Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Beinart Book a Colossal Flop

Both conservative and liberal Jewish critics have panned Peter Beinart’s book about the so-called Crisis of Zionism, giving the onetime neo-liberal scribbler a series of spankings that would daunt a less conceited author. But because the disillusioned lover of Zion didn’t let his own abysmal ignorance about both Israel and the Palestinians stop him from writing a book about the topic, there’s no reason to assume he won’t go on annoying audiences with his agonized but all too predictable misgivings about the real life state of Israel (as opposed to the imaginary ideal liberal version of the Jewish state he prefers to the one where the voters reject his ideas) as he continues on a book tour far and wide. All this chatter and buzz may be giving even Beinart’s detractors the idea that he is making some headway with the public, but apparently the book-buying public, like the critics, aren’t buying it.

According to BookScan, the respected service that tabulates point-of-sales purchases of books at stores around the nation, Beinart’s much-hyped effort is a flop. Reliable sources tell us that BookScan, which is believed to capture the figures that represent about 60 percent of the book buying in the nation, has tabulated that as of this week Beinart had only sold 2,845 copies of The Crisis of Zionism. Because books that sell thousands more than that number are considered by publishers to be busts, Beinart’s ballyhooed cri-de-coeur must be considered a colossal flop. And considering that Beinart is believed to have received an advance of several hundred thousand dollars for it, one imagines that the brass at Times Books — the partnership between Henry Holt and the New York Times that published Crisis — are kicking themselves for being duped into believing the market for post-Zionist carping extended beyond the tiny group of people who will buy anything that takes a dim view of Israel.

Crisis’s current Amazon rating is 2,530. That might not be considered embarrassing for a run-of-the-mill non-fiction book. But it’s a terrible ranking for a book whose author has been feted on broadcast and cable networks in the kind of public relations blitz orchestrated by his publisher normally reserved for a blockbuster.

In making this observation, we’re not looking to rain on Beinart’s parade. He’s already got his money for the book and can, as they say, cry all the way to the bank while continuing to portray himself as a courageous and embattled dissident no matter what anyone says. The point is that the failure of this book undercuts the claim that Beinart represents mainstream American Jewish views. He doesn’t. The apathetic response of a book-buying community like the Jewish one illustrates that the public has as little interest in his misguided views as the critics.

Though Beinart’s attack on Israel may conform to the views of the editors and publishers of the Times, perhaps the next time an ambitious scribbler and his book agent tries to sell a publisher on a project with a similar theme, they will remember Beinart and take a pass.