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Authors Are Throwing the Book at the President in Record Numbers—Plus What’s New for Summer Reading
When the Republicans gather in New York next month, they'll be doing so in an unusually angry climate. And it's not just candidates and pundits who are sniping. Increasingly, it's authors.
Out in the next two months are Senator Robert Byrd's Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency; New Republic senior editor John Judis's The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn From Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson; acerbic New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk; Mark Crispin Miller's Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order; and Sore Winners: (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America by John Powers.
An exception is A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush by Ronald Kessler, an August title likely to be more favorable.
"The intensity of the criticism is the highest I've ever seen—even going back to Nixon," says political writer Jack Germond, author of the new book Fat Man Fed Up: How American Politics Went Bad. "It's most obvious among the Democrats, who are just crazed to get Bush out of there. But it also seems to apply to a lot of other people who think that electing him was a terrible mistake."
Marji Ross, publisher of the conservative Regnery Books—which put out a stream of anti-Clinton books in the 1990s—has a different perspective.
"I don't see a huge preponderance of anti-Bush books," she says. "I certainly see books that are critical of decisions or policies in the administration. I'm not trying to split hairs, but Al Franken's book is about a lot of things, Bob Woodward's is recommended by the White House Web site, and Richard Clarke is obviously criticizing from the right, in a way. There's not a unified voice in criticizing Bush himself."
Bu t many, including Ross, do see a trend: the "real time" book published during the administration, rather than waiting to look back with some perspective.
"One of the interesting things about this trend," literary agent Robert Shepard says, "is that a couple of years ago if you tried to sell a book on the Bush administration, the response from editorial offices was likely to be that books from the left had to be funny. If you were Molly Ivins or Michael Moore, you could easily sell a book about Bush. If you were anyone else, you couldn't."
Now, he says, readers seem as eager for serious books from a liberal perspective.
Shepard represents one such author: Charles Tiefer, former solicitor of the House of Representatives, whose Veering Right: How the Bush Administration Subverts the Law for Conservative Causes will be out in September. Speaking of the time, a year and a half ago, when he tried to sell Tiefer's book to New York publishers—the University of California Press bought it—Shepard says: "We fell into that moment where you had to be funny. It's safe to say they realized belatedly that there was a market of readers fed up with this administration."
Peter Osnos, publisher of PublicAffairs Books—which recently released Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate by Robert Bryce—isn't convinced that the rate of antipresident books will continue beyond Bush.
"The polarizing effect of the last two administrations begins to make it look like a trend," he says, "but I don't know whether a different kind of president and set of facts would be different."
Publisher's Weekly editor-in-chief Nora Rawlinson is likewise cautious. But she acknowledges that the industry is picking up on something real in Bush's case.
"It seems that this administration is fairly secretive," she says, "so people feel they need to go further in depth to find out what's going on. They're perplexed about the decisions that were made, and I think they don't feel they're being adequately explained in the press. I'm not saying that's a fault of the news media—I'm saying there's a hunger to understand why we are where we are."
Wi ll these books have an effect on Election Day, or are their authors preaching to the choir?
Some are and some aren't, says Germond. Citing books like Clarke's Against All Enemies and Ron Suskind's book about former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, The Price of Loyalty, he says: "One of the places where Bush is losing ground is among suburban, moderate Republicans and independents. A lot of these are people who buy books, and if they have a suspicion that the President's not up to the job, they read these books, and the books give them a reason to vote against him.
"But I must say I don't think Franken's books help the Democrats particularly. People who read them already know where they are."
David Mark, editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine, shares that view: "I don't think these books change a lot of minds—they're preaching to the convinced. But that's important in a year like this because the electorate is so divided. Campaigns have found that their best use of resources and time is often to go after the already committed to make sure they actually go to the polls. In that sense, these books could help turn out the Democratic base."
Most agree that these confrontational books are here to stay for the time being.
"If you're looking for the proverbial silver lining in rage," Osnos says, "it's that books are so relevant. At a time when the Internet, talk radio, cable TV, and all these other things that compete for attention are getting stronger and stronger, the idea that the book remains a successful format for passing along information and argument is a good thing."
Ar lington's Paul Jaskunas looks at the reliability of memory in Hidden, a novel about a woman who sends her husband to jail for abuse, then finds out years later another man has confessed. The book is the Washingtonian Book Club's July selection; for information, go to washingtonian.com.
Also this month, critics' darling Richard Bausch—who teaches writing at George Mason University—is out with his latest: Wives & Lovers, a collection of three novellas.
Off-center Washington Post Style-section writer Hank Stuever gathers some of his newspaper pieces in Off Ramp: Adventures and Heartaches in the American Elsewhere.
Post assistant managing editor Eugene Robinson, who runs the Style section, has written Last Dance in Havana: The Final Days of Fidel and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution.
In Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media, conservative watchdog L. Brent Bozell III continues his argument that news coverage leans left.
It's hard to tell from the title, but How to Eat Like a Republican: Or, Hold the Mayo, Muffy—I'm Feeling Miracle Whipped Tonight pokes more fun at Democrats than Republicans, celebrating the eating habits of the right. Susanne Grayson Townsend includes recipes such as Senator Goldwater's Chili and Rush's Mom's Fluffy Potato Casserole.
Fans of Washington columnist William Safire can revisit his work in The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular "On Language" Column in the New York Times Magazine.
Happy Days Are Here Again: The 1932 Democratic Convention, the Emergence of FDR—and How America Was Changed Forever by Steve Neal looks back on the days when political conventions had some suspense. Neal, a political writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, died this year.
Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 is by Bryan Burrough, author of Barbarians at the Gate.
Next month, look for FDR and Lucy: Lovers and Friends by Resa Willis, about President Roosevelt and his mistress.
Also in August: Shenandoah Summer by John Jaffe—pen name of Silver Spring husband and wife John Muncie and Jody Jaffe—is about an artist and a drama teacher drawn together at a Virginia artists' colony. Their previous novel was Thief of Words.
In The Empty Room: Surviving the Loss of a Brother or Sister, Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn tells of her brother's death as well as other people's stories. A patient at the National Institutes of Health, he was one of the inspirations for a 1970s TV movie starring John Travolta about "the boy in the plastic bubble."
Ken Foskett looks at one of the Supreme Court's more controversial justices in Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas.
Dennis Ross, chief peace negotiator for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has a lot to say—nearly 900 pages' worth—in The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace.
Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington is a biography of the great blues singer by DC writer Nadine Cohodas.