The Polarized Publishing World

For a snapshot of how politically polarized the country has become, consider the best-seller list in this Sunday’s New York Times. Political books hold the top five spots on the hardcover nonfiction list, but they offer wildly divergent views.

No. 1 on the list is “American Marxism” by the Fox News host Mark Levin, which argues that liberals, including President Biden, are advancing a socialist agenda. Two titles that follow present sharply critical views of the Trump administration: “Here, Right Matters,” a memoir by Alexander Vindman, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who had a role in Trump’s first impeachment; and “I Alone Can Fix It,” an explosive account of Trump’s last year in office by the Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Next come books by the conservative media stars Ben Shapiro and Jesse Watters.

“The same kind of polarization that we’re seeing in the mainstream culture is happening in the book market,” Kristen McLean, an analyst at NPD BookScan, a market research firm, said. “The appetite is there on both sides of the political divide.”

When Biden took office, publishers braced for a slump. The Trump years had been an enormous boon to their industry, with a torrent of best sellers that included bombshell exposés by Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff, and tell-all memoirs from John Bolton and Mary Trump. Political book sales hit a 20-year high, according to NPD BookScan.

As predicted, sales of political books fell in the first seven months of this year. But publishers remain bullish about the genre. While sales have tapered off, the numbers are still well above what they were in 2016, and even 2019. Books by conservative authors are starting to pick up, as is often the case when there’s a Democrat in the White House.

“It’s easier to sell political books when your audience is in the opposition, when it’s feeling embattled and they’re more worked up and angry,” Thomas Spence, president and publisher of the conservative publishing house Regnery, told me. “The first two quarters of 2021 have been great for us.”

The conservative book market also carries risks for big corporate publishers, though. After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, Simon & Schuster canceled plans to publish a book by Senator Josh Hawley, who tried to overturn the results of the presidential election. (Mr. Hawley, who accused the company of violating the First Amendment, released his book with Regnery.)

Simon & Schuster later announced that it had signed a two-book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence. The decision outraged liberals, including some of Simon & Schuster’s own authors and staff members, who signed a petition calling on the company to stop publishing books by former Trump officials. But the petition failed to sway executives, and news broke soon after that Simon & Schuster had bought a book from Kellyanne Conway.

Those acquisitions didn’t appease conservatives like Tucker Carlson, who attacked Simon & Schuster over its decision to drop Hawley, and accused the company of censorship in his new book, “The Long Slide.” (His claim of censorship is undercut by the fact that his book was published by, well, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.)

Then there’s the prospect of a memoir by Trump himself, which would be a guaranteed best seller but would present publishers with factual challenges and inevitable blowback from his critics.

In spite of these tensions, publishers are rushing to sign conservative titles, and conservatives keep rushing to write them. Jared Kushner and William Barr have also sold books. Still, many editors at big houses are cautious about provoking a backlash by working with far-right Republicans, and the wariness may be mutual. This summer, two industry veterans announced they were starting a new conservative publishing company to cater to authors on the right who feel they have been shut out by mainstream publishers.

It’s unclear if publishers will see the kind of blockbusters we saw during the Trump era. But analysts predict that polarizing cultural and social issues will continue to drive book sales on both sides of the political divide.

“Now it feels like the culture wars again,” McLean said. “Everyone took a deep breath and we’re back in it.”

Alexandra Alter covers publishing and the literary world for The Times.



Protests against the Taliban spread to several Afghan cities, including Kabul. Taliban fighters used gunfire and beatings to disperse crowds.

As many as 6,000 people were on standby to be flown out of Kabul’s airport last night and this morning, after a dayslong pause in the processing of visas. Since Saturday, the U.S. military has evacuated about 7,000 people.

Tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers, commandos and spies fought the Taliban to the end. They are now on the run.

A member of Afghanistan’s national youth soccer team was among the people who died trying to cling to a U.S. military plane.

Here’s how a global rescue effort, stretching from the Pentagon to Qatar, helped Afghans who worked for The Times and other newspapers escape.


Police arrested a man who claimed to have a bomb in a pickup truck near the Capitol. During a standoff, the man broadcast himself on Facebook criticizing Democrats.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a more detailed lawsuit accusing Facebook of being a monopoly. A federal judge threw out the agency’s original case.

The Biden administration urged states with high jobless rates to use federal money to extend pandemic unemployment benefits, which are set to expire next month.

The Virus

The U.S. administered more than one million coronavirus vaccine doses in 24 hours for the first time in almost seven weeks.

School districts in Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties approved strict mask mandates for students, in defiance of Florida rules.

Alabama ran out of available I.C.U. beds on Wednesday. Only 36 percent of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated.

Three fully vaccinated senators — Roger Wicker, Angus King and John Hickenlooper — tested positive.

Other Big Stories

Many earthquake survivors in Haiti expect no help from the government: “We’re on our own,” one farmer said.

The severe drought that has gripped much of the Western U.S. is likely to continue into late fall.

OnlyFans, an online platform popular with sex workers and porn stars, says it will ban sexually explicit content.

Tropical Storm Henri is expected to strengthen into a hurricane by Friday and could reach the Northeast coast of the U.S. in days — but the forecast is uncertain.


Climate change is a children’s rights crisis, Greta Thunberg and three other youth climate activists argue in The Times.

“Compassion fatigue”: Anita Sircar, a Covid unit doctor, writes in The Los Angeles Times about struggling to sympathize with her unvaccinated patients.


Lives Lived: Chuck Close’s striking Photorealist portraits — which one gallerist called “inextricable from the greatest achievements of 20th-century art” — catapulted him to prominence. Several women later accused Close of sexual harassment. He died at 81.

Mini Mozarts: Break out the trombone, it’s time for band camp.

Project Kiwi: Get ready for sentient Disney robots.

Advice from Wirecutter: The best cheap sunglasses.

Modern Love: These tiny love stories pack a punch.


Live from a Manhattan closet

Joshua William Gelb has produced nearly 60 works of theater since the pandemic shut down live performances. His venue: A 2-foot-by-4-foot closet in his East Village apartment. He calls it Theater in Quarantine.

The shows, which Gelb broadcasts online, include a sci-fi-meets-Three Stooges mash-up and a musical about Mother Teresa. The performances are weird, funny, serious and graphically bold, Jesse Green, The Times’s chief theater critic, writes.

“Theater in Quarantine, despite its dependence on digital effects and its punishing schedule, turned out to be the best and most purely theatrical thing to emerge from the pandemic,” Jesse writes.

You can watch Gelb’s performances on YouTube, and read Jesse’s full article here.


What to Cook

Crisp celery with Greek yogurt makes for a cooling snack.

What to Listen to

The band Meet Me @ the Altar wants to save pop punk.

What to Watch

After months of postponement, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” finally premiered in London. It’s fun, our critic says.

Late Night

Stephen Colbert discussed the search for a new “Jeopardy!” host.

Take the News Quiz

How well did you follow the headlines this week? Take the News Quiz.

Now Time to Play

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were ineffective and infective. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Summa ___ laude (three letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you Monday.

P.S. Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state 62 years ago tomorrow. President Dwight Eisenhower unveiled a revised national flag featuring “nine alternate staggered rows of six and five stars each,” The Times reported.

Here’s today’s print front page.

“The Daily” is about Apple’s new tools against child abuse imagery.

Isabella Kwai, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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