'Scary new world': political book sales explode as UK readers seek answers


Political book sales have exploded in politics publishing this year, according to Britain’s largest bookseller, Waterstones. The company attributed the growth to writers and readers “urgently seeking to understand this scary new world”.

The UK bookshop chain, which has more than 280 branches, has sold more politics books this year than in the whole of 2015 or 2016, with year-to-date politics sales up by more than 50%. Across the UK, sales of politics books have already surpassed 2017’s final figure of 1.35m, with 1.41m books sold this year so far, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Much of the increase is attributed to the runaway sales of Michael Wolff’s Trump exposé, Fire and Fury, which was published in January and has sold more than 180,000 copies in the UK alone. Waterstones also pointed to other bestselling fly-on-the-wall political titles, including Tim Shipman’s Fall Out and his All Out War, which charted the Brexit referendum and the 2017 UK election. There are also a plethora of books tackling the crisis of democracy. These include How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Madeleine Albright’s Fascism, Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom, David Runciman’s How Democracy Ends and Benjamin Carter Hett’s The Death of Democracy.

“The explosion in politics publishing has been the defining feature of the new books landscape in 2018,” said Waterstones politics buyer Clement Knox. “The present rolling crisis in confidence in the state of our politics and our democracies, and indeed in the very fate of the post-cold war liberal order, has triggered an outpouring of books not just on politics and policy but on psychology, political theory, 20th-century history, and much more besides.”

Knox believes the current publishing moment is comparable to the one following the 2008 financial crisis. That event established in the public consciousness writers such as Thomas Piketty, author of the bestseller Capital. “It seems obvious now that the twin shocks of 2016 signalled that a rising tide of illiberal sentiment was no longer a phenomenon of the developing world but had taken root in the democratic heartlands of North America and Europe. Writers and readers are now urgently seeking to understand this scary new world, and the rapid expansion in politics books sales captures this impulse,” said Knox.

“What the raw numbers don’t communicate,” he added, “is a larger belief permeating through the publishing world that the present poses questions that must be addressed and that writers have an obligation to turn their attention to those questions.”

Knox pointed to the “immense appetite” for day-by-day accounts of politics, from Bob Woodward’s Fear to Yanis Varoufakis’s Adults in the Room. “This speaks to the durability of the journalistic political thriller as a genre and to a hunger to get to the human truth behind the fleeting headlines,” Knox explained.

While titles such as Fear, and Fire and Fury, dominated political headlines, Waterstones booksellers instead chose Isabel Hardman’s look inside UK politics, Why We Get the Wrong Politicians, as a contender for their book of the year award. Hardman’s investigation is one of eight books in the running for the prize. It is up against books including Sally Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, the anonymous exposé of the legal system The Secret Barrister and Madeline Miller’s retelling of Greek myth, Circe.

“There is not a comb-over in sight on our book of the year shortlist in a year when Trump blockbusters have dominated the bestseller lists,” said Waterstones’ managing director James Daunt. “Our booksellers chose instead a quieter, intelligent analysis of domestic politics.”

Waterstones book of the year 2018 shortlist

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton (Penguin)

The Penguin Classics Book by Henry Eliot (Penguin)

Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman (Atlantic Books)

The Colour of Time: A New History of the World, 1850-1960 by Dan Jones and Marina Amaral (Head of Zeus)

Circe by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury)

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber)

The Secret Barrister by The Secret Barrister (Pan Macmillan)

I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow)



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