which is also an artform with Stone Age implications, metaphysical overtones, and sculptural rigor.  Where Lao Tzu meets Henry Moore, where the samurai and the poet join hands to make a single gesture, where aesthetics and science pull each other’s bow, where energy meets matter and both encompass “chi force,” George’s axial art rests in dynamic repose—and this book is its documentation and account.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

16. The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma by Edward C. Whitmont
Whitmont, who during his life was a Jungian therapist as well as a homeopathic doctor, presents a very lucid proposition that healers, including M.D.’s, project their own unconscious complexes, hexes, and unresolved conflicts onto their patients as well as their intended cures.  Thus, the relative lack of personal development of a physician, and his unconscious ambivalence toward his role as the enemy of disease and death and the hero of modern science, may actually impede his treatments and graft new disease on his patients.  Likewise, a spiritually developed doctor or shaman has a special power to heal beyond particular pharmaceuticals, herbs, or surgeries.  (See Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine.)

17. Migraine Art: The Migraine Experience from Within by Klaus Podoll and Derek Robinson
This is simultaneously an encyclopedic taxonomy of migraine phenomena and epiphenomena and a phenomenological landscape of migraine.  It is the only book to go for the core and brainwave and qualia of what migraine is, rather than merely to diagnose, explain, and/or treat it.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

18. Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form: History, Philosophy, and Practice by Bira Almeida.  What makes this book special is the combination of an unbelievable rush of pure heart, pure spirit, and a revelatory vision so raw that you can taste it, in a text that is otherwise a perfect brief, concise illustrated history of an art form at precisely its imprecisely uncapturable convergence point of music, art, combat, and shamanism.  All our much longer capoeira books are a footnote to Bira’s text.  (See also Chapters Seven and Eight.)

19. Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World, edited by Martin Keogh.  The definitive environmental “book,” HPOF is so transparent and severe that you can look right through it and so sphinxlike and absolute that you might not see a thing.  It is heavy as a molecule of a neutron star and as light as nothing.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

20. The combination of Steps on the Stone Path: Working with Crystals and Minerals as a Spiritual Practice by Robert Sardello and Stone of the New Consciousness: Healing, Awakening & Co-creating with Crystals, Minerals & Gems by Robert Simmons, each with an introduction by the author of the other.  These works single-handedly introduce sleepy stones and alert crystals as our true co-creators of the universe and they offer discrete, practical ways to get back in touch with beings who populate the vast psychoid universe that encompasses us.  (See also Chapter Seven, Eight, and Nine.)

21. The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Charles Stein
For all the renderings and readings of this text, seminal to Western civilization, scholars and students have pretty much missed its grounding in pre-Aegean cosmology and its echoes of the origin of human consciousness and the original song.  Stein has found these and given us the closest thing to Homer singing to the English-speaking world. (See also Chapter Ten.)

Our Twenty-Two Best-Selling Books (in rough order of sales, based on a combination of all-time sales and present rate of movement, only through 2008)

1. Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, illustrated by Audrey Colman
If you nail the right one, a children’s book can leave the rest of the market in the dust.  (See also Chapter Nineteen; the back story is longer than the book.)

2. Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
This is The Joy of Cooking for the counterculture. Healing with Whole Foods is not only a brand but a lifestyle genre and food chain: “whole foods.”  For years the corporate WH market wouldn’t carry this book because some executive(s) thought we filched the title, even though the book was published well first.  (See also Chapters Two, Seven, and Twenty-Two.)

3. Nothing in This Book Is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are by Bob Frissell
Just the right mixture of irony, cosmic conspiracy, corny adventures, and occult exercises to do in your spare time at home.  Just the right combo of real and paranoid.  (See also Chapter Eight.)

4. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine
The textbook for a field of trauma-based body-mind medicine, Somatic Experiencing, Waking the Tiger launched a modality and a genre.  (See also Chapters Nine and Ten.)

5. Quantum Touch: The Power to Heal by Richard Gordon
It is remarkable that this simple, quick, easily teachable method of manual medicine, actually works for real people, as Gordon and his students demonstrate in regular workshops weekly around the world.

6. Your Inner Physician and You: CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release by John E. Upledger
The introduction to one of the most cutting-edge and growing health modalities by the field’s recognized master.  (See also Chapters Two, Five, and Ten.)

7. T’ai Chi Ch’uan: A Simplified Method for Health and Calisthenics by Cheng Man-Ch’ing
The handbook for what was once North America’s most popular Taoist set, this photograph-packed how-to had most of its sales over twenty years ago—and designer Paula Morrison’s secret: works like a flipbook.  (See also Chapter Two.)

8. Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You With Blessings by Rob Brezsny
Our own “Course in Miracles” by our house rock star.  (See also Chapters Two and Seven.)

9. The Book of Stones by Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian
The new crystal market was ready for a genre-defining book.  (See also Chapter Seven.)

10. Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousen
An encyclopedic, life-changing introduction to diet, lifestyle, and spiritual growth by a spiritually mature M.D.  (See also Chapters Seven and Eight.)

11. Deep Tissue Massage: A Visual Guide to Techniques by Art Riggs
The market cried out such an anatomy/practice book, and Riggs, a Rolfer, put in the time, investment, and labor to make it.  It utterly transcends the Rolfing market.

12. Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body: Chi Gung for Lifelong Health by Bruce Kumar Frantzis
The first and most lucid chi-gung manual, with the tail-wind of Big Bruce’s charisma.  (See also Chapter Eight.)

13. Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault by Ime Sde-or
This book by the system’s founder appeared on the market exactly as a krav maga fad was taking off, as the fighting techniques were being taught in the planet’s militaries and police departments as well as to Hollywood stars.

14. The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey, illustrated by Amanda Williams
This color atlas by our packager Lotus in England along with its “Concise Book” companions leapfrogged a crowded textbook market, especially among massage therapists and osteopaths.

15. When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak by Neil Hayes
The book came out just in time, when media coverage of the 151-game streak was at its most hyped and a season before it ended in a whimper; yet the inspirational tale still stands.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

16. The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever by Richard C. Hoagland
It doesn’t sell much anymore, but in its early years this startling proposition became an international news item and outsold the whole rest of our list put together.  (See also Chapter Seven.)

17. Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine by Gabriel Cousens and the Tree of Life Café Chefs
This was one of the more elegant groundbreakers in popularizing the market for “raw.”  (See also Chapters Seven and Eight.)

18. The Anatomy of Stretching by Brad Walker
This Lotus production sprinted through its first print run at the end of 2008 and is well on its way through a second just a hair into 2009.

19. 12 Steps to Raw Foods: How to End Your Dependency on Cooked Food by Victoria Boutenko
The queen of raw makes it easy for newcomers, and this is a user-friendly primer.  (See also Chapter Eight and later in this chapter.)

20. Flashing Steel: Mastering Eishin-Ryu Swordsmanship by Leonard Pellman and Masayuki Shimabukuro
I would not have pegged this title for transcending the martial-arts category, but never doubt the dazzle of a sharp blade and accompanying fancy footwork.  Zorro-chan, meet Mr. Miyagi.

21. Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs by Don Hamilton
Either people care more for their animal pets than humans or they are more willing to experiment with microdose similars on them.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

22. Childhood Ear Infections by Michael Schmidt (combined editions and versions)
This is a basic problem for which the medical establishment offers some standard very bad solutions.  Sales used to pick up sharply in the winter.  (See also Chapter Nine.)

Since this list was made, one would have to add, somewhere:

The Green Smoothie Revolution and Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko.

Superfoods, Eating for Beauty, and The Sunfood Diet Success System by David Wolfe.

In An Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine.

The Three or Four Best Projects Missed

Over the years I have turned down many books that I wished, later, I had accepted and published, and I have also lucked into books that I did not go after or personally peg as potentially successful projects (Walter and his flatulence being the primo example of the latter).  I will briefly describe here three-plus projects that stand out as blown opportunities.  One of them was truly a mistake.  On the second I think I made the wrong choice economically but the right choice philosophically and, on the third, things worked out in the long run.

In 1985 when North Atlantic was still in our home (on Blake Street), we were visited by José Arguelles, a long-time reader of our books, with a manuscript of his proposition called The Mayan Factor. It introduced the sacred Mesoamerican calendar and expounded on its implications for world transition, beginning with a soon-to-occur harmonic convergence of celestial bodies.  The concept, presented with irrepressible enthusiasm by José, sounded forced and silly to me at the time, but I liked his Mandala book and I didn’t want to belittle or embarrass him.  So I made the worst of all possible compromises, turning down the actual book but offering to excerpt three chapters in a forthcoming Io, the second Planetary Mysteries featuring the “face on Mars.”  I rejected The Mayan Factor myopically and short-sightedly without ever really considering its mythological promise, cultural and ideological richness, or our overall world-age and its shifting planetary perspective.  It was an unconscious throwback to my old elitist esoteric publishing attitudes, but then these were, relatively speaking, the early days of North Atlantic as a real book-trade company.   I still didn’t think enough in commercial or marketing terms.

José’s piece led to Planetary Mysteries selling out extraordinarily fast, but I assumed that that was because of the Martian “face.”  I failed, even with a second chance, to recognize what we had.  The Mayan Factor was eventually snapped up by Bear and Company, a press later conglomerated by Inner Traditions.  Bear’s publisher at the time, Barbara Clow, accused me, during a conference a couple of years later, of being a linear thinker as opposed to what she said she was, a spiral thinker.  My response at the time of her accusation was: “Barbara, who put you in charge of the ‘spiral thinker’ academy awards?”

I still think that her form of channeling is linear and does not take into account the real depth, complexity, and unconsciousness of the universe. But she was right in the case of the harmonic convergence.  I was the cynic and school marm, and she was the cosmonaut and rebel.

I finally got it—that is, about my mistake—as the book was selling hundreds of thousands of copies. I was hit over the head with it, in fact, again and again when José’s upcoming harmonic convergence was chatted up by Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner for four straight innings of a 1987 Mets game.  (See my Introduction to 2013 for a different and fuller version of this story.  Also note (Chapter Seven) that, through the Evolver Editions series, we did finally get a second shot at José more than twenty-five years after the Convergence.

About five years later Randy Cherner, my bodywork teacher, showed me a funkily self-published pamphlet by a chiropractor in Missouri named Marlo Morgan.  Mutant Message Down Under recounted her adventures, interactions, and initiation with Australian Aborigines along with receipt of esoteric Aboriginal knowledge.  Randy was high on the book and suggested that we should see if we could republish it in a more upscale format.

Despite his enthusiasm I didn’t like MMDU from the get-go; I thought it was poorly written and radiated “fraud.”  But I had always wanted badly to do something on Australian Aborigines and was still looking for ways to fund Warwick Nieass’s camel trek (see Chapter Two) so, against my better judgment, I corresponded briefly with Ms. Morgan.  She was dismissive and wanted to know only how much I would pay.  I finally bailed on the exchange, which was probably going nowhere.

The book was eventually purchased and republished by Harper Collins and it sold a lot of copies—a real lot—maybe in the millions.  However, the charge of “hoax” that attached to the story never left it—the general impression in the world at large was that Morgan was at best misleading and at worst had created a total fiction, a self-serving fabrication

She was also accused in many public forums, including the San Francisco Chronicle, of not following through on her written promises of donations of a portion of MMDU’s proceeds to Aboriginal groups.

This is the scuttlebutt anyway, and I can’t speak to book’s truth or mendacity.   Despite its extraordinary success I am glad that we didn’t publish it and get on the wrong side of indigenous authenticity or abuse of native peoples by Westerners with grabby agendas.

In 1999, our vision-improvement author Tom Quackenbush, having recently moved from the Bay Area to Ashland, Oregon, contacted me about a friend of his there,  a self-published author named Victoria Boutenko, who on Tom’s encouragement submitted her account of her “raw family” to North Atlantic.  With no understanding of the topic or its far-ranging applications and implications, I viewed the manuscript as a private and marginal scrapbook and turned it down without even serious consideration.

About ten years later Gabriel Cousens led us into raw foods, and we quickly went on to recruit many of the top raw-food authors.  Meanwhlle Victoria had become not only the lead author but the lead publisher in the “raw” field under her Raw Family imprint.

When we met again, I timorously proposed finally working together (on her terms, of course).  I admitted my mistake and failure of percipience.

The “raw” party was one that I didn’t come to until its success was evident.

Victoria replied graciously: “You weren’t wrong.  It just wasn’t the time yet.  And things turned out as they should have.  We’re working together now.”

Agreed.

For different reasons, as described in Chapter Eight, I made a similar mistake with Russell Targ.  I regarded his scientific/Dzogchen self-description as boastful arrogance—I mean who would claim to be an advanced scientist, successful psychic with a Defense Department resumé, and Dzogchen lama all at the same time except a made-up superhero?

Russell and I settled our score when we finally met face to face at my Aunt Suzanne’s salon in 2008, but I don’t know if we will ever publish him.

There is probably no publisher that hasn’t passed up successful books for reasons that, in retrospect, have looked myopic, silly, pig-headed, or some combination thereof.  For years I tried to interest Alan Kornblum, the founder and distinguished publisher of Coffee House Press, in picking up our precocious daughter’s first book of short stories.  Alan had seen her at ages one, two, and three midway through our odysseys back and forth to Vermont and California, as we used his Iowa City house as our Midwestern stopping point (he subsequently moved to Minneapolis).  I sent him a package of her work first when she was in high school and again when she was in college.  She was already using the pen name Miranda July.

He turned it down rather grumpily both times with something like, “No, I don’t publish my friends’ children; I haven’t sunk that low yet”—but that was nothing like how grumpy he got when he looked at me at trades shows in 2006 and 2007.  It didn’t help that I reminded him of the blown opportunity after her movie blossomed into an international hit.

Her first book of short stories got a six-figure advance from Scribners and then won the Frank O’Connor prize, an international fiction award, in Dublin.

That’s okay.  Think of all the publishers that turned down The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield or Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.

I like to think that I define myself as a publisher by the absolute certainty that I would have turned down the former, despite our New Age orientation, but would have jumped at the latter if it had been submitted to us, in fact with the same unrestrained enthusiasm that I showed for Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form and Naked Chocolate. I certainly hope so.  In fact, I am sure.

Chapter 12: Staffing | Table of Contents

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