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What Newt Gingrich's Amazon.com book reviews say about his politics.
Eleven years ago, no one thought that Newt Gingrich could run for president. He was a spent force. He'd resigned as speaker of the House, then gotten divorced, then married his mistress, who was 23 years his junior. Political career: over. Retirement: accomplished.
Gingrich found a hobby. Once a week, more or less, he would log onto Amazon and upload a review of a book he'd just put down. "He does not review all of the books he reads," warned his staff-written reviewer bio—the only part of his Amazon personality that isn't written by him. "You will not find any bad reviews here, just the books he thinks you might enjoy."
It couldn't last forever. Starting in 2005, Gingrich was cranking out a book of his own every 10 months or so. Starting today, he's a candidate for the White House. He hasn't written a new Amazon review since February 2008. "Too busy," explains Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler. "Had to give it up."
That's too bad. The Gingrich who reviewed 156 books on Amazon was neither the fire starter who led the GOP's 1994 revolution nor the guy who told National Review that President Obama can only be understood through the prism of "Kenyan anti-colonial thinking." He was a smart nerd with a lot of time on his hands. If you read his entire collected Amazonian oeuvre, you can watch as an easily entertained quantum physics junkie slowly realizes that he needs to get back into politics and set the rest of us straight—one last time.
Gingrich was a master of blurb-speak; it's a surprise he didn't end up cited on the back covers of more paperbacks. On Robert B. Parker's thriller Potshot: "Parker has done it again." On Mark Bowden's drug war classic Killing Pablo: "Bowden has done it again." On Ken Follett's Jackdaws: "Follett has done it again."
And the Amazonian Gingrich was ahead of his time on foreign policy. He stayed that way by reading a mix of popular histories and spy thrillers. Joshua's Hammer, a David Hagberg novel that Gingrich reviewed shortly before 9/11, posited a fictional threat and its aftermath from a terrorist who, at that point, was known mostly for the bombing of the USS Cole.
"The plot involves bin Laden sympathizers in Central Asia that may have infiltrated the vulnerable Russian system," Gingrich explains. "Bin Laden wants to use this threat to achieve an American withdrawal from his homeland of Saudi Arabia. The United States deciding it can take no chances launches a preemptive strike using Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit bin Laden's camp. Nevertheless, the action neither kills him nor hurts the nuclear weapon. Bin Laden then decides to use the weapon in the United States and specifically targets someone close to the President who is in a very public setting along with thousands of other people."
There are, thankfully, no spoilers. There is, however, a strong conclusion: "It will get you to think hard about the real dangers of terrorism and the challenge of creating a strong enough system to defeat it."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Newt Gingrich by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.