Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Secret Life of Newt Gingrich
Former speaker of the House by day, super reviewer by night.
by Katherine Mangu-Ward
06/16/2004 12:00:00 AM

NEWT GINGRICH has been leading a secret life. Night after night for years he's been slipping out of the headquarters of the vast right-wing conspiracy, wolfing down spy novels and then reviewing them for So prolific and proficient has he been at this pursuit that he has attained the coveted title Amazon Top 500 Reviewer. Newt is number 488.

To earn this honor, Gingrich wrote 137 reviews, which were deemed "helpful" by 2,002 people. "Newt Gingrich," we learn from his extensive About Me page, "is an avid reader. He does not review all of the books he reads. You will not find any bad reviews here, just the books he thinks you might enjoy." From the same page, we learn that in addition to being called an "exceptional leader" by Time magazine (which made him its Man of the Year in 1995), Newt Gingrich is "credited with the idea of a Homeland Security agency," "widely recognized for his commitment to a better system of health," and that he was the March of Dimes 1995 Georgia Citizen of the Year.

Certainly no one could fault Gingrich for less-than-full disclosure about himself. But you can also tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.

Gingrich shares the rank of Amazon reviewer #488 with "boudica" who describes herself as "Witch and Editor of the and a free lance reviewer." She's also a "Craft teacher with the group" who has "recently published article in the Llewellyn Wicca Almanac."

Gingrich is slightly outranked by "Comrade Radmila", who doesn't "claim to be an expert on literature, films, or music" and notes in his About Me section that he's ticked off that "someone wrote to tell me I hurt their feelings because I did not like Mystic Pizza or something like that."

As advertised, Gingrich's book reviews themselves are disconcertingly positive. For fiction, Gingrich prefers stories of international intrigue--spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers. Clearly something of an addict, Gingrich finds that he "can't put down" dozens of "page-turners" that "grab you on the first page and carry you straight to the end" and so has to read "nonstop." Consuming speed-readable escapist international spy fiction occupies a significant chunk of Newt's downtime, it seems.

For non-fiction, Gingrich favors books about revolutions in ideas or politics. Though some of the books seem like odd choices taken separately (Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution), it's clear that Newt is fascinated by tipping points--moments where new technology or new ideas cause revolutionary change in the way the world works. No word on where To Renew America fits in this genre, since Gingrich avoids commenting on his own work.

Gingrich is non-partisan in his non-fiction reviews, awarding five stars to Andrei Cherny's The Next Deal: The Future of Public Life in the Information Age. He writes: "To have a 21-year-old Gore speechwriter mature into a 25-year-old public policy book writer and then have that book enthusiastically trumpeted by a conservative former Speaker of the House is a moment of unique achievement."

Gingrich rarely gives fewer than four stars to the books he reviews. One notable exception is Bob Woodward's Bush at War, which Gingrich deems "useful" and hits with a mere 3-star rating. Wesley Clark's Waging Modern War, on the other hand, gets five stars and the header "Required, timely reading."

Not all reviewers are as relentlessly positive as Gingrich. The first customer review that appears for Gingrich's alternate history of the civil war Gettysburg is rather harsh:

"We won you lost get over it" writes reviewer "thejaxs225".

"Last I checked the Union WON at Gettysburg and WON the war. And no matter how many times you want to rewrite history the fact STILL REMAINS the NORTH kicked the living crap out of the South. Get over it."

Still, only "1 of 22 people found this review helpful," so Gingrich can find consolation in the thought that "thejaxs225" will probably never rise to the exalted heights of Top 500 Reviewer.

Amazon's Number 2 reviewer Lawrance M. Bernabo, on the other hand, quite liked Gettysburg, which he describes as having been "written by fellow Amazon reviewer Newt Gingrich and military historian William R. Forstchen."

Gingrich modestly discourages speculation about how high might rise within Amazon's ranks, saying through a spokesman that while he'd like be an Amazon Top 10 Reviewer, that would probably require him to read romance novels, "something the speaker's not likely to do."

But hey, Gingrich already outranks "Kemspeaks", a self-proclaimed "combination of the serenity of jazz and the intensity of iron" who likes Stevie Wonder and Chaka Kahn's musical stylings, and favors squats and lateral raises when power lifting.

Besides "Kemspeaks," Gingrich has already beaten out 68,202 other reviewers. What's a measly 487 more to such a man? Gingrich is clearly someone to keep an eye on--he could be destined for great things.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

© Copyright 2004, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

The Secret Life of Newt Gingrich

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Bill Clinton's memoirs get editor's touch

He put the '22' in Catch-22, but publishing legend Bob Gottlieb says Bill Clinton's 957-page autobiography came in the president's longhand.


Bill Clinton's handpicked choice to edit his autobiography, My Life, which comes out Tuesday in a first printing of 1.5 million copies, was New York publishing legend Bob Gottlieb.

Gottlieb's initial response: Well, maybe.

As editor of such renowned books as Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Katharine Graham's autobiography, Gottlieb is a big enough name to turn an ex-president down.

''I said sure, but we have to meet first. What if he doesn't like me or I don't like him?'' Gottlieb recalled telling Knopf President Sonny Mehta.

As it happened, the two got along well. Their first meeting, which took place in 2001 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, revealed that while they outwardly have little in common -- Gottlieb is famously disheveled and bohemian, while the former president dresses like a former president -- they share a bond: humor.

''He's funny and I'm funny, albeit in very different ways,'' Gottlieb said. ``We're very different types and are from different worlds, so we approached each other cautiously, but we ended up respecting and liking each other and having a very good time.''

Gottlieb, a Miami Beach resident when he is not living in and working from his midtown Manhattan apartment, said it was quickly obvious that he and the former president were on the same wavelength.

Clinton chose Gottlieb to edit My Life and received a record $10 million advance for the book. Clinton has said he chose Gottlieb because of his work on the late Washington Post publisher Graham's book, A Personal History, which won a Pulitzer Prize.

His admiration for the famously well-read editor, who allegedly finished Tolstoy's War and Peace in a single day, prompted Clinton to insert ''Robert Gottlieb is the greatest editor in the world'' into his manuscript.

Gottlieb's coy note in response: ``Cut -- reluctantly.''

Expectations for the book are high, and Gottlieb promised that readers will not be disappointed.

''The real success of Clinton's book will be a couple of weeks from now when people are actually reading it and are telling their friends what a good book it is,'' he said.


Gottlieb has a penchant for producing good reads, as well as high art. Formerly with the Simon & Schuster publishing house and New Yorker magazine, Gottlieb has edited John Cheever and Toni Morrison as well as blockbuster novels such as Michael Crichton's Congo and Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire.

Michael Korda, editor in chief at Simon & Schuster, wrote of Gottlieb in his 1999 memoir, Another Life:

``Bob had a kind of split personality as an editor: He pursued high culture and low culture with equal intensity and seemed to enjoy both. More extraordinary, he was good at both.''

His editorial range -- Gottlieb deftly edits popular potboilers as well as literary novels -- mirrors his eclectic personal interests. He is a fan of the opera as well as Elvis, and he acquires American kitsch such as plastic handbags from flea markets and thrift stores.

Gottlieb laughed when asked about his favorite literary genre. ''It's like asking a parent who the favorite child is,'' he said. In other words, he is not saying.

Gottlieb said he is irked at the number of people who have approached him to question whether Clinton did his own writing. The president wrote the manuscript -- a whopping 957 pages -- in longhand, his editor insists.

His friends and colleagues say Gottlieb's hands-on approach is an anomaly in today's publishing world.

''Most editors today are acquisition editors, and he's a hands-on editor,'' said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Coral Gables and Miami Beach and a friend of Gottlieb's since the late 1980s. ``He's one of the great minds in publishing, and there aren't many like him.''

One of Gottlieb's strengths is his ability to draw out a writer's distinctive voice, said Charles McGrath, editor of The New York Times Book Review.

''He has a chameleonlike ability to understand what a writer wants to do and inhabits that writer's thoughts and intentions,'' McGrath said. 'INVISIBLE' MARK

Readers who pick up Clinton's book can expect to see a lot of Gottlieb's work -- and none at all, said McGrath, who edits Gottlieb's frequent contributions to The New York Times Book Review.

''Bob's stamp will be all over it, and it will be invisible,'' he said. ``If it's like anything else Bob does, you won't see Bob there, you'll see Bill Clinton.''

It's not that he doesn't leave his mark on thingsGottlieb famously changed the title of Heller's first novel from Catch-18 to Catch-22, arguing that ''22'' sounded funnier.

As hands-on an editor as he is, Gottlieb is reluctant to take too much credit for Clinton's long-awaited memoir.

''You cannot turn a bad writer into a good writer,'' he said. ``I did a normal editorial job for a long and complicated book.'' | 06/20/2004 | Bill Clinton's memoirs get editor's touch

Search This Blog