IN SOME SENSES “The Room Where It Happened”, a memoir by John Bolton published on June 23rd, is explosive. President Donald Trump, who fired the hawkish Mr Bolton as his national security adviser in September, claims that it reveals classified information. The Trump administration sued Mr Bolton and asked a federal judge for an emergency injunction to prevent its release. At the weekend, the request was rejected, and the book is in the shops.
Among the more shocking claims Mr Bolton makes is that Mr Trump told Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, that building prison-camps to detain Uighur Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang was “exactly the right thing to do”. Mr Bolton also alleges that Mr Trump asked China to buy soyabeans and wheat from swing states to boost his chances of re-election. Mr Trump, for his part, has, on his usual outlet, Twitter, called his former adviser “grossly incompetent and a liar”.
Mr Bolton joins a handful of former aides who have written excoriating books about working with Mr Trump, including James Comey, a former director of the FBI; Andrew McCabe, a former deputy director of the FBI; Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former aide; and another Trump official who wrote his book anonymously. Besides these first-hand accounts are critical profiles by Michael Wolff and Bob Woodward, two veteran journalists, and regular leaks from White House aides to the American press. The charge that Mr Trump is “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed”, in the words of Mr Bolton, is not exactly new.
It could be lucrative, however. Mr Bolton reportedly received an advance of $2m, though the judge ruling on his book warned he could yet face criminal and civil charges if he has published classified materials. Either way, his book is likely to sell plenty of copies, judging from the success of similar works.
The Economist has compiled a list of the ten most prominent books critical of Mr Trump’s presidency, based on the number of ratings they have received on Amazon. Then we asked NPD Bookscan, a company that tracks publishing trends, to analyse how many copies each has sold in America (several have not yet been published in paperback, so we limited the comparison to hardback sales). Four of these books—Mr Wolff’s, Mr Woodward’s, Mr Comey’s and Hillary Clinton’s election memoir—exceeded 500,000 in hardback sales.
We then repeated the exercise for books that have praised Mr Trump or vilified his opponents. Several of these have been written by stalwarts of the conservative media—such as Mark Levin, a conservative radio host, and Tucker Carlson, a right-wing Fox News television pundit—and promoted by the president himself on Twitter. Their average review score on Amazon, at 4.75, is higher than that for Trump-bashing books, at 4.49. But none has sold more than 500,000 hardback copies in America, according to NPD Bookscan.
The disparity in hardback sales between pro- and anti-Trump books could be down to the fact that divulging juicy tales about the president is more sensational than defending him. But it might also reflect differences in demand among book buyers. A survey conducted in 2019 by the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, found that Democrats read 12.9 books a year, on average, compared with 10.4 for Republicans.