I was supposed to publish Warriors Seven. It was meant to be. At least, that is what now seems clear to me.
The proposal for this manuscript arrived a year ago via email. It looked interesting and I studied it carefully. Everyone I discussed it with liked both the concept and the writing style. Unlike many independent publishers, we are blessed with an abundance of outstanding publishable manuscripts, so it was with some reluctance that I decided to hit the reply button and turn it down. Something nagged at me to hold off, to think more deeply about how and when to use the manuscript. A few days later the process repeated itself. I typed out my rejection, but at the last minute could not bring myself to click the "send" button. This happened several times. I am by nature a very decisive person, so this minuet at the keyboard was most unusual for me.
And then one day, with my forefinger poised over the "send" button, the phone rang. It was the author. When I identified myself, he replied, "This is Barney Sneiderman. You got a minute?"
"Sure," I replied, wincing at my own reply. It was an extraordinarily busy day, major deadlines loomed, and I had a stack of small fires to extinguish. The wide-ranging (and lengthy) conversation that followed covered everything from Barney's manuscript to ancient military history siege tactics, baseball, the state of current Civil War scholarship, religion, libertarian politics, the war in Iraq, and our respective families. I really regretted hanging up. That night I decided to accept his manuscript for publication, tentatively slating it for an appearance in Fall 2007. Like any author, the news delighted Barney, whose published scholarship thus far had all been in the field of law. Warriors Seven was his first venture into military history. Neither of us could have foreseen it would also be his last.
So began my relationship with Barney that ended with his untimely death from pancreatic cancer on May 28, 2006.
Over the ensuing months Barney and I spoke several times each week. Every conversation began exactly the same way: "Hi Ted, this is Barney. You got a minute?" I love talking about any aspect of history with anyone- especially people whose passion for the subject burns as brightly as my own. And so I always looked forward to his calls.
And then our relationship changed. In early December 2005 Barney called to tell me he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. "I have a few months," he told me in a remarkably calm, measured voice. "I guess I won't live long enough to see my book."
How does one react to such news? I tried to be upbeat, told him that doctors are often wrong-very wrong-and that he should ignore the timetable and live his life always looking forward.
"I agree," he answered, "but I have a form of cancer that is incurable, there is nothing anyone can do, and it is going to kill me."
I accelerated the schedule for Warriors Seven so it would appear in the summer of 2006. The new timetable energized Barney. "I will do my best to satisfy my obligations to help you meet that schedule, and hope I live long enough to hold a copy," he told me. "But I'm not counting on it."
For the next few months I lived with the Sneiderman family vicariously-experiencing through Barney how and when he told his young children (Robby, aged 10, and Miriam, aged 14) about his illness and their reaction to the terrible news, how his end would arrive, what his doctors were telling him at his checkups. "It is the most unusual existence you can imagine," he confided to me one afternoon. "I just got done with a long bike ride. I still ski. I feel great, and yet they tell me I will be dead soon. It is a nightmare I can't wake up from."
The nightmare only intensified. "Hi Ted, this is Barney. You got a minute?" he began one of our calls on a Friday afternoon in March 2006. "I am having some pain in my side. I hope I pulled something, but I think I know what it is."
"It's just a muscle or something, Barney," I replied in an effort to sound as positive as I could. "By Monday it will be gone." Neither of us believed it. He began taking morphine pills to ease his pain.
As the weeks passed we worked closely together on the jacket design, selected the photos that would appear inside the book, proofed the maps Ian Taylor, his friend and a graduate student at the University of Manitoba, drew for him, and discussed the finer points of the manuscript. I arranged with David Woodbury-a former publishing associate, outstanding writer and military historian in his own right, and an old friend-to edit the Warriors Seven essays. He knew we were crunched for time and worked accordingly. I reviewed each essay that arrived from David, had each formatted quickly, and forwarded them one at a time to Barney for his review. This work took weeks. According to Barney's wonderful wife Carla, these daily labors kept Barney's mind off more unpleasant thoughts as he read, edited, contemplated, and worked against time to finish his final book.
One particular aspect of the preparation of Warriors Seven will always remain with me. On a Tuesday afternoon I told Barney that the George Patton essay would reach him the following morning. The message Barney left for me on voicemail the following day illustrates his dry sense of humor and enduring wit in the face of what could only have been emotional agony:
Ted, this is Barney. According to Army intelligence, the 7th Army was supposed to appear off the coast of Casablanca by 1200 hours. It is now your time 14:30 hours and I am standing here anxiously with binoculars awaiting its appearance. I would appreciate a flare signal or some indication that Georgia is on his way. Take care.
I simply cannot bring myself to erase his voice.
As the days passed it became more and more obvious that the disease residing in Barney's body was winning the fight. "I just got back from the doctor, Ted, and I don't have good news," he told me one morning in late April. "The cancer is very aggressive and is spreading. My doctor says I have a few weeks, tops."
"Barney, you can't listen to the doctors. They are only guessing," I replied, fumbling unsuccessfully for the right words.
"I want you to do me a favor," he continued. "You have been doing a good job avoiding this subject every time I bring it up. Please change the dust jacket so it reads in the past tense. I won't be here to see the book, Ted."
"Nope," I answered. "You will be here, and I will be personally handing you a copy."
"I would love that more than anything," he responded. "I wish you would come up and we can drink some vodka, smoke some cigars, and solve the world's problems."
Barney loved baseball, a subject we spoke about often. When I told him about a new book we were working on called Playing with the Enemy: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and a Field of Broken Dreams, by Gary W. Moore, he asked if he could read it. I fed him a few chapters at a time even though the entire book was done. I did so in the hope it would give him something to look forward to. He was always anxious to receive the next installment, and we spent a lot of time on the phone discussing it. When I told him the movie rights had been sold, we spent thirty minutes one evening casting the production. "Who do you think for the Dodgers' scout?" he asked. "Hackman or Duvall?"
When he learned I managed a competitive little league team, Barney never failed to ask how the season was progressing. "How's the pitching?" "Did your son hit last night?" "Is there anything better than watching little guys who are still playing because they love the game and not the money?" In an effort to lift his flagging spirits, I arranged with Lawrence Divinagracia, the manager of the AAA Little League Oakland As, for our two teams to hold up a sign dedicating our game to Barney. I emailed him the photo. "I'm framing that," he told me before demanding all the details of the game.
"Ted, you know what is one of the worst things about cancer?" he told me one morning. "Fatigue. I am so damn tired. There is so much to do, but I can only edit a page or two before I have to stop." He paused. "I think I have a greater appreciation for Ulysses S. Grant now that I am living his final days."
The next day a FedEx package arrived-a box of books from Barney's library. He had already sent me several exquisitely detailed metal WWII fighter planes. "Barney, I can't accept these," I protested.
"What, you don't like or appreciate good books?" he asked facetiously. "Who else is going to take care of them for me like I know you will?"
Barney arranged a pre-publication book launch for Warriors Seven with McNally Robinson, a bookseller in Winnipeg, Canada, he frequented over the years. The event was slated for May 25, 2006. The catch was that they needed copies of the bound advance unedited galley to make it work.
As we all raced to meet this tight deadline Barney's condition worsened. "I had a bad night last night," he told me one Tuesday morning. "I could hardly breathe, my organs are so crushed. Carla gave me some morphine and it took away the anxiety and discomfort so I could sleep. I don't know what I would do without her."
The day before the May 25 event Barney called to tell me his unedited bound galleys had arrived. "I can't tell you how pleased I am," he said. "I am so proud of this. I hope you are, too. I just finished the final corrections for the last essay." I had never heard him sound so weak and out of breath. He was utterly exhausted. He needed help now just climbing in and out of bed, and was too weak to attend the event himself. "I taped something they can play on a TV screen there," he wheezed. "I hope someone shows up. I will call you Friday and let you know how it went."
When the phone rang Friday it was Carla. "Barney is too weak to call you himself, Ted," she said, "but he wanted me to tell you he would call you soon. The event was standing room only! One hundred and fifty people showed up. It was just unbelievable. We are all so grateful."
Friday slipped past without a call from Barney. Saturday came and went. I pretended not to know what it meant. At 3:24 p.m. on Sunday I received an email from Liora, Barney's oldest daughter and an attorney in Southern California. This is what it said:
Hi Ted, I am writing to let you know that my Dad passed away at approximately 1:00 p.m. earlier today. . . . I believe that it was, in large part, his work on the book and his excitement about it that kept him going these past few weeks. I was in the room with him one day last week when he was on the phone with you (it might have been Wednesday-it was after you received the package because you were talking about the Victory at Sea DVD), and I noticed that he had more energy when talking to you than I had seen or heard in the previous several days. I am so happy that he got to see the copies of the advance galley that you sent last week. He gave one to me and I will treasure it always. My Dad so wanted to meet you and I told him that I would contact you and go in his place.
A day or two later Carla filled me in on the final details of Barney's life. A bed had opened up in a hospice facility that Friday, but Barney wanted to wait until Monday before going in so he could spend one last weekend at home. By Saturday he had weakened to the point that professional help was required. Barney entered hospice that evening; he passed away quietly the following day. "The publication of this book was the only thing that kept him alive," explained Carla. "Once he finished editing the galleys and he knew that they were safely in your hands, he said 'I'm done now.'"
I never had the opportunity to personally meet Barney Sneiderman, but our conversations inspired me to be a better person-a better father, a better husband, and a better publisher. It was my Tuesdays With Morrie experience via telephone, email, fax, and letter. He helped me appreciate the little things to which I rarely gave much thought. Many people I have known and loved have died, but this was the first time a stranger had shared his personal life with me as he was dying. We became friends without ever having shaken hands or broken bread. That evening I sat on my deck while the sun set, smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of vodka on the rocks in memory of a friend who had passed. A second glass, resting on the table next to me, remained untouched.
Of course, many people knew Barney much more intimately than I, and for a much longer time. One is Bryan Schwartz, a law professor at the University of Manitoba. Bryan delivered a stirring "living eulogy" at the pre- publication book launch, and a similar tribute just days later at Barney's funeral. Bryan's words stir the soul and are worthy of deep contemplation. With his generous permission, his eulogy appears below in its entirety.
Theodore P. Savas
* * *
People approach the world in many different ways. Some of us try to
stand still in a safe and comfortable enclosure. Others run around frantically
and aimlessly. Some of us avert our eyes, others cast them upwards in hope of
some salvation or redemption. Barney engaged the world as a traveler. He
wanted to experience as many places, people, and ideas as he possibly could,
enjoy them, reflect upon them, and share with others what he had learned.
He traveled through the natural landscape, on foot, bicycles, boats,
cross-country skis, or small airplanes. He never worried about logging the
miles he had covered or gauging the speed with which he moved. The natural
world was to be enjoyed for its own sake. And if nature was in its uncultivated
form, if it was rugged or even wild, for Barney, so much the better.
He moved through the people-scape in much the same way. He was
interested in anyone at all who had a distinctive story to tell. He was never
impressed by credentials, titles, positions, or wealth. He had friends from the
learned professions, and he had friends who cut lawns or swept floors.
Barney could at times be amused by people behaving badly. Devoid
himself of any pretentiousness, he could be entertained by someone else’s
display of self-importance. Even more remarkably, Barney never felt
threatened by people behaving well. If someone else had actually
accomplished something special, Barney viewed the achievement itself with
admiration and wanted to know more about the person behind it. He could no
more begrudge some other person’s genuine success than he could be envious
of a mountain or sunset.
Barney ranged through the world of ideas with the same enthusiasm. The
scope of his writing was remarkable: law, ethics, social policy, and history.
The breadth and depth of his reading was stupendous. He did not read
abstractions about abstractions; he wanted to read books about human affairs
as they are and have been in the past, books that told stories and find in them
some pattern or paradox.
Barney defined his own itinerary, and persevered with it. He spoke with
the utmost respect and affection of his own father, who had been a small
town lawyer. Barney chose not to tie himself down to a set of clients and
causes. He chose instead a career that left him free to study, teach, and write
about whatever happened to engage his heart and mind.
Barney resisted being mired down by disappointments and injustices.
These he suffered, and some were profound. But in his times of sorrow he
liked to ask “What can you do?” and if the answer was nothing more, Barney
sighed and moved forward. I never actually heard him sing “April Showers,”
his musical selection for today, but I can just imagine him singing a few
phrases and then breaking into a rueful smile.
Barney’s path was never deflected by social pressures. He could walk
into a room of people whom he knew would not only dissent from his
opinions, but be outright indignant, and he would still go ahead and say what
he truly believed. He was a nonconformist in the realm of small talk no less
than big ideas. In a social situation, he never worried about what was socially
correct. He did not worry about the right thing to say or the wrong thing to
say; he just went ahead and said the Barney thing to say.
Barney wanted to see and understand the world for what it is, not what it
should be. He never put on protective cloak doctrines, myth, or wishful
thinking. His politics were libertarian and pragmatic, and he disdained
ideologues and fanatics of any stripe. When he faced his final illness, he did
so with unyielding realism. There was never any denial stage with Barney.
He put his affairs in order, and then, with undaunted determination, he
polished his last and most brilliant book and saw it all the way through to
publication. Just a few days before he passed away, he held copies in his
hands, signed one for each of his children, and videotaped an overview of it
that was shown to a packed audience at a local bookstore.
A man who defines himself and his own course through life; who is
immune to flattery and self-delusion; who faces the world and his own fate
with unflinching courage: these are the hallmarks of what Aristotle called “a
great souled man.” Yet to describe Barney as such would not do full justice
to his character and identity. He was open and gregarious, rather than
taciturn and reserved, a natural born democrat rather than an aristocrat. No,
Barney was a great souled mensch. He was not conventionally religious, but
he often said that he was Jewish to the core of his being. He had a
distinctively Jewish understanding of the absurdity of the human condition
and the mordant sense of humor that helps to make that understanding
I could tell you some of the funny and knowingly outrageous statements
that Barney would come up with; years and decades later, I remember many
of them, and they still make me laugh out loud. He could recount some of
them here and now, but this is not the time or the place. Barney, of course,
would have wanted me to simply go ahead and repeat them anyway.
A week ago, I was talking with Barney about family travel. We discussed
how expensive it could be. Barney said that you have to think of it as
investing in your memory bank: the trove of recollections that you could draw
upon when your children were all grown up. Let me tell you a few entries in
my own memory bank about Barney and his family.
I remember him telling me about the time Robby walked for the first time
without corrective shoes, and how it was the first time in years that Barney
had cried as a grown man, and that they were tears of joy.
I remember when Miriam was a baby, and Barney used to bring her to law
school while he picked up his mail or carried out some other business. Barney
was a proud, doting, and endearingly awkward older dad; he would carry
Miriam around in the crook of his arm at a slightly upright tilt, rather like
someone might leave a bakeshop holding a baguette.
I remember Barney telling me only a few days ago that he was
encouraging his daughter Liora to take a break from her busy and successful
career at some point, if she is so inclined, to travel and see the world.
One of our mutual friends pointed out over the weekend that Barney
seemed to become even more productive, not less, after he married Carla. He
traveled better with her as his companion. Her understanding and patience,
love, and support enabled Barney to go right on being Barney, only more so.
One of my favorite books is Paul Johnston’s Intellectuals. It presents the
biographies of famous thinkers and artists, and looks behind their glowing
public reputations. On close examination, their personal lives were rife with
hypocrisy, greed, and cruelty. Barney is the opposite case. The more closely
you knew him, the more you appreciated him. Casual observers might have
seen him as a stereotypical academic, someone benignly detached from the
real world. But the closer you were to Barney, the more you realized he was a
man of extraordinary practicality, honesty, constancy, kindness, and courage.
Barney and I met a quarter a century ago. We were colleagues, then
friends, then brothers. And now at last, as our travels together have come to
an end, he has become one of my very few heroes.
Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba