Executive Editor, Eric Brandt, on publishing former Peruvian President, Alejandro Toledo.
by ERIC BRANDT
Stanford University Press Blog
On December 11, I finally received the email response I had been hoping for. It was from the Clinton Foundation and included an endorsement of Alejandro Toledo’s forthcoming book, The Shared Society:
As President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo confronted some of Latin America’s biggest challenges. Today, he shares his vision for the region’s future and offers a roadmap for promoting growth and creating the inclusive, prosperous society that is well within reach.
—President Bill Clinton
In my long career as an editor, I’ve never obtained a book endorsement from a former US president. In the following weeks, I would also receive endorsements from world-famous economist Francis Fukuyama and the former president of Brazil, Fernando Cardoso. As Toledo’s literary agent said, “This is going to be a book jacket on steroids!”
These world-class endorsements will undoubtedly help us reach the wide readership we hope to capture for The Shared Society. It is an important and timely book for the future of our global economy, and so we have selected it as the first book from Stanford University Press’s new trade imprint: Redwood Press. The mission of this new imprint is to acquire influential voices on topics that educate and stir debate outside of the classroom, to publish intellectually stimulating books—serious non-fiction and thought-provoking fiction—that are written for a general trade audience. The US economy is inextricably tied to that of our southern neighbors, and we expect Toledo’s blueprint for the future of Latin America will stir a great deal of healthy debate about the choices we make for our own future. Toledo’s book is well-timed and relevant, and the author’s personal story inspires his vision for the region.
Alejandro was born into poverty in a remote village in the Peruvian Andes. By the age of six, he was working shining shoes, selling newspapers and lottery tickets to supplement the family income to help feed his sixteen siblings. It was the early sixties and President John F. Kennedy had just established the Peace Corps. Among the first volunteers to arrive in Peru, Joel and Nancy Meister were charmed by this street urchin and asked if he knew where they might rent a room. Alejandro immediately befriended them and invited them to his home. It would prove to be a very propitious meeting.
With the Meister’s help, Alejandro thrived academically and showed such promise he was invited to study Economics in the United States, eventually being accepted into graduate school at Stanford University where he met and married the love of his life, Elaine Karp-Toledo. After earning his doctorate he would go on to work for the World Bank and the United Nations.
Toledo first appeared on the international political scene in 1996, when he formed and led a broad democratic coalition that eventually brought down the autocratic regime of Alberto Fujimori in 2000. In his presidential campaign, Toledo’s native heritage did not go unnoticed. Peru, as I had learned from my Peruvian friends, was not immune to prejudice. European features were often privileged and an Indian from the Andes had never been elected to such a high office. Some of Toledo’s opponents made some blatantly racist comments in their efforts to defeat him. But times had changed and the voters of Peru were tired of the habitual privilege, graft, and corruption of the political elite, so they elected Toledo President of Peru in 2001.
As a result of Toledo’s social policies, extreme poverty was reduced by 25% in five years, employment rose, and the Peruvian economy became one of the fastest growing in Latin America. This is a remarkable record for any president, so when I was offered the chance to acquire Toledo’s book, I jumped at it.
I was invited to discuss the project with him at his office. Alejandro greeted me himself and shook my hand warmly. He brought us each a mug of coffee and began to tell me about his new book. It was to be a kind of manifesto and blueprint for the economic future of Latin America, and Alejandro’s passion for the subject was unbridled.
The Shared Society quantifies and analyzes Latin America’s economic transformation: the discovery of new oil and mineral deposits, as well as increases in energy exports, manufacturing, and tourism. But as Toledo argues, the vast 40% of Latin America's poor and marginalized are being left out. In addition, his book offers statistics on the area’s susceptibility to problems such as climate change and shortages of clean drinkable water, unstable food security, human rights violations, and weak democratic institutions. To meet these enormous transformations and challenges, Toledo lays out his plan for all classes in Latin America to grow and develop economically while preserving the region’s delicate ecology and strengthening democracy throughout Central and South America.
Hearing Alejandro speak of his hopes and fears for his homeland was inspiring. Reading his book made me realize how closely the future of Latin America was tied to our future in the United States. After our meeting, I had no doubt this man could inspire and lead a nation and was convinced I wanted to help him bring his message to a wider audience. Though many presses were vying to publish The Shared Society, we won the book at auction. It was a publishing opportunity too important to miss. After reading it, I believe you’ll agree.