Saturday, September 17, 2016

Obama’s Cash-for-Jihad Program

Let’s give Iran, a certified state sponsor of terrorism, billions in cash. What could go wrong?

By Andrew C. McCarthy — September 17, 2016
Image result for obama cash iran 2016
The Obama State Department is convinced that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his regime’s cronies are financing terrorism. How come? Well, because they conduct business in cash.

In fact, in its most recent annual report on state sponsors of terrorism, State frets “that 60 percent of all business transactions [in Syria] are conducted in cash and that nearly 80 percent of all Syrians do not use formal banking services.” This has created a “vast black market,” the components of which are exploited by “some members of the Syrian government and the business elite . . . in terrorism finance schemes.”

Interesting thing about that: There are only three countries on the list of state sponsors of terrorism — Syria, Sudan, and Iran. That last one is worth highlighting. Iran, after all, is not just the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism; it is also the world’s leading state sponsor of . . . Syria — providing it with lots of that cash the State Department is so concerned about.

Oh, I nearly forgot: Iran also happens to be the jihadist regime that President Obama just gave $1.7 billion to . . . in cash.

Or should I say, at least $1.7 billion.

It is hard to decide what is the most appalling thing about Obama’s $1.7 billion payoff to the mullahs: the ransom for the release of American hostages, which has predictably induced Tehran to take more hostages; the pallets of untraceable currency loaded on multiple planes of the national airline regularly used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to arm Assad and facilitate terror; the withdrawals from a shadowy Treasury Department fund structured in a manner designed to conceal that money was being transferred to Iran. The transaction is so shocking, one can easily forget that it is just the latest in a long series of payoffs.

The payoffs were made in Obama’s pursuit of legacy adornment — the nuclear deal with Iran he coveted at any cost. Beginning in January 2014 and continuing for a year and a half — the period during which the president was quietly folding at the negotiation table on every bold campaign-trail vow to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — the administration released $700 million per month in escrowed oil funds to the jihadist regime.

In congressional testimony last week, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) did the math: That’s $11.9 billion. But that, literally, may not be the half of it. In July, U.S. government officials told the Associated Press that Iran had repatriated a sum approaching $20 billion in the half-year following implementation of the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA).

Is that $20 billion from the JCPOA in addition to the pre-JCPOA $11.9 billion in oil revenues? Is it in addition to the $1.7 billion “settlement of a failed 1970s arms deal” (a.k.a. the ransom for American hostages)? The “most transparent administration in history” is not saying. But as Dubowitz runs the numbers, the “worst-case scenario” is that Iran has gotten its mitts on $33.6 billion — and “worst” assumes that we know about every shady backroom deal, which seems unlikely.

That staggering figure would amount to about 8 percent of Iran’s entire annual GDP. Whatever the true amount is, were the billions transferred in cash?

Remember, when the news first broke of the $400 million cash payment on the same day our hostages were released, the president looked us in the eye and told us he had to pay the mullahs that way — he couldn’t wire the funds or send a check because, owing to his professed respect for sanctions in American law, there is no banking relationship between the U.S. and Iran. As I explained at the time, this was simply false: The cash transfer violated the sanctions every bit as much as a check or wire transfer would have. Plus, the sanctions allow for presidential waivers, so Obama could easily have wired the money. He sent cash only because he chose to send cash.

So if the administration loaded up planes with $1.7 billion in foreign currency for the settlement/ransom, was a similar method used in connection with the $11.9 billion in escrowed oil funds? How about the $20 billion in JCPOA sanctions relief? Again, the administration won’t say — apparently relying on a nonexistent privilege of confidentiality in international relations to justify withholding such information from Congress and the public.

One sadly hilarious aspect of this spectacle is the administration’s tortured claims about Iran’s use of its Obama windfalls. The White House and State Department grudgingly admit that they cannot know for certain how much Iran has diverted to the terrorist activities that the administration even more grudgingly admits Iran continues to underwrite. But rest assured, Obama strongly suspects that very little money makes its way to the jihad, since Tehran must prioritize paying down crushing debt and repairing crumbling infrastructure.

How ridiculous. It is pointless to track how particular dollar streams are spent by a terrorist regime. Iran had crushing debt and crumbling infrastructure before Obama started lining its pockets; yet it was committed to exporting revolutionary jihad, so it spent its sparse resources on terrorism anyway. Consequently, if the new dollars Iran is reeling in are ostensibly spent on infrastructure or debt, the dollars that would otherwise have been spent on those activities are freed up for terrorist activity.

The logic is unassailable: Because money is fungible, not a thin dime can safely be given to an entity that supports terrorism. In the case of Iran, however, we need not rely on logical deduction; we know Iran is channeling funds to the jihad. As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Saeed Ghasseminejad reports, the Iranian regime requires the transfer to its military of funds it receives from settling legal disputes with foreign countries and companies. That means, for example, that the $1.7 billion settlement that Obama paid when the hostages were released has gone to the IRGC.

That brings us back full-circle to the State Department’s annual report on state sponsors of terrorism. As the report explains, the IRGC, through its notorious Qods Force, “is Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”

To summarize: The Obama administration explains that when a terrorist regime like Syria prefers to conduct business in cash, that markedly increases the likelihood that its funds will be used to finance terrorism. Concurrently, Obama is providing exorbitant sums to Iran, the world’s worst terrorist regime, and going out of his way to transfer it in the form of cash. And under the Iranian regime’s dictates, a goodly portion of that cash is going directly to the component of the Iranian government that oversees its prodigious international terrorism operations.

Not to worry, though — it’s not like they’re threatening our naval vessels, humiliating our sailors, massing Hezbollah forces on Israel’s border, or chanting “Death to America,” right?

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Fantastic World of Professor Tolkien

January 16, 1956

Image result for lord of the rings first edition

One year ago, when the first volume of his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was published, an Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature cast a spell over the readers who ventured within the world of his creation. It was a haunting and ennobling world, held together by inner tension, and so the spell lasted while the fate of his world remained in doubt. For months the concluding volume was delayed while Professor Tolkien labored with a formidable index listing the lineage of his characters, the origin and pronunciation of their languages, and other footnotes from the Red Book of Westmarch, the source of his tale. Now the last volume, The Return of the King, is published, and so his readers may return from the fantastic to the commonplace.

Tolkien’s trilogy is fantasy, but it stems of course from Tolkien’s own experiences and beliefs. There are scenes of devastation that recall his memories of the Westen front where he fought in the First World War. The description of a snowstorm in a high pass is drawn from a mountain climbing trip in Switzerland. And through the descriptions of life in Hobbiton and Bywater runs his own bemused love of the English and his scorn for the ugliness of the industrial surroundings in which they live. But Tolkien shuns satire as frivolous and allegory as tendentious. His preparation is immersion in Welsh, Norse, Gaelic, Scandinavian and Germanic folklore.

The Hobbit, the earliest of Professor Tolkien’s selections from the Red Book, was first published in 1937, and I mention it because it forms a prologue to Tolkien’s major work. It is the account of his adventures written by a well-to-do Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End. There comes to Bilbo’s door one morning a wandering wizard (Gandalf) and thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, the descendent of dwarf kings.

They are bent on recovering the dwarf hoards stolen from Thorin’s ancestors and Bilbo to his lasting astonishment joins them. Trolls capture the band and almost roast them; goblins pursue them; giant spiders enmesh them in saliva; an elf king imprisons them; after the treasure is recaptured from a dragon’s lair there remains the Battle of the Five Armies in which Thorin is killed. At last Bilbo, decked out in armor, and laden with jewels, returns to the Shire, somewhat to the annoyance of his fellow Hobbits who have declared him dead and are preparing to auction off his well-worn furniture.

The Hobbit is a classical fairy story. As such it might well have earned its place on the nursery shelf and been forgotten. But the ending is incomplete thanks to a minor encounter of Biblo’s whose significance was not clear to Professor Tolkien at the time. Bilbo, crawling alone through dark goblin mines, finds and pockets a small gold ring. Slipped on his finger it makes him invisible and thereby saves him when he is attacked by Gollum, a creature who lives in an underground lake catching blind fish and eating them raw. The ring serves further to hide Bilbo from his enemies but arouses no great interest among his companions. Once back in the Shire he mentions it only to the wizard Gandalf, and to Frodo his nephew and heir. And yet the story is not concluded. For at its end the little householder remains in possession of something beyond the comprehension of Bilbo and the story teller: the ring.

The ring confers power on its bearer. Power unmatched by responsibility corrupts and therefore is potentially evil. The power conferred by the ring is without parallel. Therefore its capacity to work evil is unlimited. In the presence of limited good, and of corruptible man, what is the responsibility of the ring-bearer. Is it to use present evil on behalf of present good and thereby to ensure the continuation of evil? Or is it to deny present gain in an effort to destroy evil itself? The question forced itself upon Tolkien over a period of fourteen years of warfare, and forms the theme of three books of The Lord of The Rings.

Like The Hobbit, the trilogy is a fairy story; it deals in a world of its own, without resort to traveller’s tales or to dreams. It contains the four elements which Professor Tolkien maintains are characteristic of fairy stories: Fantasy (the purest of art forms), Escape (from oppressive and meaningless detail), Recovery (of true perspective) and Consolation (the joy of the happy ending).

Beyond these common attributes however, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stand in sharp contrast. The Hobbit is a fairy tale for children, simplified in thought and language, restricted in scope, jocular and sometimes patronizing in style. As such it is limited, for as Tolkien himself maintains: “All children’s books are on a strict judgment poor books. Books written entirely for children are poor even as children’s books.” The Lord of the Rings in contrast is a fairy tale written for adults. The language is richer, the characters deeper, the plot grander; the final triumph of good is cast in doubt; the participants are extended to include “those darker things which lurked only on the borders of the earlier tale.”

Forty-nine years after Bilbo’s return, the Hobbits still of their contented ways, as the first book of The Lord of the Rings opens, unaware of the mounting evil beyond the Shire’s narrow borders. Orcs—a new kind of goblin—are multiplying in the mountains; trolls are abroad armed with dreadful weapons; there are other creatures far more terrible and over all of them is Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. Of the twelve Great Rings of Power all but three have returned to Sauron; one only, the Lord of the Rings, remains for the moment, beyond his grasp. Sauron is searching for the ring, and all his thoughts are bent upon it. If he regains it his domination of Middle Earth will be final and absolute.

All this is the secret information which Gandalf, after twelve years of search and travels, returns by night to tell Frodo. For, thanks to Bilbo’s inheritance the harmless young Hobbit is now in possession of the Lord of the Rings.

Frodo, appalled, attempts to pass the ring to Gandalf. But Gandalf knows that those who possess the ring end by being possessed. And, while he is tempted by power his spirit is one of “pity for weakness, and the desire of strength to do good.” So he refuses the responsibility. No time is left for Sauron is closing in on the Shire. Frodo flees to save his homeland, taking the ring and followed by three companions, while Gandalf goes his own way towards their next meeting place. Stone barrowights encase the Hobbits; ringwraiths, slaves of Sauron pursue them and wound Frodo. He makes mistake after mistake and survives only though his own bravery or by the intervention of some unexpected force of good. Strider, a ranger sent by Gandalf, guides him and so at last Frodo reaches Rivendell.

In Rivendell the Council of Elrond is held and the decision is made to attempt the destruction of the Ring. But this, ancient folklore asserts, can be accomplished only by casting the ring into the fire mountain that rises in Mordor, the fortress of the enemy. The one who will bear it there must be chosen and after a long silence Frodo whispers “I will take the ring though I do not know the way.” Next from the Free Peoples a fellowship is formed to help the ring-bearer: a man, Boromir, the three Hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, Gandalf and Strider, now revealed as Aragorn, heir of the ancient Kings of the West.

The Fellowship sets out by a hunter’s moon and passes through increasing peril. A snowstorm drives them into Mines of Moria where Gandalf in battle with a dreadful spirit of the underworld vanishes into an abyss. Aragorn leads the company on to the enchanted beauty of Lothlorien. There no shadow lies, but the reluctant Fellowship moves on. Soon they are surrounded by orcs and still worse the ring begins to work its evil among them. For the unconquered cities around Mordor are under attack from Sauron, and when Boromir realizes that Frodo will not be diverted to their defense, he attempts in a moment of madness to seize the ring. Then, at the end of the first volume, Frodo realizes that he must continue alone. He slips on the ring and escapes followed only by his gardener, Sam.

So the Fellowship is broken. Aragorn aided by Gandalf, now returned from the dead, leads the company in desperate battles against the present forces of Sauron. Frodo, battling evil itself, is lost with Sam on the barren slopes of the Emyn Muil. There Gollum, who once held the ring, overtakes and plots to kill them. Frodo, instead is empowered to kill Gollum, but he remembers his own protest to Gandalf and Gandalf’s answer:

“What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature when he had a chance.”
“Pity? It was a Pity that stayed his hand.”
“I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.”
“Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of Justice ... even the wise cannot see all ends.”
So Gollum is spared, to guide Frodo and then betray him. Thus as the second volume closes, Sam is forced to abandon his master and, bearing the ring, move on to Mordor alone.

But Frodo survives, and in the third volume while the Fellowship wages a climactic battle to occupy the attention of Sauron, he accomplishes the impossible. The battle is won, the wounded remain, beyond hope of healing. But folklore proclaims: The hands of the King are the hands of a healer and so shall the rightful King be known. Aragorn returns from the battle and by healing earns his place as King. The Fellowship is reunited and parts in peace. The new age begins.

"Its promise exceeds the wildest hopes of the heroes. But it is not for all to enjoy. “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire too after all you have done,” cries Sam to Frodo whose old wound will not heal.
So I thought once too [Frodo answers]. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must be often so Sam when things are in danger someone has to give them up, to lose them so that others may keep them."
So Frodo departs leaving Sam to raise a family and the reader to reflect on the meaning of Tolkien’s tale.
And of course it contains meaning. The Lord of The Rings is primarily story telling, but the universality and the timeliness of its plot give to it allegorical significance.
It is the struggle of good and evil that Tolkien sets apart, through fantasy, from superficial detail. Evil in the form of Sauron, is man’s rebellion against Providence, his attempt to become the lord of a world he did not make. For he who starts by forcing his will upon others ends by destroying everything that he touches. Gollum is also evil, but not beyond redemption. He is the servant of power, spared out of pity in order that the compassion of the Hobbits may enable them to surmount the insurmountable. For evil is matched and overcome not by superior power, but by the determination and the goodness of ordinary beings, ennobles by the assumption of burdens beyond their capacity to bear. Gandalf is brilliant and Aragorn brave, but Frodo’s is the decisive will. And yet for all his achievements, Frodo remains unchanged. For Tolkien’s purpose is not that Hobbits should cease to be Hobbits; it is simply that they should understand and give their best.
Gandalf is the instrument of Providence, but a strange sort of instrument. His power is limited and less than Sauron’s; his interventions are decisive but rare; frequently he is absent when he is most needed. He is forbidden to dominate. For in the First and Second Ages of Tolkien’s world the gods interfered in man’s fate and so obscured it’ in the Third Age their emissary is present, but as a helper only. The Age ends with the destruction of the ring, and the time of man’s dominion begins. So when Frodo and the High Kindred, whose time has also passed, step into the ship that bears them to the Grey Havens, Gandalf is also on board.
"Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say The Green Sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough.... To make a secondary world inside the Green Sun will be credible commanding Secondary Belief will demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted, and in any degree accomplished, then we have a rare achievement of Art... indeed story telling in its primary and most potent mode" - Tolkien
This standard, set by Tolkien in his contribution to the Essays Presented to Charles Williams, is met in his own work. He possesses elvish craft. He adds to it the scholar’s perspective and the humanist’s faith. And yet he never allows the magical balance of mystery and perception to be lost. For reasons his world of fantasy is more gripping than the events that occur next door, say at Ten North Frederick. For Tolkien’s fantasy does not obscure, but illuminates the inner consistency of reality. There are very few works of genius in recent literature.
This is one. 

Travel Back to an Early Clinton Scandal

Voters have the impression Hillary isn’t trustworthy. She’s been reinforcing it since 1993.

September 14, 2016

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Then-first lady Hillary Clinton answers questions about the Whitewater land deal during a 1994 news conference at the White House.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The question came up this week at a political panel: Why don’t people like Hillary Clinton?
Why do they always believe the worst? Why, when some supposed scandal breaks and someone says she’s hiding something, do people, including many of her supporters, assume it’s true?
The answer is that Mrs. Clinton has been in America’s national life for a quarter-century, and in that time people watched, observed and got an impression of her character.
If you give the prompt “Clinton scandal” to someone under 30, they might say “emails,” or Benghazi” or “Clinton Foundation,” or now “health questions.” But for those who are older, whose memories encompass the Clinton era, the scandals stretch back further, all the way to her beginnings as a national figure.
Seventeen years ago, when word first came that Mrs. Clinton might come to New York, a state where she’d never lived, and seek its open U.S. Senate seat, I wrote a book called “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” It asserted that she would win and use the Senate to run for president, likely in 2008. That, I argued, was a bad thing. In the previous eight years she’d done little to elevate our politics and much to lower it. So I laid out the case as best I could, starting with the first significant scandal of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
It is worth revisiting to make a point about why her poll numbers on trustworthiness are so bad.
It was early 1993. The Clintons had just entered the White House after a solid win that broke the Republicans’ 12-year hold. He was a young and dashing New Democrat. She too was something new, a professional woman with modern attitudes and pronounced policy interests. They had captured the national imagination and were in a strong position.
Then she—not he—messed it up. It was the first big case in which she showed poor judgment, a cool willingness to mislead, and a level of political aggression that gave even those around her pause. It was after this mess that her critics said she’d revealed the soul of an East German border guard.
The Clinton White House was internally a dramatic one, as George Stephanopoulos later recounted in “All Too Human,” his sharply observed, and in retrospect somewhat harrowing, memoir of his time as Mr. Clinton’s communications director and senior adviser. He reported staffers and officials yelling, crying, shouting swear words and verbally threatening each other. It was a real hothouse. There was a sense the gargoyles had taken over the cathedral. But that wouldn’t become apparent until later.
On May 19, 1993, less than four months into the administration, the seven men who had long worked in the White House travel office were suddenly and brutally fired. The seven nonpartisan government workers, who helped arrange presidential trips, served at the pleasure of the president. But each new president had kept them on because they were good at their jobs.
A veteran civil servant named Billy Dale had worked in the office 30 years and headed it the last 10. He and his colleagues were ordered to clear out their desks and were escorted from the White House, which quickly announced they were the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI.
They were in shock. So were members of the press, who knew Mr. Dale and his colleagues as honest and professional. A firestorm ensued.
Under criticism the White House changed its story. They said that they were just trying to cut unneeded staff and save money. Then they said they were trying to impose a competitive bidding process. They tried a new explanation—the travel office shake-up was connected to Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review. (Almost immediately Mr. Gore said that was not true.) The White House then said it was connected to a campaign pledge to cut the White House staff by 25%. Finally they claimed the workers hadn’t been fired at all but placed on indefinite “administrative leave.”
Why so many stories? Because the real one wasn’t pretty.
It emerged in contemporaneous notes of a high White House staffer that the travel-office workers were removed because Mrs. Clinton wanted to give their jobs—their “slots,” as she put it, according to the notes of director of administration David Watkins—to political operatives who’d worked for Mr. Clinton’s campaign. And she wanted to give the travel office business itself to loyalists. There was a travel company based in Arkansas with long ties to the Clintons. There was a charter travel company founded by Harry Thomason, a longtime friend and fundraiser, which had provided services in the 1992 campaign. If the travel office were privatized and put to bid, he could get the business. On top of that, a staffer named Catherine Cornelius, said to be the new president’s cousin, also wanted to run the travel office. In his book “Blood Sport,” the reporter James B. Stewart described her as “dazzled by her proximity to power, full of a sense of her own importance.” Soon rumors from her office, and others, were floating through the White House: The travel office staff were disloyal crooks.
The White House pressed the FBI to investigate, FBI agents balked—on what evidence?—but ultimately there was an investigation, and an audit.
All along Mrs. Clinton publicly insisted she had no knowledge of the firings. Then it became barely any knowledge, then barely any involvement. When the story blew up she said under oath that she had “no role in the decision to terminate the employees.” She did not “direct that any action be taken by anyone.” In a deposition she denied having had a role in the firings, and said she was unable to remember conversations with various staffers with any specificity.
A General Accounting Office report found she did play a role. But three years later a memo written by David Watkins to the White House chief of staff, recounting the history of the firings, suddenly surfaced. (“Suddenly surfaced” is a phrase one reads a lot in Clinton scandal stories.) It showed Mrs. Clinton herself directed them. “There would be hell to pay,” he wrote, if staffers did not conform “to the first lady’s wishes.”
Billy Dale was indicted on charges including embezzlement. The trial lasted almost two weeks. Mr. Dale, it emerged, could have kept better books. The jury acquitted him in less than two hours. In the end he retired, as did his assistant. The five others were given new government jobs.
So—that was the Clintons’ first big Washington scandal. It showed what has now become the Clinton Scandal Ritual: lie, deny, revise, claim not to remember specifics, stall for time. When it passes, call the story “old news” full of questions that have already been answered. “As I’ve repeatedly said . . .”
More scandals would follow. They all showed poor judgment on the part of the president, and usually Mrs. Clinton. They all included a startling willingness—and ability—to dissemble.
People watched and got a poor impression.
The point is it didn’t start the past few years, it started almost a quarter-century ago. You have to wonder, what are the chances it will change?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How Bruce Springsteen Was The Boss of His Book

Bruce Springsteen spent seven years writing his book ‘Born to Run’ without contacting a publisher

By Jennifer Maloney and Lucy Feldman
September 14, 2016

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One of the biggest books of the year was written on spec.
Instead of signing a contract and getting an advance beforehand, Bruce Springsteenworked on the manuscript of his autobiography “Born to Run” for seven years—by himself—before it was shown to a publisher. The book, which has been held tightly under wraps, will debut in a coordinated, global release on Sept. 27. In all, it is set to be published in 22 countries.
The project began when Mr. Springsteenpenned a first-person account for his website describing his experience on stage at the 2009 Super Bowl. He wrote the piece in stream-of-consciousness style, sprinkled with all-caps. Mr. Springsteen, who is often described as a control freak, wrote that he’d been worried that he would feel “‘out’ of myself and not in the moment.”
“My old friend Peter Wolf once said, ‘the strangest thing you can do on stage is think about what you’re doing,’ ” Mr. Springsteen wrote. “It’s an existential problem. Unfortunately, right in my wheelhouse....When that happens, I do anything to break it. Tear up the set list, call an audible, make a mistake, anything to get ‘IN.’ That’s what you get paid for, TO BE HERE NOW!”
After posting his account, Mr. Springsteen quietly kept going. “I felt like I found a good voice to write in,” he recalled in a video released earlier this month by his publisher. “I said, maybe I’ll try to write a little more and see where it takes me.”
In 2014, Simon & Schuster published Mr. Springsteen’s “Outlaw Pete,” an illustrated book for adults based on his song about a bank-robbing baby. The book sold modestly—about 12,000 print copies, according to Nielsen BookScan—but the experience was apparently positive for Mr. Springsteen; less than two years later, his legal representatives, Allen Grubman and Jonathan Ehrlich, brought the manuscript exclusively to Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp.
“This is the book we’ve been hoping for,” Mr. Karp said in a February news release announcing the book. Mr. Karp declined an interview request, as did Mr. Springsteen’s attorneys.
It’s rare for a celebrity to write an autobiography on spec, Simon & Schuster spokesmanCary Goldstein said: “I can’t think of anyone of Bruce’s stature who has done it this way.”
It set a tone of secrecy for the enterprise. From the moment Mr. Karp acquired world-wide rights to the book, knowledge of the deal was kept to a tight but gradually widening circle.
“It was very hush-hush,” said Sophia Jimenez, who at the time worked as an assistant editor at Simon & Schuster. Like many of her colleagues, she was in the dark about the Springsteen book until the day it was announced publicly.
While news of the book was still closely guarded, Marie Florio, the company’s director of subsidiary rights, began approaching pre-selected foreign publishers, rather than holding auctions. She invited each to make an offer. At least one European publisher made an offer on the book sight-unseen.
“In France, Bruce Springsteen is more than a music legend,” Anne Michel, foreign department director of the French publisher Éditions Albin Michel, said in a news release when the book was announced on Feb. 11. “He has become, over time, the incarnation of a certain idea of America.”
Publishers then commissioned quick-turn-around translations. Mr. Springsteen revised the manuscript between concerts on tour this summer, as translators across Europe worked simultaneously to update their versions with his latest changes.
“It was more or less a real-time operation,” said Eduard Richter, senior publisher at Spectrum in the Netherlands, who supervised the process there.
“He’s very open and the style of writing is very personal,” Mr. Richter said. “It’s even poetic, in a way. You sometimes hear his songs. That will attract hard-core Bruce Springsteen fans but also a large fan base who like Bruce Springsteen or have memories of the rock ‘n’ roll era.”
In “Born to Run,” Mr. Springsteen recounts his New Jersey childhood, his early days as a bar-band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. He also discusses his bouts of depression, according to an interview with Vanity Fair.
Mr. Springsteen said he rewrote the 500-page memoir two or three times. “Writing prose has its own set of rules,” he said in a video released this week on his Facebook page. “You’ve got to create the music without the music. You’ve got to find the music in the way that the story moves and the rhythms shift and your voice shifts. You’ve got to create momentum purely on the page.” Simon & Schuster’s Mr. Goldstein says no ghostwriter was involved.
The book is under a strict embargo until the publication date. Security measures have included non-disclosure agreements; traceable, password-protected manuscripts; and closed-circuit television monitoring of books on shrink-wrapped pallets, publishers and booksellers said. Several European publishers told The Wall Street Journal they were not authorized to speak to journalists about the book before publication. Simon & Schuster declined to comment on the logistics of the book’s release or the size of its initial print run.
Two buyers at Barnes & Noble read partial manuscripts after signing non-disclosure agreements. Mary Amicucci, Barnes & Noble’s chief merchandising officer, said the retailer has taken “an aggressive position” on the book and plans to display it in stores alongside CD and vinyl copies of “Chapter and Verse,” a retrospective companion album that Mr. Springsteen is releasing on Sept. 23 with five previously unreleased tracks.
Mr. Springsteen’s broad fan base, his long career and his political activity (he campaigned for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012), make his memoir a good bet, booksellers and publishers said.
Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band are neck-and-neck with Beyoncé to score the year’s top-earning international tour. The tour wraps up this month after 75 shows across the U.S. and Europe, just in time for Mr. Springsteen’s book appearances to begin on Sept. 27 at Barnes & Noble in Freehold, N.J., his hometown.
Mr. Springsteen has so far announced nine book-tour events in September and October, including a conversation on stage with David Remnick at the New Yorker Festival on Oct. 7, as well as library and bookstore appearances in Philadelphia, Cambridge, Mass., Portland, Ore., Seattle and Los Angeles. He hasn’t announced any public appearances in November or December. In January, he and the E Street Band will hit the road again in Australia and New Zealand.
Publishers and retailers, including Amazon and U.K. giant Waterstones, compared the autobiography’s prospects to Keith Richards’s “Life,” which has sold 800,000 print copies in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen BookScan.
“He’s someone that people respect, and that’s why he’ll sell,” James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said of Mr. Springsteen. “There is an intellectual underpinning which makes him enormously more interesting than another rock star.”
How long the book’s sales continue will depend on how well it’s written, Mr. Daunt said.
Write to Jennifer Maloney at and Lucy Feldman

Book Reviews: Michelangelo by Martin Gayford

By Jerry Brotton
9 November 2013

Martin Gayford is one of our most distinguished writers on what makes modern artists tick. In a series of deft and intimate books written over the past decade he has explored John Constable’s passions,discoursed on art with David Hockney, and provided a riveting account of sitting for a portrait by Lucian FreudThe Yellow House was his compelling account of the turbulent relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin from October to December 1888.
What Gayford does best is to get up close and personal with an artist, preferably one still living. Over a relatively short, intense period of time he is able to explore the fragile and fleeting act of artistic creation with a skill and sympathy that few other writers possess. So to take on the culturally and historically distant life of Michelangelo, without any apparent training in Renaissance art or Italian is not only an epic, but extremely brave, and some might even suggest foolhardy undertaking.
Michelangelo is second only to Shakespeare in requiring no more popular or scholarly biographies speculating on his public and private life, nor any further pointless speculations about who he slept with. The difficulties of writing his biography are compounded by the inconvenient facts that he simply did so much, and lived so long, through one of the most interesting periods of western history. By the time he died in 1564 aged 88, he had survived the invasion of northern Italy, the rise and fall of his great patrons the Medici, the religious Reformation of Luther as well as its Counter-Reformation centred on his adopted home of Rome, and managed in the process to work for some of the bloodiest autocrats of his day, including eight popes for whom he created some of the greatest art the world has ever seen. The task isn’t made any easier when Gayford admits that “there are grounds for disliking Michelangelo” and agrees with one of the artist’s contemporaries that “the patience of Job would not suffice for one day of dealing with this man”.
So do we really need another biography of Michelangelo? It is a testament to Gayford’s skill as a writer that he nearly manages to convince us that the answer is yes. The main problem is that over nearly 700 pages his portrait is carved with such painstaking care to get everything down and in the right place that there is no room for anything recognisably new or distinctive about “his” Michelangelo. The early life is dutifully retold: the enduringly difficult relations with his father, the adoption by the Medici, his precocious talent, and notorious refusal to acknowledge his artistic debt to anyone but himself. Gayford is at his best when catching the nuance of a line from Vasari’s Lives, a fragment from Michelangelo’s letters, or an overlooked drawing on the back of a sketch, revealing the artist’s “bizarre, extraordinary imagination – his fantasia – in free play, not harnessed to any task”.
But these are infrequent flashes of insight that often get lost in retellings of the labyrinthine religious and dynastic squabbles that defined 16th-century Italian political life, and through which Michelangelo, despite his passionate and irascible nature, somehow managed to survive. Ill at ease with the historical context, Gayford can too easily reach for glib or anachronistic analogies: the claims that a “plentiful supply of water” led to the Renaissance, and that the Medicis fixed the Florentine constitution show that he might have been more successful in writing a book a third as long that stuck to quarrying Michelangelo’s works and letters to build up a closer profile of the man.
It is very difficult to cut through the thicket of generations of scholarship and say anything new about David, the Sistine Chapel, The Last Judgment, the Basilica of St Peter’s or many of Michelangelo’s other masterpieces, but Gayford manages to do so by encouraging us to think – and look – at both the obvious and the overlooked. David is “a monster whose parts do not add up to any real human frame”, a fully grown adult in the proportions of a boy. The speed at which the final sections of the Sistine Chapel were finished reveal how the “whirlwind of God’s creation and Michelangelo’s own merge into one”.
When the relations are human, Gayford’s writing comes alive, as he weaves in and out of Michelangelo’s close but tempestuous relationship with Pope Julius II, the cat and mouse game played over commissions, the feuds with everyone from Leonardo in Florence to Raphael and Sangallo in Rome, and the tortured, erotically charged poetry addressed to his lifelong friend, the young, handsome Tommaso dei Cavalieri.
The later sections concerning the 1550s and 1560s are well told, and capture effectively the shifting religious and political atmosphere in Counter-Reformation Rome that led to fig leaves being placed over Michelangelo’s Sistine frescoes, even as the octogenarian artist exhibited what Gayford calls his terribilità in fighting off young pretenders to his crown as the greatest living artist. Ultimately, Gayford is overwhelmed by his task, but it is hard to imagine who would not be when faced with such a Herculean challenge. For a brisk and reliable read on Michelangelo’s life, with flashes of intuitive brilliance on the works, Gayford’s book does what it sets out to achieve, but I hope he soon returns to what he does best: pursuing the fugitive fragment, rather than the epic colossus.

Martin Gayford
Fig Tree, 688pp, Telegraph offer price: £26 plus £1.35 p&p (RRP £30). Call 0844 871 1515 or see

A life of Michelangelo on the grand scale

Martin Gayford's Michelangelo: an Epic Life bucks the trend for micro-history in compelling style

14 December 2013

Happy Birthday, Michelangelo: Notes on the First Celebrity Artist

Daniele da Volterra's "Michelangelo Buonarroti" (1544)
(DETAIL: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Clarence Dillon)

Early on in this dazzling new biography, Martin Gayford compares Michelangelo, with his daunting artistic tasks, to Hercules, the subject of an early (and now lost) sculpture. A Michelangelo biographer is likewise faced with an intimidatingly Herculean task. ‘Few other human beings except the founders of religions,’ acknowledges Gayford, ‘have been more intensively studied and discussed.’ Such was Michelangelo’s fame — he became ‘something approximating to a modern media celebrity’ — that in his own lifetime he was the subject of three biographies.
And he does not make things easy for biographers. He was an enigmatic, paradoxical figure, with his earliest biographer, Paolo Giovio, ruefully noting the disparity between his divine gifts and his ‘unbelievable meanness’. He was also incredibly long-lived: born in 1475, in the Florence of Lorenzo de’ Medici, he died almost nine decades later in Rome, during the height of the Counter-Reformation.
Indefatigably active as an artist until only weeks before his death, he produced a staggeringly abundant body of work: paintings, sculpture and architecture, as well as countless drawings and more than 300 poems. For over half a century, he was at the heart of political and ecclesiastical power, coveted by princes and the intimate of popes, one of whom, Julius III, planned to keep his embalmed corpse faithfully by his side if Michelangelo predeceased him (fortunately, the pope died first).
Gayford is the author of two lively, poignant studies of crucial episodes in the history of art: The Yellow House, detailing Gauguin and Van Gogh’s tragic interplay during their nine weeks together in Arles in 1888, and Constable in Love, which follows the painter’s love affair with his muse, Maria Bicknell.
Here, bucking the trend for micro-histories and slimmed-down biographies, he turns to history on a grander scale, attempting to render full justice to a figure even more titanic than Constable or Van Gogh. His biography is therefore something of an epic in its own right, exhaustively researched and absorbing everything from contemporary letters and those first gossipy biographies, to the latest research into the finer points of Michelangelo’s (surprisingly effective) business methods.
The end result is a perceptive and finely nuanced biography that’s as compellingly readable as Gayford’s earlier histories. Despite its size, the work is a marvel of economy as it hurtles smartly through the action-packed decades that see Michelangelo scurrying back and forth from Florence to Rome, with long forays in the marble quarries of Carrara.
The narrative is at its most engrossing when tracing the ups and downs of Michelangelo’s erratic mid-life career. After the brilliant beginnings of the Pietà and the David — both completed before he reached the age of 30 — came many unhappy years of frustrated and often fruitless toil. The Sistine Chapel fresco was a triumph, but Gayford shows how, with excruciating consistency, various other projects either languished incomplete or disastrously came a-cropper. Even the great Michelangelo, he reminds us as a corrective to the romantic hero-worship, ‘could be mediocre’.
He may have been known in his own lifetime as Il Divino, but few of his works, even the greatest, escaped criticism of one sort of another. The David was regarded by many, Gayford points out, as a ‘freakish oddity’. No sooner did it emerge from the workshop than it was pelted with stones (the doing of either a pro-Medici faction or ‘Florentine yobs’), and its privates were hastily garlanded with gilded leaves — evidently to the satisfaction of Leonardo da Vinci, who sniffed that he wished it to have ‘decent ornaments’.
It would not be the last time Michelangelo’s insistence on nudity challenged viewers. His Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel — painted in the 1530s and memorably described by Gayford as a throng of ‘groins, penises, breasts, testicles and buttocks’ — struck a wrong note in a sober age of religious reform.
If Michelangelo’s artistic adversities were the result of sanctimonious prudery, political vicisissitudes, and impossibly overambitious schemes (one project mooted by Pope Clement VII was a 76-foot-high marble colossus), much was also down to the artist’s own stubborn and ornery nature. Gayford is clearly entranced by this bizarre and at times appalling character whose personality was as strained and contorted as one of his sculptures: the social snob who believed himself descended from ‘the bluest blood in Tuscany’, yet who mixed best with humble village stonemasons; the penny-pincher who extorted large sums from his patrons (and who died with a fortune in ducats squirrelled away in household jars), yet who could be ‘extraordinarily, embarrassingly generous’; and the pious Christian whose ‘strongest feelings of desire were denounced as sinful by the Church in which he believed’.
Gayford avoids undue speculation — most notably regarding Michelangelo’s exasperatingly shrouded sex life — and sticks to the known facts. But he is imaginative and inquisitive throughout, distilling the tomes of scholarship and judiciously sifting the evidence. Mercifully, no doubt, he shies away from the numerous scholarly spats and knotty problems of attribution, although I would have enjoyed his frank take on a number of contentious works, such as ‘The Entombment’ and ‘The Manchester Madonna’, two unfinished works in the National Gallery.
The modern-day analogies occasionally jar: Pietro Torrigiano as Flashman; the fashion for love-sick sonnets taking hold in 16th-century Italy ‘as rock and roll did in 1950s Europe’. But for anyone who believes that little is left to say about Michelangelo’s paintings or sculpture, Gayford presents shrewd insights into their fascinating minutiae, such as the tantalisingly incomplete signature on the Pietà, or the way the nudity of the David was necessitated by the shape of the marble. He also punctures some age-old myths, and suggests that Michelangelo and Leonardo might actually have started off as mutual admirers and even possibly friends, sharing notes on a Latin teacher and copying each other’s work.
A 1568 biography of Michelangelo declared him the greatest man the arts had ever known. Yet it is sobering to think that, at the end of his long life, he doubted his achievement. A despairing poem questions the worth of his sculptures (‘so many toys’) and wonders ‘what /The point was’. He need not have feared. As Gayford shows, Michelangelo’s greatest achievement lay not in even his finest works but rather in his own brilliant, belligerent, larger-than-life personality — in the way that, thanks to his energy and ambition, he ‘transformed the notion of what an artist could be’.
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