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Conservatives Reading Alinsky! (And Other Surprising Networking Tales from the Amazon)

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, October 29 2008

Valdis Krebs, whose social network maps of the relationships between political book purchasers on Amazon have periodically graced our pixels, has a new post up taking one last look at the shifting patterns that can be discovered by looking at the list of top-selling political books and tracing which other political books are also popular among those book-buyers, and you will be surprised by what he has found.

The biggest news, in my personal opinion, is his discovery that buyers of popular conservative titles--books like Obama Nation and Liberal Fascism--are also buying Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky's seminal work on community organizing! (Technically, Krebs data shows that buyers of Alinsky's work are also highly likely to buy the other two titles, but the association is meaningful either way.)

You can get a more legible version of the chart here.

Does this make readers of Jonah Goldberg and Jerome Corsi into terrorists? I hope not. Actually, it's pretty interesting to discover that the Right's fascination with Barack Obama's roots as a community organizer has got at least some conservatives reading Alinsky. Krebs comments, "Is the right trying to figure out why Obama's campaign, based on community organizing principals, is so successful?" Hmm, my guess is the right is more likely hoping to discover that Alinsky was actually a Communist (in fact he despised Communism).

Krebs's network map offers other interesting patterns to ponder. He writes:

* unlike in previous maps, there are no bridging books between the red and blue clusters -- the two parties are totally separated! This reflects the immense polarization and animosity we currently see in campaign rallies on both sides.
* those buying positive books about Obama, are not buying other political books. Are they interested in the candidate, but not politics in general?
* there are no books about McCain or Biden that made the Amazon cut-off for "most popular political books." The book about Palin -- Sarah -- is the only popular book about the Republican team.
* the Right focus on fewer books to get their message across. The map does not reflect volume of books sold. It is possible that the Right buy more volume of fewer books.

I'm not surprised to see the degree of polarization reflected in this book map, though if you look closely you'll see two Republican authors--Peggy Noonan (Patriotic Grace) and Scott McClellan (What Happened)--on the blue side of the map, with McClellan pretty deeply embedded in it. Noonan has been critical of McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, and McClellan recently endorsed Obama, so these patterns aren't a total surprise.

Finally, it's very interesting that Krebs discovered that purchasers of Obama's books pretty much stand apart from the rest of the red-blue political book-buyer divide. What this suggests is that the people buying Obama books right now aren't all that political; they're not the sort of people who rush out to get the next Bob Woodward or Tom Frank or Bill O'Reilly title. When a politician starts selling books beyond the core political junkie crowd, that's pretty telling.