U.S. Best Seller, Thanks to Rave by Latin Leftist

All the authors currently clamoring for a seat on Oprah Winfrey’s couch might do well to send copies of their books to the latest publishing tastemaker: Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez.

Ever since Mr. Chávez held up a copy of a 301-page book by Noam Chomsky, the linguist and left-wing political commentator, during a speech at the United Nations on Wednesday, sales of the book have climbed best-seller lists at Amazon.com and BN.com, the online site for the book retailer Barnes & Noble, and booksellers around the country have noted a spike in sales.

The paperback edition of “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance,” a detailed critique of American foreign policy that Mr. Chomsky published two years ago, hit No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list yesterday, and the hardcover edition, published in 2003, climbed as high as No. 6. At both Borders Group and Barnes & Noble, sales of the title jumped tenfold in the last two days.

“It doesn’t normally happen that you get someone of the stature of Mr. Cha’vez holding up a book at a speech at the U.N.,” said Jay Hyde, a manager at Borders Group in Ann Arbor, Mich.

In his speech, in which Mr. Cha’vez excoriated President George W. Bush as the “devil,” he held up a copy of “Hegemony” and urged his audience “very respectfully, to those who have not read this book, to read it.”

Calling it an “excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century,” Mr. Cha’vez added, “I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is right in their own house.”

Julia Versau, 50, a real estate writer in Valparaiso, Ind., said she saw Mr. Cha’vez holding up the book during a newscast on CNN. Although she had read Mr. Chomsky’s work on propaganda at least a decade ago, she said, Mr. Cha’vez’s speech reminded her to try the book.

“I saw the title and I went darn, I haven’t read that one,” Ms. Versau said in a telephone interview. “If he’s reading that I better go check it out.” She said that she had previously found Mr. Chomsky’s work “a little dense,” but said that “our democracy could use more people telling the truth and more people taking the time to read and get themselves educated.”

Mr. Chomsky, who has retired from teaching full time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did not return calls or an e-mail message yesterday seeking comment. In an interview with The New York Times on Thursday, he said he would be happy to meet Mr. Cha’vez.

Demand for the book seemed to be spread across the country. In Florida, Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, an independent bookseller with locations in Miami Beach, Coral Gables and Bal Harbour, said he had already ordered 50 more copies of “Hegemony,” while he usually keeps only about 3 per store. In Denver, Andrea Phillips, a manager at the Colfax Avenue branch of the bookseller the Tattered Cover, said “Hegemony” had sold three times as many copies this week as it normally would in a month.

On the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, Rainbow Books, a workers’ collective that specializes in leftist topics and carries many of Mr. Chomsky’s works, the last copy of “Hegemony” was sold on Thursday.

Allen Ruff, a manager at Rainbow Books, said “Hegemony” had not sold particularly well when it was first published three years ago, because many regulars were already familiar with Mr. Chomsky’s other works. But Mr. Ruff said the recent news media attention has meant that “people are now discovering him for the first time,” and the store has ordered a dozen more copies.

Mr. Chomsky’s publisher, Metropolitan Books, a unit of Henry Holt & Company, is printing an additional 25,000 copies of “Hegemony,” of which it said there are currently 250,000 in print in hardcover and paperback. A Holt spokeswoman said that print run could go higher after consultation with booksellers.

Up until now, the book, which Samantha Power, writing in The New York Times Book Review in 2004, called “a raging and often meandering assault on United States foreign policy,” has been a steady seller but never hit the best-seller lists. To date it has sold about 66,000 copies in hardcover and nearly 55,000 in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks bookstores and other outlets that usually account for 60 to 70 percent of a title’s sales.

Mr. Chomsky, 77, is hardly an obscure writer. Many people have heard of the outspoken professor, who is a darling of the left, even if they have not yet read his work. “I think Cha’vez speaking to it renewed interest and made people say, ‘I know that author and I’m going to check it out,’ ” said Bob Wietrak, vice president of merchandising at Barnes & Noble.

But Alan M. Dershowitz, the lawyer and Harvard Law School professor, said he doubted whether many of the current buyers would ever actually read the book.

“I don’t know anybody who’s ever read a Chomsky book,” said Mr. Dershowitz, who said he first met Mr. Chomsky in 1948 at a Hebrew-speaking Zionist camp in the Pocono Mountains where Mr. Dershowitz was a camper and Mr. Chomsky was a counselor.

“You buy them, you put them in your pockets, you put them out on your coffee table,” said Mr. Dershowitz, a longtime critic of Mr. Chomsky. The people who are buying “Hegemony” now, he added, “I promise you they are not going to get to the end of the book.”

He continued: “He does not write page turners, he writes page stoppers. There are a lot of bent pages in Noam Chomsky’s books, and they are usually at about Page 16.”

Regardless, most authors would be happy for a plug like Mr. Cha’vez’s. “All world leaders should be enlisted in book publicity,” said David Rosenthal, publisher of Simon & Schuster.

As a matter of fact, it is a growing trend. At a press conference in the East Room of the White House yesterday, Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, dodged a few questions by joking that Simon & Schuster, which is publishing his memoirs on Sept. 25, had barred him from commenting until his book is out. President Bush played along: “In other words, ‘Buy the book’ is what he’s saying,” Mr. Bush said.

David Callender contributed additional reporting from Madison, Wis.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 23, 2006.
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