Ralph Nader has racked up a long list of achievements as a consumer activist for the past 40-plus years: thanks to his dogged advocacy for citizens against both politicians and corporations, Americans now drive safer cars, eat healthier foods, drink cleaner water, work in safer workplaces and breathe less-polluted air. Already a published author, who's written or co-written more than a dozen nonfiction books, including the 1965 classic that made him a household name, Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader, at age 75, has just added one more literary accomplishment to his list: novelist.
Nader's debut novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! was crashed by Seven Stories Press with a September 22 laydown. Despite no pre-pub buzz or early reviews in the trade publications, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! already has sold 35,000 copies of its 40,000-copy first print run in hardcover, with no signs of sales slowing down. While Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! has sold steadily into the chains, according to Seven Stories' distributor, Consortium, it has sold “really well” into the independents and into airport stores as well, where it's one of the top 10 bestselling books on a per-store basis.
“We sold it on the blurbs,” Jim Nichols, Consortium sales director, explained, citing promotional endorsements of the book from a diversity of well-known public figures, including business management guru Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence), actor Warren Beatty, Prince-ton University professor Cornel West, rock-and-roller Patti Smith and former Harper's editor Lewis Lapham.
Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! is, in Nader's words, “practical utopian fiction in the tradition of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.” Nader weaves a tale of 17 real-life billionaires and other influential social elites, including Yoko Ono, Bill Cosby and Bill Gates Sr., who, led by one of the world's two wealthiest men, Warren Buffett, respond to the ineptitude of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by leading the charge to wrest the government of the United States away from out-of-touch politicians and greedy corporate interests and return power to the people.
“This could become the most important work of practical utopian fiction in our history,” Nader insisted. “No one else has done it this way. I use real people who were picked very carefully, and I show how [a progressive, top-down, social movement] develops and emerges. There's enough in it to be a civics course on power.”
Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! has received much attention in the consumer media this past month, to be expected by a celebrity writing a topical novel about other celebrities. An AP report was followed by articles in the Washington Post, Variety, San Francisco Chronicle and the Nation. Radio and TV interviews include NPR's Weekend Edition, The Tavis Smiley Show, ABC radio, Fox Business News, Democracy Now! and Minnesota Public Radio's All Things Considered.
But Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon attributes much of the unexpected success of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! to Nader himself “generating momentum the old-fashioned way, with a lot of shoe leather and travel miles.” This fall, Nader has discussed his book and signed copies at 34 different venues in 14 cities across the country to date, including bookstores, libraries and book festivals, with attendance at each event ranging between 100 and 300, with an average of 65 books sold at each site. Half of all his public appearances are held at independent bookstores (either in-store or off-site), and he's even had scheduled signings at four Hudson Group airport bookstores (at Baltimore-Washington International, O'Hare, Denver, and Omaha, Neb.).
Leonard Riggio—himself a character in the novel—introduced Nader at the Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! book launch at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Union Square in New York City on September 23. Riggio insisted to the 600 people attending that he was “not at all like the person that bears my name in Ralph's far-fetched story.” But he added, “The fact that he respects my interest in social justice is reason enough to thank him.”
Expressing his hope that people with very deep pockets who read Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! will then be inspired to put forward the money to make his vision a reality, Nader declared, “People are looking for something like this. People are discouraged about the state of this country. Even the super-rich are discouraged.”