Who's the Mysterious Author of 'O: A Presidential Novel'?

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On January 25, Simon & Schuster will publish O: A Presidential Novel. The identity of the book's author is, for the moment, a mystery: Simon & Schuster is publishing the novel anonymously, and news sources are reporting only that it's written by someone with "vast personal experience" of the Obama White House. Little else is known about the book, but it's already drawing comparisons to Primary Colors, the anonymous 1996 novel that fictionalized elements of Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. After months of speculation, the author of that book was confirmed to be journalist Joe Klein. Now, we're seeing a similar guessing game for O. Here's what we know and (mostly) don't know:

  • Joe Klein: It's Not Me  Naturally, people have asked Klein if he's the author of the new book. Klein told Yahoo News: "I absolutely deny writing it, have no idea who did, have no idea what's in it." He also said that he "absolutely support[s] the right of whomever wrote this to remain anonymous." It's worth noting, though, that Klein also repeatedly and emphatically denied writing Primary Colors.

  • Then Who Is It?  An unsigned piece in The Guardian runs down a list of possible suspects. Glenn Beck is "a writer... among other things," but "it's probably not him." Sarah Palin? Doubtful, "given her difficulties with language, facts and the melding of the two in general discourse, never mind the more stringent demands of narrative semi-fiction." Kanye West might be exacting "an unlikely revenge for Obama calling him a jackass." But really, says the author, "the smart money is on Klein. The optimistic money is on former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Mine is on Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert."

  • Maybe It Was Voltaire!  Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair notes that Joe Klein "is not the only author to have published a work anonymously. Candide, the 1759 literary and philosophical satire, did not initially bear Voltaire's name. In the case of O, we must rule out Voltaire, as he died in 1778, and would therefore have been unable to cultivate a 'vast personal experience' with the current administration."

  • In All Seriousness...  The Daily Telegraph notes that "in rare instances semi-fictional books could affect people's view of the White House." The Telegraph quotes Roger Porter, a Harvard professor and former aide to Ronald Reagan, who says that the influence of such books "depends on whether they contain new and different information about the President ... and ultimately on the credibility of the author, whose identity will inevitably be discovered."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.