Richard Bach was born June 23, 1936, in Oak Park, Illinois. He attended Long Beach State College for a year, and on October 15, 1957, he married Bette Jeanne Franks, with whom he had six children. The couple was divorced in 1971. Bach served in the Air Force as a pilot from 1956 to 1959 and again from 1961 to 1962. From 1961 until 1964 he was an associate editor of Flying magazine. He is currently a freelance writer, air-show pilot, and mechanic.
Until 1972, Richard Bach was the little- known author of three books in praise of flying and many articles in flying magazines. Then, with the fame of Jonathan Livingston Seagull he became a barnstorming author who spoke for popular consciousness. The cause of the change, Bach said, was a "voice" that he heard in 1959 that spoke the words "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and then proceeded to dictate the book up to the point where Jonathan is ostracized by the flock. Then the dictation stopped, and it was eight years later that Bach woke one night knowing how to finish the story.
Although the story was serialized in Private Pilot, it fit no clear niche in the publishing marketplace. The manuscript was submitted to over twenty-five publishers before being accepted. Published without fanfare in 1970, it languished for eighteen months before catching the attention of the drug subculture and eventually becoming required motivational reading throughout business and industry. Illustrated with delicate photographs of seagulls, the book became a popular "coffee table book," and its simple language facilitated a large number of translations.
Bach's three earlier books—Stranger to the Ground (1963), Biplane (1966), and Nothing by Chance: A Gypsy Pilot's Adventures in Modern America (1969)—were celebrations of flying, and were critically well-received, and Bach was compared with Antoine St. Exupery as a rhapsodic writer pilot. Stranger to the Ground was commercially successful, selling 17,000 copies.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull reawakened the general public to the powerful metaphor of flight. Though many critics decried its cliches and truisms, the book's message lent itself to inspiring and justifying individual endeavor, from meditation to engineering. The book rose to the best-seller list through the back door, and remained there for nine months. It sold over a million hardback copies, breaking the record set by Gone with the Wind. The subsequent sale of paperback rights for $1.1 million set another publishing record.
Among the mixed reviews, some critics complained that the allegorical structure of Bach's book could mean whatever anyone chose it to mean. However, critics also regarded the flight passages as distinctively evocative and predicted that the book would long remain popular. Bach elaborates on the success of Jonathan Livingston Seagull in two other best-selling books—Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah and The Bridge Across Forever: A Love Story.