Thursday, September 06, 2007

Greenspan Soaks in Hot Bath, Klein Ambushes Friedman: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- While plenty of businesspeople are holding their breath for the Sept. 17 release of Alan Greenspan's memoir, ``The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,'' a few booksellers aren't. Like me, they can't forget Greenspan's deadly-dull keynote address in June at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual confab, in New York.

The former Fed chief's most memorable revelation that night was that he wrote much of the book while soaking in a hot bath.

Amid the unkind remarks afterward (``Now we know why he looks so shriveled''), one bookseller wondered, ``Who's going to be interested in paying $35 for a book about decades-old interest rates?''

Penguin Press, which was interested enough to pay $8.5 million for the memoir, will need to sell out much of the million-copy first printing to make a profit. But can it? Powell's Books, the influential independent bookstore with six locations in and around Portland, Oregon, and a busy Web site, has ordered a total of 94 copies. ``That's a pretty modest amount,'' purchasing manager Gerry Donagahy confirms.

So far Penguin has kept the manuscript carefully under wraps. One of the privileged few to have read it is Dave Hathaway, Barnes & Noble's business-book buyer. ``It's not written in Greenspeak,'' he told me. ``But it is like sitting in a room with someone who has 500 more IQ points than you.''

According to Hathaway, the book has as much to fascinate history buffs as businesspeople. For prediction junkies, Greenspan offers a vision of the world economy in 2030.

``And his account of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks blew me away,'' Hathaway said.

Klein Versus Friedman

Naomi Klein's ``The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism'' reaches stores on Sept. 18, the day after Greenspan's book. It's likely to inspire far more debate.

Klein, a Canadian political activist, made her name in 2000 with ``No Logo,'' a critique of mass-market manufacturing and globalization. Her new book is an almost 600-page assault on the legacy of the late economist Milton Friedman and his acolytes, arguing that prosperity and human rights don't necessarily follow from the implementation of free-market policies: Witness Russia, China and Pinochet's Chile. Klein also reports from the largely failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq and New Orleans.

With such a wide array of evidence in support of liberal platforms, the book should have a place on the bedside tables of the Democratic candidates.

Pretty Plus

Klein's youthful prettiness can tempt adversaries into challenging her authority -- a notion that makes Frances Coady, Klein's editor at Metropolitan, laugh. ``It's very difficult to doubt her,'' Coady says, ``once you read the book and see how she synthesizes some 50 years of recent history in support of her theories.''

In any case, Klein knows how to handle criticism. Being married to the popular Canadian political talking head Avi Lewis, she's learned the tricks of the TV-pundit trade and is no pushover in an interview.

She's also a savvy self-promoter: Actors Tim Robbins and John Cusack have already blurbed the book. And Klein and director Alfonso Cuaron (``Children of Men'') are screening their trailer for it at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.

Draper on Bush

Just published, to much buzz: Robert Draper's ``Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush'' (Free Press).

Draper, a writer for GQ and a former editor at Texas Monthly, landed six mano-a-mano interviews with the president, the last on May 8 of this year. His evenhanded portrait of our ``misunderestimated'' (Bush's word) commander in chief has already drawn protests -- in particular from former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer, whose dissolution of the Iraqi army in 2003 is now widely regarded as a catastrophic mistake.

``Well, the policy was to keep the army intact,'' Bush told Draper. ``Didn't happen.''

Big Novels

Fall marks a change from the summer raft of thrillers and soap operas that load down bookstore shelves. Among the month's most anticipated novels are Ann Patchett's ``Run'' (HarperCollins) and Richard Russo's ``Bridge of Sighs'' (Knopf) -- each writer's first novel in six years.

Patchett's ``Bel Canto'' won the 2002 PEN/Faulkner award and sold more than a million copies; Russo's ``Empire Falls'' won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize and sold just shy of a million.

In ``Run,'' Patchett once again tackles a quasi-political theme in a story about a white Boston mayor grooming his two adopted black sons for political careers. Russo's ``Bridge of Sighs'' deals with a retirement-age couple in upstate New York and a longed-for escape to Venice.