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Slow Economy Prompts Wave Of Liberal Books

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NEW YORK -- With a Democrat in the White House, a wave of books is coming out this year lamenting the slow economy and calling for substantial change.

And those books are by liberals.

"It's the story of the moment right now," says Patricia Bostelman, vice president of marketing for Barnes & Noble Inc. "We have a real disparity-of-wealth issue and that tends to be a subject for books from the left, especially after Occupy Wall Street."

Call it the Occupy Bookstores movement. At least 20 current and upcoming works reflect the left's varied reactions – fatalism, disappointment, anger – to the Obama administration's handling of the economy and ongoing concerns about corporate power (too high) and government spending and investment (too low).

"I published a bunch of liberal books during the (George W.) Bush administration and the theme was basically, `I hate Bush,'" says Chris Jackson, executive editor of Spiegel & Grau, a Random House Inc. imprint. "This time, we're dealing with the limitations of what a president can do and systematic things like the influence of the financial industry and the relationship between the 1 percent and the 99 percent."

Timothy Noah's "The Great Divergence" and Joseph Stiglitz's "The Price of Inequality" are among several new books that focus on the growing gap between rich and poor. Prescriptions for the economy are featured in a pair of best-sellers: Paul Krugman's "End This Depression Now!" and former Obama adviser Van Jones' "Rebuild the Dream."

Some books are campaign oriented, like James Carville's "It's the Middle Class, Stupid," while others offer information, inspiration and guidance for activists. "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt," co-authored by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco and published by Nation Books, provides close accounts of some of the country's most devastated communities, "sacrifice zones." It ends with a detailed history of the Occupy protests and a declaration that "the mighty can fall."

"Nation Books has always issued books on inequality and class, but sometimes historic events enable some books to get a greater hearing than others," says Carl Bromley, Nation Books' editorial director. "It's like what happened during the first half of the last decade. All kinds of books about the Middle East were getting published so the public could better understand what was happening in the news."

"I think a goal for some of the books is to shape the debate and the presidential campaign," says Drake McFeely, president of W.W. Norton & Company, which publishes Krugman and Stiglitz, both Nobel Prize-winning economists. "I think the feeling for some writers is that it would be nice if these books gave Obama the room to move more to the left than he has."

Many books were inspired directly by the protests: Noam Chomsky's "Occupy" was among a series of pamphlets released by Zuccotti Park Press, named for the downtown Manhattan park where the Occupy protests emerged. "Occupying Wall Street" was published by Chicago-based Haymarket Books and credited to several authors collectively identified as "Writers for the 99 Percent."

Other releases include "The Occupy Handbook," with contributions from Krugman, Michael Lewis, Barbara Ehrenreich and others, and Richard Wolff's "Occupy the Economy," issued this month by the publishing arm of San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore.

"We've really seen an upsurge for these kinds of books over the past," says Paul Yamazaki, a buyer for City Lights. "And some of the older books have taken on a new life, like Saul Alinsky's `Rules for Radicals.'"

One longtime activist and founding Occupy organizer, David Graeber, already has written a word-of-mouth hit and has a deal with Spiegel & Grau for a book about the Occupy movement and the democratic process.

Graeber, credited with coining the Occupy phrase "We are the 99 percent," last year released "Debt: the First Five Thousand Years" through the independent Melville House Publishing. The book was widely discussed and, according to Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson, has sold around 60,000 copies. Chris Jackson of Spiegel & Grau was among those who read it.

"What I loved about his book was that it wasn't just a polemic. It was also this rich history and it taught me things that I didn't know," Jackson says.

"So I already was a fan of his when the proposal for his new book came our way. It was originally going to be just about Occupy, but has evolved into a broader book. We're going into an election where people are pessimistic about the political process and the inability of the government to respond. Occupy was a movement that galvanized some widely held ideas and made them visible. So he's writing about how we can change our society, not just economically, but politically."

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