For GOP presidential candidates, a plea for a vote and hawking a book

Studio 360

It seems like every Republican presidential campaign right now is doubling as a book tour.

Michele Bachmann has the Core of Conviction: My Story. Ron Paul is peddling Liberty Defined. Rick Perry wrote 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.

It’s Gingrich’s ninth work of fiction, all written with co-author William Forstchen. It is set in a real, 1864 Civil War battle in Virginia that wound up 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 author Walter Kirn 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 said. “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 said, “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.”

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 questions why Gingrich, who specifically chose this battle as his setting, left out perhaps the most salient feature of it: the massacre of captured black Union soldiers by the Confederate army.

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