Praeger, Frederick Amos

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Praeger, Frederick Amos

(b. 16 September 1915 in Vienna, Austria; d. 28 May 1994 in Boulder, Colorado), founder of a publishing company noted for its books on communism, art, and controversial issues.

Praeger was the only child born to Max Mayer Praeger, an Austrian publisher who also was the managing director of a newspaper, and Manya Foerster Praeger. He attended the University of Vienna’s school of law and political science from 1933 to 1938. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1934. As a student he was one of Austria’s best runners, becoming Vienna’s interscholastic champion in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races, and running on relay teams that set national records. He won eighty medals. As a Jew, he noted, “there was a symbolic satisfaction in literally running ahead of my anti-Semitic opponents.”

From 1935 to 1938 he was associate editor of R. Loewit Verlag, the publishing house owned by his father. He was also a part-time sports writer. After Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, he was arrested, and following his release from prison, Praeger immigrated to the United States.

He held thirty jobs in twenty states, including furniture-mover, short-order cook, jewelry salesman, and assistant manager of a group of Kansas City, Kansas, jewelry shops. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1941. When World War II started, Praeger joined the United States Army as a private. He was a research and editorial assistant and military intelligence instructor, and participated in five European campaigns. He was awarded the Bronze Star and a field commission as a second lieutenant. Meanwhile the Holocaust that accompanied the war in Europe claimed the lives of his father and mother, who died in Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Teriesenstadt, respectively.

Returning to the United States after the war, Praeger founded a book-export business. In 1950 he borrowed $ 4,000 from friends to publish two British analyses of international law, and although they sold only 1,500 copies each, he considered the venture enough of a success that he founded Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., and Inter Books, Inc., a subsidiary responsible for some of his activities overseas.

Praeger accepted for publication a manuscript by Milovan Djilas, former vice president of Yugoslavia, after it had been rejected by several publishers in the West. Once an ardent communist, Djilas had become disillusioned with the system he had helped establish in Yugoslavia, and in The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System —published by Praeger in 1957—he made the case that Communism had established a class structure even more rigid than the one it replaced. Part of the manuscript was sent to Praeger and the rest had to be smuggled out of Yugoslavia because Djilas was under arrest at the time. Unfortunately, Djilas was sentenced to seven additional years in prison for consenting to the book’s publication. Praeger retained a United States attorney to represent Djilas at his hearing, but the lawyer could not obtain a visa to go to Yugoslavia. Djilas was eventually released in 1966.

Praeger received the Carey-Thomas Award in 1957 from R. R. Bowker Company for outstanding creative publishing in obtaining and offering the Djilas book. When he accepted the prize, he indicated that the book was a “professional dream of glory. I wanted to find an intellectual weapon of enormous explosive force, preferably written from inside the Communist orbit by a man… with a great name, integrity and determination to seek out truth and defend it—a weapon in the form of a book which could … be effective in the areas such as the Soviet orbit and the neutralist and uncommitted countries.”

In 1957 Praeger also published The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party by Howard Fast, an author and former communist who had renounced his previous convictions. The company also published the early works of dissident Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963).

In 1956 Praeger began another phase of his publishing interests when the firm issued an art book, Picasso: A Study of His Work by Frank Elgar; A Biographical Study by Robert Maillard, including reproductions in six colors and in black and white. The printing of 38,000 copies sold out, an impressive achievement for an art book. In 1958 Praeger and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City entered into an exclusive contract for Praeger to be the publisher and distributor of the museum’s books. The following year he published Four American Expressionists: Doris Caesar, Chaim Gross, Karl Knaths, Abraham Rattner and Zorach for the museum.

In 1966 Praeger sold the publishing company to Encyclopaedia Britannica, and two years later he ended his last ties to the publishing house. He then returned to Vienna for six years and invested in publishing properties in Germany. When he returned to the United States, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, and founded the Westview Press in 1975. The company issued scholarly scientific and technical books in relatively inexpensive, unjacketed, camera-ready typewritten editions. He sold Westview in 1989 to SCS Communications, and he remained as publisher and vice chairman until his retirement in 1991. He was estimated to have published close to 10,000 titles during his lifetime.

Praeger was married three times and had four daughters. He married Cornelia E. Blach on 8 May 1946. They were divorced (she died in 1993), and he married Heloise Aronson. That marriage, too, ended, and on 18 December 1983 Praeger married Kellie Masterson. Physically he was five feet, eight inches tall, weighed 175 pounds, and had brown eyes and hair. He had no religious or political affiliations and was interested in skiing, tennis, swimming, and art.

Praeger, who experienced complications arising from a stroke, chose not to take nourishment and died as a result. He was cremated and his ashes scattered. After his death, the Westview Press donated money in his honor toward a full scholarship at the University of Denver Publishing Institute, of which he was one of the founders.

Praeger was interested in creating controversy in the international studies arena. He once said, “I have always tried to be unconventional, even a bit outrageous. I have also always been willing to pay the price. Being controversial, at times even unpopular, is the premium one pays for being different.”

Profiles of Praeger include an article in Current Biography (1959) and an interview in Publishers Weekly (2 Apr. 1979). His obituary is in the New York Times (2 Apr. 1979).

Martin Jay Stahl

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