Tony Blair's all the rage
This is the kind of scene you expect from a book tour. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stands smiling, at right, as the managing director of Eason, an Irish bookstore chain, beams, at left. Copies of Blair's new memoir "A Journey" are stacked enticingly between them. Traditional. Statesmanlike.
Except this is what it looked like outside:
Irish police held back protesters that day outside an Eason's bookstore as Blair signed books inside. The demonstration included more than 200 protesters upset over Blair's role in the war in Iraq; some witnesses said flip-flops and plastic bottles were thrown at his motorcade. That's a stronger reception than most authors get for their books.
The extreme reaction has caused Blair to rethink his book-tour strategy. Wednesday night's book-launch party, scheduled to be held at the Tate Modern in London, has been postponed. "I don't mind going through protesters; I've done that all through my political life," Blair said on a British television program Wednesday morning, "but for other people it can be unpleasant and a bit frightening. It's supposed to be a nice occasion, so if it's not going to be that, there are more important things to do."
It's the second event that Blair has canceled since his book was released last week. Earlier Wednesday he was to sign books at a Waterstone's in Picadilly in central London, but that event was canceled on Monday.
Interestingly, the protests do not seem to have hurt sales. Blair's memoir is currently the top-selling autobiography in Britain, according to Nielsen's BookScan, and has had the best opening sales week in Neilsen's tracking history, which goes back to 1998. "A Journey" has sold more than 92,000 copies since its release on Sept. 1.
The sales numbers are impressive, but Blair has been topped by Margaret Thatcher. Back in 1993, before BookScan began keeping track, Thatcher's "The Downing Street Years" sold an estimated 120,000 copies in its first week.
Blair's perspective on the necessity of the Iraq war has angered protesters. In the book, he writes that "on the basis of what we do know now, I still believe that leaving Saddam in power was a bigger risk to our security than removing him and that, terrible though the aftermath was, the reality of Saddam and his sons in charge of Iraq would at least arguably be much worse." He refuses to disavow the war, writing that "I can't regret the decision to go to war."
Antiwar protesters aren't the only ones questioning the contents of the book. On Wednesday, Peter Morgan, the screenwriter behind the movie "The Queen," told the Telegraph that Blair's memoir includes a scene that he invented for the movie, complete with strikingly similar dialog.
Will the attention hurt Blair's book sales? Will the protests continue? Will he ever be able to go on book tour, or will he have to content himself with other affairs of former world leaders -- encouraging youth, making statements about Africa and weighing in on the Mideast peace talks?
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Upper photo: Tony Blair with Eason bookshop managing director Conor Whelen on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland. Credit: Niall Carson / WPA Pool / Getty Images
Lower photo: Protests outside Eason bookshop in Dublin, Ireland, on Saturday, when Tony Blair appeared for a book signing. Credit: Peter Muhly / AFP/ Getty Images