Not judged by their covers

The 128-page EU Constitution has become an unlikely bestseller. Ed Caesar explains why - and reviews other political tomes that struck gold
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The Independent Culture


They may not be queuing round the block in Westminster for this dry political tome, but 2005 is referendum year, and the French have gone crazy for a constitution which they may not even be signing up to: 200,000 copies have been sold in four months. This sudden urge to know the ins and outs of European politics has been occasioned by the French government's push for a "Yes" vote on signing up to the EU charter. But it is still unclear whether this bookselling rush has aided Jacques Chirac's cause or not.

Edited highlight: "The Constitution and law adopted by the Union institutions in exercising competence conferred upon it by the Constitution shall have primacy over the law of the member states."


In 1998, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky fever gripped America and the world. Did he? Did she? Under his desk? On her dress? Really? With so many questions it was little surprise that the findings of Independent Counsel Kenneth H Starr generated so much interest. Pocket Books dashed off a print run of 800,000 of the full report transcript, while Public Affairs printed 100,000 copies of "The Starr Evidence", containing the complete testimonies of Lewinsky and Clinton, as well as additional articles culled from The Washington Post.

Edited highlight: "[A] person engages in 'sexual relations' when the person knowingly engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person... In the President's view, 'any person, reasonable person' would recognize that oral sex performed on the deponent falls outside the definition."


Could the US government have prevented al-Qa'ida suicide pilots from flying their passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Washington? And what happened to America's much vaunted air defence systems? The bipartisan federal 9/11 Commission sought to provide answers, and when their findings were published in August 2004, Americans flocked to read them. WW Norton's $10 paperback version became an instant bestseller, shipping 350,000 copies over its first weekend. The publishers supplemented its initial print run of 600,000 with a further 200,000 copies.

Edited highlight: "Instead of facing a few very dangerous adversaries, the United States confronts a number of less visible challenges that surpass the boundaries of traditional nation-states and call for quick, imaginative, and agile responses."


No one could ever accused the drafters of the Maastricht Treaty of sexing up their document. Sixty-two pages of constitutional legalese were hardly likely to get pulses racing, but, in 1992, entry to the EU was the talk of the continent and voters wanted to know what they were getting themselves into. In Denmark, the "Yes" and "No" lobbies were neck in neck until 500,000 copies of the treaty were distributed free throughout the country. The Danes read it, hated it, and decisively voted "No".

Edited highlight: "The Community shall have as its task, by establishing a common market and an economic and monetary union and by implementing the common policies or activities referred to in Articles 3 and 3a, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious and balanced development of economic activities, sustainable and non-inflationary growth respecting the environment, a high degree of convergence of economic performance, a high level of employment and of social protection, the raising of the standard of living and quality of life, and economic and social cohesion and solidarity among Member States."


There was a time when the nation, sick of years of Conservative sleaze and incompetence, could not get enough of the Blair revolution. The election manifesto was a catalogue of buzzy new phrases and everyone seemed to be reading it. The 1997 Labour Party Manifesto shot, if only briefly, to number six in The Sunday Times Bestsellers List (non-fiction).

Edited highlight: "We therefore set out in the manifesto that follows ten commitments, commitments that form our bond of trust with the people. They are specific. They are real. Conservatives. They were different. They were new. They were New Labour. Judge us on them. Have trust in us and we will repay that trust."



Fifty thousand copies were printed but there was minimal public interest in Labour's self-aggrandisement. Even with a modest cover price of £2.99, the Government shifted no more than 8,000. The other 41,000 were bought by the Labour Party. "It's hardly Harry Potter, is it?" brayed William Hague, "although it requires as much imagination to believe it."

Edited highlight: "This year saw the opening of the UK Sports Institute, providing world-class facilities, coaching and support in Sheffield."


The 2004 report into the death of government scientist Dr David Kelly was the most anticipated political document in years. Even so, the British public did not flock to snap up Lord Hutton's 740- page doorstop. Perhaps, at £70, the tome was a little dear for anyone not able to write it off against expenses. The only people for whom it was required holiday reading seemed to be Labour MPs, off to their whitewashed Tuscan villas.

Edited highlight: "I consider that the allegation [that the Iraq dossier was 'sexed up'] was unfounded as it would have been understood by those who heard the broadcasts to mean that the dossier had been embellished with intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable, which was not the case."