Bach, Richard (1936-)

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Bach, Richard (1936-)

Writer on aviation who became famous with his book Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Macmillan, 1970; Avon, 1973), written as a result of psychic experience over a period of several years. He was a U.S. Air Force pilot from 1956 to 1959 and a technical writer for Douglas Aircraft and associate editor of Flying magazine from 1961 to 1964. Bach was also a director of the Antique Airplane Association and editor of its magazine Antiquer, and did some airplane barnstorming in the Midwest. His early books include Stranger to the Ground (1963), Biplane (1966), and Nothing by Chance: A Gypsy Pilot's Adventures in Modern America (1969).

In 1959, while living at Belmont Shore, California, Bach was walking by the waterfront when he heard a disembodied voice say "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." This was followed by a kind of daydream of a seagull flying alone at sunrise, and a realization of its significance. Bach felt impelled to write this down, using a green ballpoint pen and some old scratch paper (the only writing materials handy), and completed the first part of the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull up to the point of Jonathan's expulsion from the flock. Not until eight years later in Iowa, 1,500 miles away, did the next section of the book come to Bach in a dream. He immediately typed it out and sent it to a magazine, but it was instantly rejected. Next he sent it to Private Pilot, which published it reluctantly at below regular rate, but the reader response was so great that the publisher demanded more seagull stories. Bach sat down at his typewriter and, with virtually no rewriting, knocked out the second and third parts of the J. L. Seagull saga, duly published as magazine stories.

The stories were published in book form through the judgment of Eleanor Friede, then an editor at Macmillan (now president of Eleanor Friede Books), who had an intuition about the book. Within two years the book sold over one million copies, was on best-seller lists for nearly a year, became a Book of the Month Club choice, was condensed by Reader's Digest books, and was translated into a dozen languages. It was banned only by the People's Republic of China for no very clear reason, but as composers Beethoven and Mozart also shared this prohibition at that time, Bach thought J. L. Seagull was in very good company.

The widespread success of Jonathan Livingston Seagull lies in its simple but inspiring allegory, with spiritual and psychic overtones. It embodies Bach's own philosophy, "Find what it is you want in the world to do, and then do it." Bach does not ascribe his inspired story to any psychic entity, in spite of the strange way it was manifested, but believes that part of his personality on an unconscious level was communicating with his everyday self. However, he has also had several psychic experiences, including out-of-the-body travel and healing.

His later books include A Gift of Wings (1974); Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977); There's No Such Place as Far Away (1979); One (1988); Running From Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit (1995); and Out of My Mind: The Discovery of Saunders-Vixen (1999).


Bach, Richard. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. New York: Delacorte Press, 1977.

. Jonathan Livingston Seagull. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

. One: A Novel. New York: William Morrow, 1988.

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Bach, Richard (1936-)

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