Attacked on All Sides, an Anti-Trump Manifesto Prevails on the Best-Seller List

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Jeff Flake

FLAKE NEWS: Quick, who wrote “Inferno”? (A) Dante. (B) Dan Brown. (C) All of the above. The right answer is of course (C), and thanks to Brown — I like to picture him introducing himself at cocktail parties as “Dante Brown” — there is recent precedent for borrowing a classic’s title in hopes that its posterity might rub off. (It worked for Brown. His Dante-influenced thriller spent more than a year on the hardcover and paperback fiction lists.) Even so, the Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has raised eyebrows by calling his new anti-Trump manifesto “Conscience of a Conservative.” That’s because Barry Goldwater’s 1960 book of that title, which stayed on the Times nonfiction list for 31 weeks, is still revered as a founding document of the modern conservative movement. Right-wing commentators who aren’t as ready to abandon the president see Flake’s appropriation of the name more as apostasy than as the homage Flake intended, and object to the book’s attacks on the Republican establishment. (“We pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” Flake writes. “Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended that the emperor was making sense.”) Brent Bozell III, president of the conservative Media Research Center and son of Goldwater’s collaborator (some say ghostwriter), recently insisted that “Jeff Flake is not a conservative, nor does he have a conscience,” and he called on his “conservative brethren to denounce this impostor.” You know you’re in trouble when your critics are using the word “brethren.” Not that liberals are much happier. In The New Republic this month, Alex Shephard applauded the book’s message but said that Flake — who “has voted with Donald Trump 95 percent of the time” — was the wrong person to deliver it.

It’s too soon to say how any of this will affect Flake’s chances for re-election next year. But it hasn’t hurt him in bookstores: “Conscience of a Conservative” makes its debut on the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 4.

THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES: Tom Perrotta’s latest novel, “Mrs. Fletcher” — about the complicated sex lives of an empty nester and her college-age son — is new on the hardcover fiction list at No. 8. As part of an author’s questionnaire, Salon recently asked Perrotta to list some words he despises that readers or reviewers have used to…

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