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The Secret Life of Newt Gingrich

Former speaker of the House by day, Amazon.com super reviewer by night.

12:00 AM, Jun 16, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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NEWT GINGRICH has been leading a secret life. Night after night for years he's been slipping out of the headquarters of the vast right-wing conspiracy, wolfing down spy novels and then reviewing them for Amazon.com. So prolific and proficient has he been at this pursuit that he has attained the coveted title Amazon Top 500 Reviewer. Newt is number 488.

To earn this honor, Gingrich wrote 137 reviews, which were deemed "helpful" by 2,002 people. "Newt Gingrich," we learn from his extensive About Me page, "is an avid reader. He does not review all of the books he reads. You will not find any bad reviews here, just the books he thinks you might enjoy." From the same page, we learn that in addition to being called an "exceptional leader" by Time magazine (which made him its Man of the Year in 1995), Newt Gingrich is "credited with the idea of a Homeland Security agency," "widely recognized for his commitment to a better system of health," and that he was the March of Dimes 1995 Georgia Citizen of the Year.

Certainly no one could fault Gingrich for less-than-full disclosure about himself. But you can also tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.

Gingrich shares the rank of Amazon reviewer #488 with "boudica" who describes herself as "Witch and Editor of the ZodiacBistro.com and a free lance reviewer." She's also a "Craft teacher with the CroneSpeak.com group" who has "recently published article in the Llewellyn Wicca Almanac."

Gingrich is slightly outranked by "Comrade Radmila", who doesn't "claim to be an expert on literature, films, or music" and notes in his About Me section that he's ticked off that "someone wrote to tell me I hurt their feelings because I did not like Mystic Pizza or something like that."

As advertised, Gingrich's book reviews themselves are disconcertingly positive. For fiction, Gingrich prefers stories of international intrigue--spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers. Clearly something of an addict, Gingrich finds that he "can't put down" dozens of "page-turners" that "grab you on the first page and carry you straight to the end" and so has to read "nonstop." Consuming speed-readable escapist international spy fiction occupies a significant chunk of Newt's downtime, it seems.

For non-fiction, Gingrich favors books about revolutions in ideas or politics. Though some of the books seem like odd choices taken separately (Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution), it's clear that Newt is fascinated by tipping points--moments where new technology or new ideas cause revolutionary change in the way the world works. No word on where To Renew America fits in this genre, since Gingrich avoids commenting on his own work.

Gingrich is non-partisan in his non-fiction reviews, awarding five stars to Andrei Cherny's The Next Deal: The Future of Public Life in the Information Age. He writes: "To have a 21-year-old Gore speechwriter mature into a 25-year-old public policy book writer and then have that book enthusiastically trumpeted by a conservative former Speaker of the House is a moment of unique achievement."

Gingrich rarely gives fewer than four stars to the books he reviews. One notable exception is Bob Woodward's Bush at War, which Gingrich deems "useful" and hits with a mere 3-star rating. Wesley Clark's Waging Modern War, on the other hand, gets five stars and the header "Required, timely reading."

Not all reviewers are as relentlessly positive as Gingrich. The first customer review that appears for Gingrich's alternate history of the civil war Gettysburg is rather harsh: