The Avid Reader September 2008
In This Issue:

» Recommended Reads on Politics

» Political Biographies

» Shelf Talk: Take A Spin Around Political Books

» August's Most Expensive Books Sold

» Contests

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Politics… an ever present fact of life, or should that be strife? Politics is also an ever present fact of publishing and has been for centuries. Barely a month passes without the release of another "hard-hitting" book from an insider or a new memoir from a leader who has stepped away from the limelight. Sadly, the vast majority of political books are duller than ditchwater so the mission of this Avid Reader is to prove political books can be interesting and we're taking a political world tour to prove the point.

As with all things political, a healthy dose of Father Time can help decide the true worth of a political book. Some politicians and their writings fade away, while others - such as Ghandi, JFK, Churchill, Mandela and Disraeli - continue to shape today's political landscape.

The American presidential election has already been heavily shaped by literature - Sarah by Kaylene Johnson came from nowhere just like Sarah Palin herself, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope energized his initial campaign through a high profile book tour and John McCain's Faith of My Fathers revealed how he became a national hero in the Vietnam War to a new generation of voters - but we're going to delve deeper into the past and go further afield than the States.
Sarah Palin

Barack Obama

John McCain
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A selection of recommended reads from world politics

Complete fiction, imprisonment and freedom, acts of bravery and drinking a lot of beer very fast - just some of the topics covered in this selection of political books.
Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics by Anonymous

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics
by Anonymous

Never mind the truth behind today's American presidential candidates, let's start with fiction. Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics was released in 1996 by 'Anonymous,' later revealed to be a journalist called Joe Klein. Although it is fiction, it is based on Bill Clinton's 1992 bid to become president. It's a gripping read as a young black aide to the candidate Jack Stanton rides the rollercoaster of politics. If you were gripped by the West Wing on the box then you'll love this book - media scandals, a flawed candidate from a small southern state, skeletons in the closet and push-pull relationships in the heat of political battle. Never has political fiction been so accurate.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom
by Nelson Mandela

One of the dominant political books from the mid-1990s, Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela's autobiography. Let's not forget Mandela spent 27 years in prison yet still managed to shape a new version of South Africa after winning the struggle against apartheid. The book details a monumental shift in African politics as well as the early influences of his life and fight against apartheid with the African National Congress. Copies signed by Mandela himself are exceptionally collectible and worth a small fortune - if you have one, treasure it.

Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy

Profiles in Courage
by John F Kennedy

Barack Obama wasn't the first American politician to use a book to further his political career. Back in 1956, John F Kennedy published Profiles in Courage, a book that detailed acts of bravery by eight US senators. Kennedy is supposed to have written the book while recovering from back surgery but there is an on-going debate about whether it was ghost-written. Either way, Profiles in Courage gave JFK a nationwide media profile and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957. Here was a handsome young hero from World War II identifying himself with yet more courage and integrity - by 1960, JFK was in the White House and the rest is history.

The Hawke Memoirs by Bob Hawke

The Hawke Memoirs
by Bob Hawke

Can you imagine Barack Obama as America's beer drinking champion? Probably not. (Did you see him at the bowling alley?) Bob Hawke was Australia's prime minister from 1983 until 1991 and it could be argued his political career was built upon claiming the world record time for drinking a yard of ale while a student at Oxford University. A yard of ale contains 1.7 litres - Hawke downed it in 11 seconds and this odd fact, as he admits in his memoir, endeared him to beer-loving Australians. Hawke's tenure saw massive economic and social change in Australia and it is said Tony Blair was influenced by his policies. Take a trip Down Under for politics Aussie-style.

Recommended Political Biographies
Churchill: A Biography
by Roy Jenkins

Winston Churchill is famed as Britain's bulldog spirit prime minister during World War II but he was also an army officer, war correspondent, artist and Nobel-Prize winning writer. He fought in India, the Sudan and South Africa where he became a British hero for escaping from a Boer prison camp and journeying 300 miles to freedom. Roy Jenkins - a key parliamentarian in the 1960s and 1970s, and Britain's only president of the European Commission - understands Churchill's political impact more than any other biographer.
Churchill: A Biography by Roy Jenkins

Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
by Katherine Frank

Indira Gandhi was elected as India's prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 until being assassinated in 1984. India's only female prime minister and the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first leader after independence, Gandhi had huge influence during the 1970s before becoming embroiled in separatist politics that led to her death. She was killed by two Sikh bodyguards while walking through gardens to be interviewed by the actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a TV documentary. From Julius Caesar to Lincoln, JFK and Benazir Bhutto, murdered politicians abound … it's not a profession for the faint-hearted.
Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank

Tom Driberg
by Francis Wheen

Political biographies don't have to be about prime ministers and presidents to be readable. Tom Driberg was an outrageously gay Labour politician in Britain from the 1940s until the 1970s famed for his sexuality as much as his politics. In his own autobiography, Ruling Passions, Driberg admitted to having a compulsive desire for casual sexual encounters. Winston Churchill once said of him: "Tom Driberg is the sort of person who gives sodomy a bad name." Bizarrely, Driberg was expelled from the Communist Party after being suspected of spying for the British secret service but he was later also accused of spying for the KGB.
Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions by Francis Wheen

Public Servant, Secret Agent: The Elusive Life and Violent Death of Airey Neave
by Paul Routledge

March 30, 1979 was a sad day in British politics - the Irish National Liberation Army murdered Airey Neave in a car bomb attack inside the House of Commons parking lot and concluded one of the most remarkable political stories of the 20th century. During World War II, Neave escaped from Colditz and became an intelligence agent eventually serving at the Nuremberg Trials. He was also Margaret Thatcher's campaign manager when she became the first female leader of the Conservative Party. Conspiracy theories abound about his death - some blame the British secret service.
Public Servant, Secret Agent: The Elusive Life and Violent Death of Airey Neave by Paul Routledge

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Shelf Talk: Take A Spin Around Political Books
by Richard Davies - PR Manager; Resident Brit.

Politicians who lack of a love for books and writing depress me. You'd think since politicians make their living by the careful choice and use of very particular words that more of them would relish books and literature. All too often we see a super dull memoir published as a politician's last hurrah before they embark on a financially rewarding lecture tour.

Earlier this year, I saw Gordon Brown, prime minister of the UK, speaking about his love of books at the London Book Fair. It was probably one of his easiest public engagements this year - clearly, he draws pleasure (cue a mention of loving Harry Potter to secure the popular vote) but also political inspiration (cue a mention of loving Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth for the eco vote) from his reading. Actually, he was totally genuine about his adoration of books and he impressed everyone in the room.

Barack Obama is also bookish but what interests me most about him is how he used a book as a way of building support for his presidential bid. He reads, he writes and he appeared at bookstores to rally the faithful before formally announcing his intention to stand as a Democratic contender. Prices for signed first editions of his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, are now off the scale. His second book, The Audacity of Hope, was clearly designed to move forward his reputation as a political mover and shaker - look at the title.

Some of you will remember a gentleman called John F Kennedy. His 1956 book Profiles in Courage was a clever way of pushing his credentials as one of the bright young things in American politics. He had spent six years in Congress and only been a senator for three years when the book was published. However, his war-time experiences (his torpedo boat was sunk by the Japanese and he swam to an island while carrying a wounded man) had been widely publicized in magazines and on radio, so he already had a reputation for bravery. The book enhanced Kennedy's reputation for being a gutsy politician and gave him a nationwide profile. I learnt all of this by a reading a book called The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963 by Laurence Leamer. It's the best political book I've ever read. It put the whole ambitious Kennedy family into perspective and spills the beans on JKF's serial womanizing, links to organized crime and his chronic back problem that made his life a misery.

Let me give you some advice. There are probably around 15 books about Barack Obama that have been published in the last three months - give them all a wide berth. When reading about politicians, you need to let the dust settle and see how their reputation stands the test of time. Come back to Barack Obama in 15 years time and then we might have some interesting reading material.

Tell us about your favorite political book and your contribution could be featured on AbeBooks (don't forget to tell us your name and where you are from).

The Kennedy Men
Just released books Learn More
Creative juices

Creative JuicesThe booze, the drugs, the writing. Some of literature's greatest writers have had a soft spot for the drink or the drugs, or both. From Lewis Carroll and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Hunter S Thompson and Charles Bukowski, the list of authors under the influence goes on and on. Uncork our feature on how the creative juices flow in the literary world.

Read about influenced authors

Man Booker Prize Shortlist

Booker ShortlistEach year the Man Booker Prize provokes debate and interest in the latest crop of novels from the Commonwealth nations. This year's shortlist sees The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga as the bookie's early favorite but five other books are in with a shout, including the much-reviewed The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. Discover who could win on October 14.

See the Booker shortlist
Bestsellers in August
  1. Tuesdays with Morrie
    Mitch Albom
  2. The Last Lecture
    Randy Pausch
  3. Night
    Elie Wiesel
  4. Brideshead Revisited
    Evelyn Waugh
  5. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
    Alexander Solzhenitsyn
See the whole list

Most Expensive Books Sold in August
  1. L'Abou Naddara, Journal Arabe Illustre (1878-1884)
    James Sanua - $13,000
  2. Biblia Latina Cum Postillis Nicolai De Lyra et Additionibus Pauli Burgensis
    Anton Koberger - $8,500
  3. Men Without Women
    Ernest Hemingway - $8,000
  4. Physiologie du Gout
    Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin - $7,021
  5. The Philosophical Transactions and Collections to the End of the Year 1700 (-1744)
    Edited by John Lowthorp et al - $6,500
See the whole list
Oprah's book club pick. Learn More
Win a signed copy of People of the Book

Win People of the BookGeraldine Brooks' People of the Book is one of the most talked about books of the year and we've got a signed copy to give away. Based around the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest surviving Jewish illuminated texts, this novel should appeal to all true bibliophiles.

Click here to enter
Avid Reader Book Club

Avid Reader Book ClubThe AbeBooks' Avid Reader Book Club is reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe this month. Heralded as an iconic work of African literature, this 50-year-old novel follows an Ibo community in Nigeria and one man's struggle to accept British colonial rule. Is this book the greatest novel to emerge from Africa?

Join our book club to find out
Notes from Avid Readers

Last month we looked into the murky world of notorious characters who provide a grim fascination for readers around the globe. We requested suggestions for more notorious reading and you came up with excellent recommendations. Thanks, as always.
"For a book on the borderline of notorious, take a look at Obsession by Tom Gurr and HH Cox. It is a fact-based account, cast as a fictional novel, of a 1954 murder that shocked the world. Two New Zealand schoolgirls involved in an apparent homosexual relationship, murder the mother that threatens their happiness. This case was the basis for Peter Jackson's film, Heavenly Creatures. What really qualifies this for 'notorious' is that one of the girls changed her name and we now know her as Anne Perry, the historical murder mystery author."

- Tim from Sykesville, Maryland (By the way, Tim's a bookseller with AbeBooks and has first edition of Obsession for sale - ED)

"A great read about a notorious character is The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. One would never think that a book about the writing of the Oxford Dictionary could possibly be exciting, but this one is hard to put down, once started. I was pained when it ended - I wanted more."

- Brian from Cape Elizabeth, Maine

"How about The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson? This is the story of the 1893 Expo in Chicago and the parallel story of Herman Mudgett, possibly America's first serial killer, who was responsible for the disappearance of many young women during the course of the fair."

- Ann from Sacramento, California

"What about In Cold Blood by Truman Capote?"

- Margo from the UK

"I think the justification for reading books about people like Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin (as opposed to individual killers) is that the more informed people are, the less likely they are to help tyrants obtain power, e.g. by voting for them. I therefore think everyone should read at least one book about Hitler; my choice is Hitler - A Study in Tyranny by Alan Bullock. As he points out, the majority of Germans didn't vote for Hitler, but 13 million did. And as Santayana said, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'"

- Carolyn from Lewes, Sussex, in the UK

"Zebra by Clark Howard is the most terrifying chilling book of true crime I have ever read! And very difficult to come by. I will bet even AbeBooks does not have it"

- Maureen from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (We have it - ED)
"Beware the man of one book."   - LATIN PROVERB

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