Biographers have massaged it as compulsively as a phrenologist fingering the skull of an ax-murderer.
Dubya made it a key point Friday in Saginaw.
The vice president says he stands by every word, even as he nonchalantly amends the shrillest ones without hesitation or apparent regret.
What it is, of course, is "Earth in the Balance," a book with perhaps the longest shelf life of any written by a politician in the last 30 years. Though often puzzled over for its apocalyptic tone and fuzzy New Age philosophizing, the book remains the central artifact of Al Gore's political career.
When Dan Quayle attacked it during a vice-presidential debate in 1992 - "Read page 304," he admonished - sales skyrocketed. And chances are, as Gore faces George W. Bush in this campaign season's series of debates, "the book" will come up again.
As Election Day nears, a passing acquaintance with this 407-page volume could be handy. Herewith, a compendium of choice facts and nuanced observations that provides a reader's guide to a book that even Gore has said offers voters a path into the workings of his mind:
Title: "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit"
Weeks on best-seller list: 28
Published: January 1992
Original title (proposed by author): "The New World War"
Ghost writer: None
Author's theme: "Preserving the environment should become the central organizing principle of civilization."
Most cited statement: "We now know the (internal combustion engine's) impact on the global environment is posing a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront. It ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a 25-year period."
Most haunting statement: "I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously."
Money, awards, marketing
Publisher's advance 1990: $33,300
Publisher's advance 1991: $66,700
Royalties in 1992: $461,000
Royalties in 1993: $310,000
Royalties in 1994: $259,000
Royalties in 1998: $15,564
Profits donated: $50,000 seed money to the University of Tennessee toward a $1 million chair in environmental studies
Honorable Achievement: Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, 1993
Dubious Achievement: No. 2 on Slate magazine's list of The Century's 100 Silliest Books Taken Seriously By Serious People (No. 1: The Greening of America by Charles Reich)
Book Cover Color 1992: Black
Book Cover Color 2000: White
Author's photo 1992: Sen. Gore, wearing jeans, sitting pensively beneath a tree; in black and white
Author's photo 2000: Vice President Gore, confidently, in profile against a burgundy screen; in color
Book blurb dropped for 2000 edition: "Earth in the Balance is a brilliantly written, prophetic, even holy book, clearly pointing the way we need to change to assure the survival of our grandchildren. I pray it will have the dramatic impact it deserves - and must have for our collective salvation." - M. Scott Peck
What's in it?
Controversial policy proposal: Higher prices for fossil fuels
Religious thesis: "I am convinced that the environmental crisis is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis that is, for lack of a better word, spiritual."
Most obtuse thesis: Civilization is like a dysfunctional family.
Most startling sentence: "We have constructed in our civilization a false world of plastic flowers and AstroTurf, air conditioning and fluorescent lights, windows that don't open and background music that never stops, days when we don't know whether it has rained or not, nights when the sky never stops glowing, Walkman and Watchman, entertainment cocoons, frozen food for the microwave oven, sleepy hearts jump-started with caffeine, alcohol, drugs and illusions."
Personal revelation: "I grew up in a determinedly political family, in which I learned at an early age to be very sensitive - too sensitive, perhaps - to what others were thinking, and to notice carefully - maybe too carefully - the similarities and differences between my way of thinking and that of the society around me."
Pages of charts or maps: 12
New word coined: "exformation" - Gore created this word to describe information pollution, "vast amounts of information" that "exists completely outside the brain of any living person."
Weirdest comparison: Unabomber's Manifesto
Most likely comparison: "The Quiet Crisis," by Stuart Udall
Opponent's reaction No. 1: "This guy is so far out in the environmental extreme, we'll be up to our neck in owls and outta work for every American. He is way out, far out, man." - President George Bush, 1992
Opponent's reaction No. 2: "It's all pretty bizarre stuff. This is a view detached from reality and devoid of common sense." - Dan Quayle, 1992