The 9/11 Commission's report reached bookstores in Baltimore and across the country yesterday and, for one day at least, proved an instant best seller.
Barnes & Noble reported that by 10 a.m. - about 90 minutes before the report's official release - it had become the most requested book both on its Web site and in bookstores.
At Amazon.com, the report was listed as the second best-selling book yesterday, behind Maximum Influence, a how-to guide for persuading others.
Borders bookstores reported brisk sales of the 567-page commission report, particularly, said company spokeswoman Jenie Dahlmann, in the larger metropolitan areas - New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles.
At the Barnes & Noble store at the Inner Harbor, a short stack of the reports sat on a table just inside the entrance - visible, but far less eye-catching than the display for Bill Clinton's memoir a few feet away. A few browsers perused the report, but only Joan Photadis, a retired public relations consultant visiting from Buffalo, N.Y., gathered one up to buy.
"I had planned to visit the aquarium and then stop here to buy the 9/11 book," said Photadis. A devoted Democrat who has already seen Fahrenheit 9/11 twice, she described it as a civic duty to read the findings of the commission.
The Inner Harbor store also had a small stack of the books for sale at the upstairs information desk and another crowded among an array of books on current affairs. A clerk said that he hadn't noticed strong interest.
As to be expected, that was not the case in Washington.
"People are calling about every 10 minutes and asking for one," said Rachel Cowger, a sales clerk at Olsson's bookstore in downtown Washington. "Every call I've gotten this morning has been about the report."
At Politics & Prose, the Northwest Washington bookstore that is well stocked with political tomes, 10 brown cardboard boxes marked "Open and Display Immediately" sat sealed until exactly 11:33 a.m., three minutes after the government embargo lifted and the report became public. About 200 copies of the book were delivered to the store an hour before it went on sale so as not to trump the commission's news conference about the contents.
"We've had a very strict agreement about when we could release it," said Virginia Harabin, the store's floor manager. "This thing has gone from being published to being in bookstores in record time."
Susan Smith, a 51-year-old district resident, appeared at the store just after the books went on sale, eager to read the report herself, not trusting politicians and the media to deliver its conclusions without bias.
"I don't believe anything in Washington - it's a magnet for con artists, so you have to read everything yourself," said Smith, adding that she planned to read it today for several hours. "I want to be able to say I read the relevant parts about it so I can tell when somebody's spinning one way or the other - that's also known as lying."
Not everyone was sure of reading it cover to cover, but they were already avidly scanning it. Pamela Heller tried to concentrate on the report while she sat on the floor of the bookstore with her 4-year-old son, Stefan.
"Hold on a minute - just let me read this book," she told him after reading him Fireman Small, a children's book about firefighters. Heller said she was eager to see what the report said about another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. 9/11, she said, is something she still thinks about almost every night.
"I just think about those passengers on those planes, replaying their last moments and what they must have been thinking when they realized the planes were hijacked," said Heller, who is 42 and from Bethesda. "And I think about the firefighters. I was reading Fireman Small to him and thinking about all those firemen."
The entire report is free online at www.9-11commission.gov; the retail price in bookstores is only $10.
"My guess is that people will want it as a historical document on their bookshelves," Borders' Dahlmann said.