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Not That ‘Fire and Fury’



The Washington Post
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Randall Hansen happened to be in Washington for a conference last Friday as Michael Wolff’s explosive new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, was taking the city by storm.

“I was perking up a bit,” said Hansen, the interim director at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. But his interest in the book had less to do with the political controversy that ensued, and more to do with its title.

That’s because almost a decade ago, Hansen also wrote a book about a different kind of “fire and fury.” Hansen’s Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945, released in 2009, earning national acclaim in Canada for its examination of civilian German suffering during World War II.

But in recent years, “very few people were buying it,” Hansen said in an interview on Tuesday with The Washington Post.

He “had a chuckle” with other conference attendees about the similar titles, but “thought nothing of it.” Then, on a whim that night, he looked up his book on Amazon and discovered sales had suddenly shot up. The book had even landed on three different bestseller lists on Amazon, virtually overnight.

Hansen realized that many people had stumbled upon his book while searching for Wolff’s record-setting, highly anticipated title. The latter sent the White House into a furor last week and prompted Trump to break with his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, for scathing criticism attributed to him in Wolff’s book. Trump’s attorney sought last week to stop publication of the book, but the publisher sped up the book’s release date instead.

In the days since, the controversy over Wolff’s book has fueled sales, its publisher said. With orders for more than a million hardcover copies, it has become the fastest-selling nonfiction book in Henry Holt’s 151-year-history, The Post’s Paul Farhi reported.

In the midst of this frenzy, some of the readers who’d read Hansen’s book were baffled over the fuss, according to its Amazon reviews.

“I DON’T SEE ANYTHING ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP! I DON’T KNOW WHY THE DEMOCRATS ARE SO HAPPY WITH THIS BOOK AND MAKEINIG A BIG DEAL OF THIS,” one review said.

And at least one reader felt deceived.

“HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BLUMPF !!! SCAM !!!” the reader posted.

Another wrote: “I love Trump, so I bought this book to spite Wolf.”

Whether it was due to confusion, spitefulness or serendipity, Hansen’s book has been riding Wolff’s coattails. The World War II book is currently back-ordered on Amazon. And the professor couldn’t be more pleased.

“Incredibly,” Hansen tweeted late Friday night, sales of his book

had increased. “Will I owe a larger royalty cheque to Bannon & Trump? If so, the irony will know no limits.”

For the title, Hansen said he chose “fire” to represent the bombs dropped by the Allied air forces in the Second World War. “Fury” conveyed the British “intention to destroy as many cities as possible.”

While this “fire and fury” technically does not have anything to do with Wolff’s book, he sees a connection between the two titles. Trump used the phrase “fire and fury” in response to North Korean threats last summer, which Wolff’s title echoes, Hansen said.

But Hansen said his book “is about what fire and fury actually looks like for some of the most innocent people.” It recounts how bombs dropped by Allied air forces during World War II destroyed dozens of cities, killed more than half a million German citizens and left some 80,000 pilots dead.

Although Hansen isn’t a fan of the U.S. president, whom he described as “impulsive” and “childish,” he is grateful for the association with the book about Trump’s administration.

“If a few more people read my book now and reflect on the horrific consequences of war to civilian populations,” he said, “I think that would be a very good outcome.”

“It’s particularly important when we have this unstable demagogue in the White House who is constantly threatening ... war and the use of military weapons,” Hansen added.

Hansen’s message, of maintaining moral principles, seems to have resonated with at least one reader so far this week.

“Even when fighting an evil force like the Nazis, as this book makes clear, we should not check our morals at the door,” one reviewer posted on Amazon on Sunday.

Hansen says he plans to reach out to Wolff one day.

“After all this settles, I’m going to send him a letter,” Hansen said. “My sense is he’s got other things on his mind at the moment.”