Newt Gingrich: The Candidate as Novelist
Friday, December 09, 2011
It seems like every Republican presidential campaign right now is doubling as a book tour (Michele Bachmann’s Core of Conviction: My Story, Ron Paul’s Liberty Defined, Rick Perry’s Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington). But this double duty is nothing new for candidate Newt Gingrich, who publishes an average of two books a year.
Gingrich is the new front-runner in the G.O.P. race, and the only one selling a new novel. The Battle of the Crater is Gingrich's ninth work of fiction (all written with co-author William Forstchen). It takes as its setting a real 1864 Civil War battle in Virginia that was a victory for the South. Gingrich's narrative follows an assembly of African-American Union soldiers — The United States Colored Troops — as they prepare for and fight heroically in the bloody battle. The book has already drawn fire for glossing over the subsequent massacre of black troops by the Confederates.
The writer Walter Kirn (Up in the Air) is fascinated by the intersection of Gingrich's fiction-writing identity and his political persona. Gingrich seems drawn to "the very gravitas of being a historical novelist," Kirn tells Kurt Andersen. "I think it serves Newt's greater attempt to seem thoughtful and above the usual run of candidates." In a debate between novelist Newt, surveying a broad sweep of American history, and bestselling memoirist Barack Obama, who would come out the greater author?
“I look at the kind of books Barack has published – more interior and meditative works on his personal identity,” Kirn says, “and I think that might predict the tone of a campaign that we’d see later, in which Newt suggests Barack is maybe too self-involved.”
Bonus Track: An Historian’s Analysis
The historian Kevin Levin has a special interest in Gingrich’s novel. Levin runs the blog Civil War Memory, and next year the University Press of Kentucky will publish his book, Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder. He reviewed Gingrich’s book in The Atlantic this week.
Levin explains to Kurt why he thinks Gingrich chose this particular civil war battle to fictionalize. He raises a serious question as to why Gingrich left out perhaps the most salient feature of the battle: the massacre of captured black Union soldiers.