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Posted on Feb 8, 2004 in History News

Canadian-Born Publisher Launches Armchair General

Editorial Staff

The Canadian-born publisher of a wildly successful line of fitness magazines has moved out of the gym and on to the battlefield, launching a magazine on military history to breathe life into wars both ancient and new. Eric Weider, whose family sold Weider Publications in 2002 to a giant media corporation, has set off on a new venture, Armchair General, a bimonthly magazine for what he calls “the history buff in all of us.”

“History is about people, not about names, dates or places. That’s a little bit of what I’m trying to do with Armchair General, to remind people about these fantastic stories,” Mr. Weider said yesterday in an interview from his Woodlawn, Calif., office. “Once you can relate to it on a human level, it becomes fascinating: people are interested in people.”

The glossy magazine, which began appearing on North American newsstands this weekend, is filled with pictures and colourful art of battles, generals and weaponry of every description. But it also includes features such as a series entitled “You Command” to put readers in the boots of famous generals or in the ranks during major battles and letting them make the historical choices – and the mistakes.  “I’m using techniques to try to get people to get involved in the story, rather than just read about it passively,” Mr. Weider said.

“What Next General” puts readers inside the tent of Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the pivotal U.S. Civil War battle at Gettysburg.

“Interactive Combat” crams them into a Second World War tank on D-Day. “You take the place of a character, whose name is Sergeant Devin, the commander of a Sherman tank that’s about to land on Omaha Beach,” Mr. Weider said. “We tell you the story as if you were there and you reach decision points where we ask you, ‘Do you turn left or do you turn right?’ Based on the choice you make, you go to a different page in the magazine and the story unfolds differently. Sometimes it unfolds quite badly and you have to go back and start again. “It gives you a little sense of what these guys experienced.”

The Weiders sold their health and fitness magazines, including Shape, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Muscle & Fitness Hers, Flex, Fit Pregnancy and Natural Health, to American Media Inc., one of the largest media companies in the United States and the publisher of the National Enquirer. And while Mr. Weider acknowledges his new magazine – which has an initial distribution of 95,000 – is unlikely to challenge the nine million readers of the fitness magazines he once ran, he said with a laugh that Armchair General promises to be a lot more fun to publish. “You have to think outside the box a little bit…. It’s a heck of a lot harder to put together an interactive and somewhat hypothetical article than an actual historical article.”

He hopes to build the magazine’s readership above a quarter million, based on what he sees as a largely untapped audience of history fans in the United States and Canada. “I started this with the belief that more people than you’d think are interested in history. It’s just that there’s not a lot of products that speak to them,” he said. “My research suggests that there are 10 million military history buffs out there, and that’s a pretty large audience.”

The magazine promises to cover as broad a historical spectrum as possible, from Alexander the Great to last year’s invasion of Iraq, but Mr. Weider said that much of the focus will be on two conflicts that have continued to fascinate the American public: “World War Two and the American Civil War: That’s what the majority of our readers want.” Mr. Weider admits with a chuckle that part of the reason for that focus is personal. “For me, it’s World War Two … that’s my personal real passion.”

But despite having a publisher born in Montreal – Mr. Weider is now a U.S. citizen and has lived in California for the past 15 years – Armchair General is unlikely to feature much in the way of Canadian content. But Mr. Weider said he would not rule it out entirely. “There are lots of great stories from the War of 1812, and we’ll probably cover the battle for Quebec, on the Plains of Abraham, which was a great and important battle.”

National Post
Chris Wattie
Senior National Reporter