Blair memoir excites booksellers, riles critics

LONDON (AP) - August 31, 2010

Tony Blair's "A Journey" is published Wednesday, promising to give readers behind-the-curtain insights into major world events from the death of Princess Diana to the Sept. 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq.

British booksellers are reporting heavy interest in the book, for which the former British prime minister was paid an estimated 4.6 million pounds ($7.5 million). He's donating the proceeds to a charity for injured troops.

Billed by publisher Random House as a "frank, open" account of life at the top, "A Journey" is being published in a dozen countries, alongside an e-book and an audio version read by Blair himself. This week it's in the top 10 on Amazon's British best-seller list - though it's only 4,000 on the retailer's U.S. site.

"Initial sales will be huge," said Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles book store chain. "But whether those sales are sustained will depend on how frank and open it is."

Blair - who is scheduled to be in Washington on publication day, attending Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in his role as an international Mideast envoy - said he "set out to write a book which describes the human as much as the political dimensions of life as prime minister."

"Though a memoir is by its very nature retrospective, the book is also an attempt to inform and shape current and future thinking, as much as an account of the past," Blair said in comments released in advance of publication.

That account is unlikely to resolve the conflicting views and emotions Blair evokes.

For many Americans, he remains a well-regarded ally who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. in the fight against international terrorism. He's scheduled to receive the 2010 Liberty Medal from former President Bill Clinton in Philadelphia on Sept. 13.

At home, he is a more divisive figure. Swept to power in 1997 on a wave of popular enthusiasm, Blair left office a decade later reviled by many for taking Britain into the U.S.-led Iraq war, and viewed as a liability by much of his own Labour Party.

"He began as a leader who was a friend of everyone, and he finished as a friend of almost no one in Britain," said Blair biographer Anthony Seldon.

Anti-war groups say they will picket Blair's book signings in Dublin on Saturday and in London on Sept. 8. Both are high-security affairs at which book buyers will have to surrender their bags, cameras and mobile phones - and are barred from asking for personal dedications.

Blair, 57, stepped down in June 2007 after a decade that included a historic peace accord in Northern Ireland, the deeply unpopular war in Iraq and the continuing conflict in Afghanistan.

He was Labour's most successful leader for decades, moved the left-leaning party toward the center and brought it back to power after 18 years in opposition.

But when he left, after years of increasingly open hostility with his rival and successor Gordon Brown, his party was divided.

He remains controversial even now. Families of some of the hundreds of British troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have criticized Blair for earning millions from the book and public speaking and since leaving office.

Blair has been at the center of numerous books, notably "The Blair Years," by former press secretary Alastair Campbell, and the recently published memoir "The Third Man," by Labour insider Peter Mandelson.

He was also the inspiration for the former prime minister dogged by allegations of war crimes in Robert Harris' thriller "The Ghost," which was turned into a film by Roman Polanski.

Seldon said most political memoirs are self-serving, "historically pretty useless" and don't live up to the hype.

Blair insists his will be different, and Seldon says the former politician is part of a small group whose words may have wide appeal.

"Britain doesn't have many prime ministers who are international figures," said Seldon. "We have had Churchill, we have had Thatcher, we have had Blair."

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