ANYONE who fears the art of communication is dying out in the e-mail age might like to think again.
A Scottish publisher has triumphed over his London rivals by winning the rights to publish US presidential hopeful Barack Obama's bestselling book.
Canongate boss Jamie Byng achieved the coup thanks to a blizzard of transatlantic e-mails to the senator and his team over the course of four months.
Byng told Obama how impressed he was by The Audacity Of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream and how the ideas it contained were relevant to UK, as well as US, readers. Obama's book has already sold 1.3 million copies in the US and is currently number 23 on the Amazon.com book charts. Byng's Edinburgh-based firm is hoping to enjoy similar success when it brings out the UK edition this May.
Obama, who is half-Kenyan and half-white American, has already become an iconic figure in US politics and late next year could become the US's first black president.
The race to land the rights to the Obama book in the UK began last October when the book was published in the US. Byng said: "I was introduced to the book by Michael Hayward, who is the head of our Australian partner company, who told me I had to read it and we had to try to get the rights to it.
"I was really impressed by it. I know its main focus is on American politics, but the ideas are just as relevant on this side of the Atlantic. He is inspiring to read and he is a very clear thinker."
He added: "As well as the obvious business pitch, we did e-mail to Barack Obama and his team saying how much we liked the book personally and how important we thought it was that it should get as wide an audience as possible over here.
"We do know that he personally read at least some of the messages. I haven't met him yet but I do hope to do so and I have friends who have been at his events who say he is an inspiring person to meet."
Obama's book is an expansion of the themes of his address to the Democratic National Convention of 2004, in which he set out his political philosophy and called on the US to move beyond its divisions to tackle problems. The book examines what it calls "the growing economic insecurity of American families" as well as racial and religious tensions in politics, and external threats to the US.
Obama claims voters are weary of the "endless clash of armies" of modern US politics as the two main parties confront each other in Congress and on the political campaign trail. He also examines how politicians find themselves hemmed in by the need to raise money and by the fear of losing, which he believes can stifle new political thinking.
Benedicta Page, the book news editor of Bookseller Magazine, said: "This is an unusual type of book for Canongate. They don't usually do politics and it's quite a major development for them to sign such a big international name.
"Of course, they have had major writers in the past, but nothing political like this. There will be very considerable interest in Barack Obama, and they can expect it to sell well."