Thursday, August 27, 2009


Like everyone else in the publishing world, our first instinct in remembering the life of a towering figure in American history is to point to the books we publish. I'll briefly mention two, which I think are suitable memorials:

The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings, by Thomas Maier (Basic, 9780465043187). Recently revised, this contains significant new material on Ted Kennedy's life and legacy.

The Kennedy Family Album: Personal Photos of America's First Family (Running Press, 9781560259237). Linda Corley presents a portfolio of photographs of the Kennedy clan at rest and at play, in Palm Beach and Hayannis Port; the photographs are by long-time Kennedy friend and photographer Bob Davidoff. Ted Kennedy wrote the foreword.

He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy. -- John M. Broder, in the New York Times

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thinking ahead a bit

Link of the day: European Cyber-gangs Target Small U.S. Firms (Washington Post): a financial services industry task force has warned that "Eastern European organized crime groups are believed to be predominantly responsible for the activities that are employing witting and unwitting accomplices in the U.S. to receive cash and forward payments -- from thousands to millions of dollars to overseas locations -- via popular money and wire transfer services."

I came across this yesterday afternoon, and thought immediately of our forthcoming book Fatal System Error by Joseph Menn (PulicAffairs, 9781586487485; Feb. 2010). It's a surprising, thrilling read, that follows cyber attacks back to their sources in Italy and Russia, and finds a much darker, scarier world that you tend to imagine when you move those "lottery winnings" e-mails into your SPAM folder. A page-turner about an issue of increasing importance - it's definitely got potential.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reads for radicals...and most everyone else, too

It has been a real joy to have Nation Books as part of the Perseus Books Group. We started off with quite a bang (forgive the choice of words): it was shortly after Nation came aboard that Blackwater USA guards were involved in a massacre of civilians on Baghdad streets -- this gave Jeremy Scahill's excellent book it's second surge of national interest. Blackwater's recent return to the news (and our book's attendant sales boost) has got me thinking about how Nation books succeed, and about the particularly strong lineup we've had this summer and fall.
Since I discussed Blackwater last week, I'll here add only a reminder that that book was selling extraordinarily well even before the national media caught on -- it had been out for 6 months when the September 2007 shootings occurred. What we had going for us then are the same things we count on now: bookseller attention and enthusiasm, and a great online publicity program. A few Nation Books have broken into the mainstream conversation already this summer, but even those that haven't offer lots to be excited about.

The book that I think generated the most bookseller interest last season was Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (9781568584232). This has been a great success, hitting the indie bestseller lists up and down our coast; and now it is finally getting the major media attention it deserves. Hopefully you saw the review in yesterday's New York Times:

Galeano's prose is nearly lulling in its lyricism, a quality that gives it an over­ridingly shamanic tone. His powerful voice reminds us, over and over again, of the responsibility of writers to be constantly in search of new forms of expression that may draw us out of our complacency, as he does so eloquently here. As in his previous books, he succeeds in capturing the bottomless horror of the state’s capacity to inflict pain on the individual, offering as effective an act of political dissent as exists anywhere in contemporary literature.

And in a very nice one-two punch, that was followed by NPR's "Morning Edition" earlier today. It's been a great pleasure to have Mr. Galeano on our list - and it looks like we will be reissuing some of his earlier works in the Spring, which is again a cause for celebration.

"Bottomless horror" sometimes seems the specialty of Nation Books. An odd specialty, it's true, but it does provide wonders: recently among them is Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (9781568584379), a true jeremiad against America's retreat from reality, and our diminishing ability to engage in, or even imagine, the serious discussion necessary for a functional democracy. Apparently, Mr. Hedges' revulsion at our national obsessions with fantastic spectacle has struck a chord -- even without major national review attention we've seen it hit the New York Times extended list. That's a credit to your efforts - thanks.

More in that vein - if with a somewhat lighter touch - is landing now, in Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party (9781568583983). Perhaps because there is more genuine fascination and less out and out revulsion in its pages, Mr. Blumenthal's book is already getting the kind of attention we strangely had to wait for for Messrs. Galeano and Hedges: on top of a plethora of on-line activity (Daily Beast, TPM, crooksandliars, etc.), we 've locked up a September 10th appearance on "Fresh Air."

It's hard to imagine us topping that publicity lineup right out of the gate, but we do still have a couple real treasures on the way this fall. In late November, we'll publish a career capping opus from the wily old rabble rouser John Ross: El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City (9781568584249). You're in for a rollicking good time with this one, in the company of Beatniks and drug lords and other assorted reprobates. It's a love song to the city that has arisen at what the Aztecs called "the umbilicus of the universe," touched by sorrow at the loss of its demimonde, and awe at how this intense metopolis continually picks itself up, buries its dead, and forges insolently ahead. In his attention to the people whose stories are nearly always ignored, Mr. Ross is a kind of marvelous and peculiarly American cousin to Mr. Galeano.

And finally, this October, we'll publish what was to me the most surprising and affecting of them all: Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam (9781568584058), by Wayne Karlin. The odds are good you've heard me sing in praise of this already, so i'll keep this short. This belongs in the company of Tim O'Brien's books, not only because it is a unique, wise, and moving look at the Viet Nam war and its aftermath, but because of the quality of the writing. It takes a kind of magic (the consolation of art?) to bring uplift out of such a grim story, but this manages to do it -- almost literally putting the ghosts to rest. It is simply magnificent, my favorite book of the fall, and absolutely worth reading right now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Assassination, Inc.

The last couple weeks have started a great pattern for our purposes: shocking revelations about a company that never wants for shocking revelations. Last week, Jeremy Scahill reported that sealed testimony in a civil liability complaint against the-private-security-firm-formerly-known-as-Blackwater USA (now going by the moniker "Xe") accused the company and its owner, Erik Prince, of conspiring to smuggle weapons into Afghanistan and Iraq and to murder whistle blowers. Shocker!

This caused a little bit of a stir...but nothing like this morning's news, as seen in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and, that in 2004, the CIA contracted with Blackwater to hunt and kill suspected Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, and gave Blackwater operational control of the program. That's right: they outsourced assassination attempts.

This was part of the CIA program recently disclosed - and disbanded - by current CIA Director Leon Panetta; according to today's reports, in fact, it was a key factor in Mr. Panetta's decision to alert Congress. (You might recall that the program was allegedly kept from Congress at the direction of Vice President Cheney. Which might surprise you, considering how communicative Mr. Cheney usually is.)

It's true that in this case the Times and the Post got this into print before our Mr. Scahill, who's usually far ahead of the curve on issues relating to Blackwater. (Remember: Nation Books published his book a full six months before the mainstream media was forced to pay attention to them after their employees murdered 17 Iraqi civilians.) But given how focused Mr. Scahill is on this issue, I'd not be surprised at all if he had more of the story to tell. And we'll have plenty of chances to find out -- as the recognized authority, he's the one the talking heads and blogging heads are turning to: this morning, he was Amy Goodman's guest on "Democracy Now" to discuss the issue. You can see their conversation here.

This evening, he will be Keith Olbermann's guest on "Countdown;" and tomorrow he will be a special in-studio guest of Bill Maher's on "Real Time." (He'll also stick around to join the panel - his co-panelists will include Chuck Todd of NBC News and Jay Leno of NBC entertainment.)

When Mr. Scahill gets his teeth into something, he keeps at it. He told Amy Goodman today that what was reported in the Times and the Post is just a small fraction of the story. I'm very interested to see what more he finds. In the meantime, we've got plenty of stock....

Blackwater: the Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
by Jeremy Scahill
Nation Books
paper, $16.95