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Current Events

The publication and sale of current events and political commentary books tend to spike during presidential election years. The new millenium saw a longer trend line for such books because of the disputed election of 2000, the terror attacks of 9/11, the run-up to the Iraq War, and the contentious election of 2004. The resulting culture wars (the election of 2000 divided the nation into red and blue states) were so intense and vitriolic, that by 2004 the country was suffering from battle fatigue. Even though category sales continued to rise in 2004, only John O’Neill’s Unfit for Command and Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack made Publishers Weekly’s nonfiction Bestseller List for that year. The year before, books by Al Frankan, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Moore, and Ann Coulter anchored the nonfiction list. According to Simba Information’s Business of Consumer Book Publishing, current events and political commentary books generated sales of $255.2 million in 2006, an increase of 4.6% over 2005, and a staggering 50% since 2002. In 2006, sales in this category accounted for 4% of total consumer spending on books. The five leading publishers of current events and political commentary books generated sales of $199.1 million in 2006, or 78% of category revenues. The top five houses are Simon & Schuster, Random House, Penguin Group, HarperCollins, and Perseus Books.

Among all the players in the trade, only Amazon consistently assigns a current events subject heading to books. It’s all we have to quantify new title output for this category. Searching on hardcovers (to filter out nonbook items) classified by Amazon as current events, we find that some 3,000 new current events and political commentary books are published annually. Output appeared to peak in 2003, but after declining in 2004 and 2005, the number of new titles spiked in 2006 to a new high. The graph below shows the trend in new title output for current events books since 2002:

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Current events and political commentary is probably the most star-studded adult nonfiction category. In recent years, names like Thomas Friedman, Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Bob Woodward have dominated the national conversation. Friedman’s The World is Flat, has sold more than 2.4 million copies in hardcover, and the just-released trade paper edition should sell enough to push the grand total well over 3 million; Woodward’s trilogy on the run-up to the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns has sold over 2.2 million copies in hardcover; and Bill O’Reilly’s last couple of hardcover bestsellers have sold just under 2 million. A few years back, Michael Moore seemed to find the right formula, selling almost 1.5 million in hardcover. Ann Coulter’s last two bestsellers have sold just under 1 million in hardcover, and her just-released tantrum is climbing the charts.As of this writing, the hottest titles in the current events and political commentary category are:

  • Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (Doubleday)
  • Ann Coulter’s If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans (Crown)
  • Naiomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Henry Holt)
  • Laura Ingraham’s Power to the People (Regnery)
  • Mearsheimer & Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Strous and Giroux)
  • Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint’s Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors (Thomas Nelson)
  • Bill Clinton’s Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (Knopf)
  • Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal (Norton)
  • Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofacism (Doubleday)

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Environmentalism, politics, the culture wars, Iraq, and the clash of civilizations are the focus of recent deals by publishers. Below are a few of the more interesting current affairs titles from Michael Cader’s deals database, along with the original descriptions:

  • THE PALACE WAR, by NYT reporter David Cloud and WSJ reporter Greg Jaffe. About the four generals — John Abizaid, George Casey, Peter Chiarelli, David Petraeus — who’ve proved most influential in the conduct of the Iraq War, revealing how the Army’s winnowing process led to their ascension, and how each man’s theories about modern warfare have been — and are being – tested. (Crown)
  • THROUGH ISLAMIC EYES: Another Perspective on World History, by Tamim Ansary. A narrative of world history as it is understood by the Islamic world — a story that both intersects with and diverges from the Western narrative. (Public Affairs)
  • TOO HOT: China’s New Economy and Global Warming, by Former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Robert Collier. A first-hand account of China’s disastrous “carbon footprint.” (University of California Press)
  • CIRCLE OF GREED: The Rise and Fall of the Most Feared Lawyer in America, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Patrick Dillon and Carl Cannon. About the rise and fall of Bill Lerach of Milberg, Weiss, Lerach, once the leading class-action lawyer in America and now a convicted felon, a morality tale of greed and corruption in the legal and corporate worlds, set against the biggest financial boom in our history, pitched as in the spirit of Conspiracy of Fools and The Brightest Boys in the Room. (Doubleday)
  • THE ENEMY WITHIN: The FBI and the Search for National Security, about the Bureau’s long practice of sweeping up loyal Americans in its dragnets and the deep disorganization within its own ranks, and THE MOST POWERFUL FORCE ON EARTH: How the American Military Shaped the World, both by NYT Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tim Weiner. (Random House)
  • STUFFED AND STARVED: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, by Raj Patel. A global investigation from the “green deserts” of Brazil and protester-packed streets of South Korea to bankrupt Ugandan coffee farms and barren fields of India that reveals how a few powerful, rich food distributors control the health of the entire world. (Melville House)
  • GREEN IS THE NEW RED, WHITE AND BLUE: A Manifesto, on how green has gone mainstream, by NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman . (Farrar, Straus)
  • AIN’T GONNA TAKE IT NO MORE: HOW ANGRY BLACK MEN ARE CHANGING AMERICA, by Law professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler. About the effects of mass incarceration and racial profiling on young African-American men, whose anger and distrust of government is transforming society through jury nullification and the mainstream appeal of a subversive hip-hop culture, demonstrating a need for change in our criminal justice system. (New Press)

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3 Responses to “Current Events”

  1. jmia wright May 27, 2008 at 4:01 am #

    wat up

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