Tony Blair's Memoir Brings Big Sales -- and Big Controversy


As a former prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair's memoir has been a highly anticipated event for months. His ten-year tenure in office encompassed the start of the Iraq War and ended just before the Great Recession. Blair's handling of those two events -- and many more in between -- provoked plenty of sharp rebukes from his critics. But less than a week after the release of A Journey in the United Kingdom and in the United States, it's looking as if -- yet again -- controversy has led to success, making the book the fastest-selling memoir in Britain in almost two decades.

The Guardian reported that Blair's memoir sold 92,060 copies in its first four days following the Sept. 1 publication, the best opening week sale for an autobiography since Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks nearly all UK book sales, started keeping detailed records in 1998. (The overall opening week sales record for a UK-published memoir, according to industry trade publication The Bookseller, is held by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's 1993 book The Downing Street Years, which reportedly sold 120,000 copies in its first week.)

Blair's book is doing very good business in America at the moment, too, where it's hovered around the top 10 in Amazon's (AMZN) rankings and is expected to be near the top of the New York Times hardcover non-fiction bestseller list when it's released later today. Figures from Neilsen Bookscan, which represents approximately 75% of total book sales in the U.S., showed that Blair's memoir sold 6,566 copies in hardcover over its first five days of publication.

Sales Soar Amid Negative Reactions to Blair

The transatlantic sales news comes as amid a strong reaction to the book from Blair's most vocal detractors. At the ex-PM's book signing in Dublin last Saturday, he was greeted by protesters hurling eggs and shoes, which prompted him to cancel his appearance at Waterstone's flagship Piccadilly bookstore in London scheduled for Wednesday night. "I know the Metropolitan Police would, as ever, have done a superb job in managing any disruption but I do not wish to impose an extra strain on police resources, simply for a book signing," Blair said in a statement. "I'm really sorry for those -- as ever the majority -- who would have come to have their books signed by me in person. I hope they understand."

But the wave of protests, which resulted in the arrest of four people in Ireland as a result of the book signing disruption and led to a Facebook movement to move Blair's memoir to other bookshop sections -- such as True Crime -- also derailed a scheduled launch party at the Tate Modern. Though it initially appeared the event would go ahead, now that party has also been shelved indefinitely.

Will Bush's Book Do Similar Business?

The success of and reaction to Blair's memoir, which is published by Knopf here, is no doubt being tracked very scrupulously by another Random House division, the Crown Publishing Group. That's because on Nov. 9 they are releasing former president George W. Bush's Decision Points, less a full-blown memoir like Blair's and more "an analysis of key moments in his life, from quitting drinking to invading Iraq," per The Associated Press. Bush has kept a low-profile since the end of his presidency and been especially tight-lipped about the contents of his book, all part of what's seen to be a deliberate, orchestrated strategy to keep information to an absolute minimum until the last possible moment.

Once news of what Bush says in Decision Points trickles out several days in advance of the book's publication date -- immediately following midterm elections that are expected to swing in the Republican Party's favor -- the protests and criticisms will likely ramp up. But those who hope that heated criticism of the former president will put a dent in his book sales need only to look across the Atlantic to see how that might go. As for publishing industry in general, it appears that politically controversial figures will be big winners for the fall season, just when the industry needs them most.

Originally published