'The Last Brother' lacks sales sizzle, despite controversy

August 19, 1993|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Book Editor

Is "The Last Brother" a first-class dud?

Although Joe McGinniss' much-criticized book on Sen. Ted Kennedy recently entered the best-seller list of the New York Times Book Review -- it will be No. 13 for Sunday's nonfiction listings -- its sales have been disappointing, according to local bookstores and some national observers of the book industry.

"For lack of a better word, sales have been lackluster, given McGinniss' history of writing best sellers and that books about the Kennedys generally sell well," says Donna Passannante, a spokeswoman for the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain. "It is selling, yes, but by now you'd expect it to have really taken off."

"The Last Brother" was published by Simon & Schuster last month with a first printing of 250,000 -- a large figure by industry standards. Mr. McGinniss has been strongly criticized for writing the book as if he had access to Mr. Kennedy's private thoughts and conversations, even though he did not interview the senator. In addition, writers William Manchester and Doris Kearns Goodwin have accused Mr. McGinniss of plagiarizing some of their works.

Mr. McGinniss has denied vigorously this and other charges of irresponsible journalism in several recent interviews, including a second round of television interviews last week. Simon & Schuster has run three newspaper ads in support of the book, including one that appeared Monday with the tagline, "Decide for Yourself."

Evidently many book buyers are deciding by passing on "The Last Brother." "The book is not selling to the degree that -- prior to the whole brouhaha -- we had hoped," acknowledges Wendy Nicholson, Simon & Schuster's marketing director.

Though Ms. Nicholson and book chains would not release specific sales figures for "The Last Brother," it has made a few best-seller lists -- the Waldenbooks chain listed it No. 8 as of Aug. 7, and it is No. 10 in Newsday's most recent listing for New York area bookstores. But it hasn't made much of an impact locally.

Paul Reed, assistant manager of the Waldenbooks store at Towson Town Center, said Tuesday afternoon that his store had ordered 25 copies, but had sold four in two weeks.

And manager Ann Mackebee of Louie's Book Store Cafe says she ordered one copy of "The Last Brother," and "nobody has asked about it, mentioned it or complained about it. I've had absolutely no interest in it."

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