Obama Biography Showdown: Ed Klein Outsells David Maraniss by a 7-1 Margin

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 30 2012 10:02 AM

Obama Biography Showdown: Ed Klein Outsells David Maraniss by a 7-1 Margin

In May, Regnery released Ed Klein's second book about Barack Obama. His first attempt, The Obama Identity, was a snarky novel about the president. The Amateur was filed in the non-fiction section, because it took Klein to "six cities, either in person or over the phone," and claimed at least two big scoops. The first, an anecdote about Bill Clinton passionately declaring Obama a naif, was anonymously sourced. The second, Jeremiah Wright's accusation that he was offered (and didn't take) a bribe to shut up, was sourced to Wright himself. But neither story made waves outside of conservative media.

One month later, Simon & Schuster released David Maraniss's years-in-the-making biography Barack Obama: The Story. Maraniss had been writing deep biographical studies of the president since before he won the election. He cracked sources who'd never before talked about the president -- ex-girlfriends, pot-smoking buddies, roommates. His reporting was so thorough that he could name the other shops on the street where Obama's maternal great-grandfather worked.

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The Amateur has consistently appeared on the NYT's hardcover non-fiction best-seller list. Barack Obama: The Story has fallen off. That's because Klein's selling and Maraniss isn't. According to information from Nielsen BookScan, The Amateur has sold 137,000 copies, while Barack Obama: The Story has sold only 19,000.

Over the weekend, Maraniss's Washington Post gave him space for a punchy op-ed about the "frauds and fabricators" who refuse to believe his reporting about Obama.

What drives them? Some of it can be attributed to the give-and-take of today’s harsh ideological divide. Some of it can be explained by the way misinformation spreads virally to millions of like-minded people, reinforcing preconceptions. And some of it, I believe, arises out of fears of demographic changes in this country, and out of racism.

And the number of people who want their bitter views of Obama reinforced vastly outpaces the number who like Obama and want to understand him better.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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