NEW YORK – Like his presidential candidacy, the books of Sen. John Kerry (search) seemed safely obscure a month ago.
Stores were returning his campaign publication, "A Call to Service," released last fall. Two previous works were out of print and well forgotten.
But thanks to his stunning victory in Iowa and subsequent triumphs in New Hampshire, Missouri and other primaries, Kerry is the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president and increasingly of interest to readers.
Sales have increased fivefold for "A Call to Service" — to more than 1,000 copies a week — and bids on eBay for copies of "The New Soldier," published in 1971 and now hard to find, have topped $100. A new book for which Kerry provided letters and journals, Douglas Brinkley's (search) "Tour of Duty," will appear at No. 10 on The New York Times' list of nonfiction hardcover best sellers that comes out Sunday, Feb. 15.
Books can help or haunt a candidate, and the 60-year-old Kerry knows both sides. "Tour of Duty," which documents his years as a Vietnam soldier and Vietnam protester, has been credited with warming up his aloof, patrician image. But "The New Soldier" created a more forbidding image, at least with Massachusetts voters.
"The New Soldier" was a collaboration among Kerry and other anti-war Vietnam veterans that included photographs and written memories. Kerry's transformation from boat commander to protester had made him a national celebrity and his book was honored with a star-packed party at the home of George Plimpton (search), literary patron and founder of The Paris Review.
But "The New Soldier" initially damaged Kerry, not because of what he wrote, but because of what appeared on the book's cover: an upside down American flag. Kerry ran for Congress in 1972, only to be attacked by Republicans for desecrating the flag.
"It helped cost him the race," says Brinkley.
Kerry's next book, "The New War," came out in 1997, early in his third term as senator. It is dry and pragmatic, the work of an experienced politician who calls for increased monitoring of international crime organizations and worries that "crime has been globalized along with everything else except ... our response to it."
Kerry also writes about terrorism and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, although the index includes no reference to Osama bin Laden. But Kerry does declare, "We were not prepared for the first real wave of terror that broke out in America and we are not yet prepared for the next." He then notes, "It will take only one mega-terrorist event in any of the great cities of the world to change the world in a single day."
"A Call to Service" is a standard campaign policy book, reading like a collection of speeches. Kerry offers familiar positions on taxes (he'd repeal President Bush's cuts for the wealthiest Americans), the environment (he supports "tougher, stronger enforcement" of environmental laws) and foreign policy (he opposes the "unilateralism" of the current administration).
Both "A Call to Service" and his presidential candidacy reflect how much Kerry has changed since "The New Soldier." Instead of an upside down flag, the cover of his new book shows a grinning Kerry wearing an American flag pin on his lapel, with a narrow band of red, white and blue running along the bottom of the page.
Meanwhile, Kerry's service in Vietnam has been a frequent backdrop as he campaigns around the country. He rode in a Veterans Day parade last fall while campaigning in Arizona, and he spoke at a Vietnam memorial in Iowa last month.
But in an epilogue he wrote for "The New Soldier," a determined young Kerry vowed that he and other Vietnam veterans would not accept the "old myths" of previous wars, including the value of Veterans Day and war memorials.
"We will not quickly join those who march on Veterans Day waving small flags, calling to memory those thousands who died for the `greater glory of the United States,"' he wrote.
Some Democrats have criticized Kerry for supporting a 2002 resolution authorizing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He now says he did so based on faulty U.S. intelligence.
But in "The New Soldier," he had vowed never to be deceived about war again. While still "willing to pick up arms" and defend his country, he insisted he would "not go blindly because my government says I must go."
"I will not go unless we can make real our promises of self-determination and justice at home," he wrote.
"I will not go unless the threat is a real one and we all know it to be so. I will not go unless the people of this country decide for themselves that we must all of us go."