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More than Michael Moore: Contemporary Australian Book Reading Patterns and the Wars on Iraq and Afghanistan

Abstract

Set in a period of heightened public debate in the 2000s and with predictions of the demise of printed books in the background, this study examines whether Australians turned to books in relation to some of the most heated international issues of the era: those associated with the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Analysis of the data reveals that over one and a half million books worth over AUS $50 million (AUS $50,213,000) which could be read directly in relation to debates about the wars were sold in the 6 years timeframe and far more if indirect reading is included. This research is one of the first major scholarly studies internationally to identify English-language contemporary reading patterns based on Nielsen BookScan sales data and is located in an illustrative timeframe (2003–2008): after the introduction of Nielsen BookScan in Australia and before the popularity of ebooks.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All the figures derived from the Nielsen BookScan data are in Australian dollars, adjusted for inflation to 2009. The author thanks Nielsen BookScan for the opportunity to undertake this research.

  2. 2.

    The final categories were: polemics; life narratives of Muslim and Middle-Eastern women; extended journalism; political autobiographies and biographies; contemporary military stories; Australian military history; life narratives of terrorism survivors (or their family members); works by academics; long essays; activists' books (i.e., which weren’t polemics); former intelligence officers’ accounts; terrorists and accused terrorists' personal stories; interventions by public figures without an association with the wars; travel memoir/history; literary authors; religion; other.

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    Books by ABC reporters Eric Campbell (Absurdistan, Sydney, HarperCollins Australia, 2005) and Jonathan Harley (Lost in Transmission, Sydney, Bantam Australia 2004), were particularly popular, as was Leigh Sales’ (Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks, Carlton, Vic., Melbourne University Press, 2007). Works by Irris Makler (Our Woman in Kabul: A Memoir, Bantam Australia, Milsons Point, N.S.W., 2003), Sally Neighbour (In the Shadow of Swords, Pymble, N.S.W.: HarperCollins, 2004), and Paul McGeough (In Baghdad: A Reporter’s War, Crows Nest, N.S.W., Allen and Unwin, 2003, and Manhattan to Baghdad: Despatches from the Frontline in the War on Terror, Crows Nest, N.S.W., Allen and Unwin, 2003) also sold strongly.

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    Examples of books by academics include, in alphabetical order, Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, (Black Inc., 2008); William Blum, The Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002); George Friedman, America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle (Hachette Little, 2004); Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire: How the American People Lost (Hachette Little, 2002) and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Scribe, 2007); Francis Fukuyama, After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads(Profile Books, 2006); Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (Penguin, 2008); and Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad and The Post-American World (W.W. Norton, 2003). UK contributions included Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules by Philippe Sands (Penguin, 2005); Why Do People Hate America? (Icon Books, 2002) and American Dream, Global Nightmare by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies (Icon Books, 2004); and Over There: How America Sees the Rest of the World, a special issue of Granta (2004).

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Correspondence to Jan Zwar.

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Zwar, J. More than Michael Moore: Contemporary Australian Book Reading Patterns and the Wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Pub Res Q 28, 325–339 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-012-9296-x

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Keywords

  • Australia
  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • English-language publishing
  • Journalism
  • Narrative non-fiction books
  • Polemics
  • Public debate
  • Reading patterns