Unabomber finds literary success behind bars

Book publishers and magazines give Theodore Kaczynski a platform for his incendiary views.

By Craig Offman

Published August 31, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

For a guy who literally had to kill to get his ideas printed in the New York Times, the Unabomber, aka Theodore Kaczynski, the incarcerated mastermind of an 18-year terror campaign that led to 28 injuries and claimed three lives, has been on something of a roll lately. As the New York publishing house Context Books gears up to publish "Truth Versus Lies," Kaczynski's literary debut, in October, the resident of the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo., can now call himself a contributor to Off!, a student magazine at SUNY-Binghamton. Kaczynski is also the subject of a very long profile in McSweeney's, the eccentric literary magazine and Web site.

"It's 23,000 words, but it cooks," McSweeney's editor David Eggers said of the piece. "Ted's a lot more normal than it seems, and a lot weirder." The article, "In the Kingdom of the Unabomber," a memoir of a correspondence with Kaczynski written by psychologist Gary Greenberg, is as much about Greenberg as it is about the Unabomber. "We had some common interests," Greenberg writes. "We'd both lived in cabins without modern conveniences, shaken our fists at airplanes, and read Jacques Ellul."

In an excerpt on the McSweeney's Web site, Greenberg includes a letter he wrote to Kaczynski requesting his cooperation on a biography of the convicted killer. After consulting his attorney, the Unabomber responded to Greenberg's proposal. "The first letter itself wasn't much: a four-page, single-spaced document, handwritten with a pencil," Greenberg observed. "[It] conveyed a sharp rationality, a sharp intellect, and a distinct courtliness." (For copyright reasons, Greenberg is not permitted to quote from Kaczynski's letters.)

Kaczynski has also recently written "Ship of Fools," a 12,000-word blast against leftist idealism, which appears in Off! and on Context's Web site. Context, which will publish Kaczynski's 368-page memoir in October, will take profits from the book, but publisher Beau Friedlander says that Kaczynski's portion of the proceeds will go to the victims of the attacks and their families. "We've talked about other projects," Friedlander said. "But first things first."

Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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