September 14, 2017

So, you bought Hillary Clinton’s new political memoir. But are you going to read it?


Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir What Happened is now on sale. Obviously, you’re going to buy it. Why wouldn’t you? You’ve been following the election from the beginning. You were a Bernie-bro-bashing badass from the start, and this new book is apt to be the steerage cabin of the political shit-talk steamer we’ve all been hoping for. If you’ve been following some of the early leaked content like Trainwreck author Sady Doyle has, you already known there’s some serious shit-talking in the book. After all, Clinton has said, “In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.”

So now that this gold, white, and blue marvel is in your hands, are you going to open it up and read what’s inside?

This question has plagued publishers, authors, and reviewers for years. Every election season, a slew of new political memoirs hit the shelves. The books typically explain the providential sufferings and insights of so-and-so’s life — the occasional drug experience or pornographic viewing notwithstanding. Some are political tracts specific enough to make constituents feel enlightened, but not so specific as to alienate big donors and special interest groups.  In all, a political memoir is a tight-rope walk, at best difficult to read, at worst utterly boring.

Thankfully, we can crunch some hard numbers and find out how much of these books are actually read (or listened to). Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight reached out to to get listening data on some of the most popular presidential and election memoirs of the past few decades, from the likes of Ted Cruz, Barack Obama, Marco Rubio, Newt Gingrich, and more. For each book, Hickey calculated the amount of time spent listening to it, and what percentage of the whole was listened to. The results for anyone that works in publishing are probably not surprising:

“The average reader made it through three-quarters of ‘Faith of My Fathers’ by John McCain. That’s ridiculously high. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee all had average completion percentages, between 65 and 70 percent, for ‘American Dreams,’ ‘Unintimidated,’ and ‘God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,’ respectively. The books that don’t do so well by this measure come from both sides of the aisle, but they do have one thing in common: They’re looooong.”

In total, the books on this list averaged out at a little over fifty percent completed (source: my math). But in terms of the amount of total time spent reading, the clear winner is George W. Bush’s 2010 memoir Decision Points, which pulled in, on average, twelve hours of a reader’s time listening.

Our current Cheeto-in-Chief pulled in a disappointing average listening time of two hours and twelve minutes for his Great Again. Then again, the full audiobook is only four and a half hours long — perhaps he didn’t have much to say anyway.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.