This summer’s buzziest book club read: The Mueller report

Why We Wrote This

For many, the 448-page Mueller report is intimidating – and divisive. One way to get Americans to read, think critically, and engage with others on the report? Book clubs. 

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Former special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice May 29 in Washington about the Russia investigation.

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Released to the public April 18, the Mueller Report became an instant bestseller. But buying the report is one thing, and reading it is another. In May, only 3% of Americans had actually read the report, and fewer than 25% had read any of it, according to a CNN poll. Even some leading members of Congress haven’t read the full report.

Now, organizations across the country, from fact-checking websites to advocacy firms, are encouraging Americans to read the report by creating Mueller report book clubs. The goal: to motivate members to stay informed, think critically, and remain politically engaged. 

Barb Nelson, a farmer in Red Oak, Iowa, comes from a family of eight kids, split evenly between political parties. She’s a Democrat and started a book club to motivate herself and others to read the 448-page report – and to connect with her sister, a Republican. 

“Read it and discuss it with other people,” she says. “Unless you start reaching out and listening to other people, this stalemate is going to continue. ... We need to reach out to everybody, of all political stripes.”

Barb Nelson, a farmer in Red Oak, Iowa, comes from a family of eight kids, split evenly between political parties. A confirmed Democrat, she has one particularly Republican sister, and while they’re close, they don’t talk politics. That is, they didn’t until Ms. Nelson started her book club.

She and a group of friends recently launched a reading group for former special counsel Robert Mueller’s legalese-laden 448-page report. As she was reading the report, Ms. Nelson decided to reach out to her sister and share some of her thoughts. She says she realized the only way to make progress was to try to understand other viewpoints.

“Until we listen to people and find out who they are, we’re not going to find common ground,” Ms. Nelson says. 

Her club, in fact, is part of a larger effort to make the Mueller report more accessible. Organizations across the country, from fact-checking websites to advocacy firms, are encouraging Americans to read the report by creating communities of fellow readers. For many of the book clubs, the goal is to motivate members to stay informed, think critically, and remain politically engaged. 

Ms. Nelson and her friends launched the club after coming across Muellerbookclub.com, an online forum started by the progressive activist group Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. Even after spreading the word in person, online, in local newspapers, and over the radio, Ms. Nelson thought they’d be lucky if 10 showed up to the first meeting.

They got almost 25 – some driving nearly 50 miles to the Red Oak coffee shop where they meet.

“It’s the community support,” Ms. Nelson says, noting their club includes mostly Democrats but at least one Republican. “One of our members said today that … without the group, they probably couldn’t [read it]. They really value hearing the community talk about it.”

Justin Hendrix, director of March for Truth, hatched the idea for Muellerbookclub.com with the nonprofit Public Citizen soon after the report was released this April. Open to everyone, the online club split the report into four sections and launched a month-long series. Beginning May 13, the group hosted Monday webinars on the week’s reading, featuring guests from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to journalist Gloria Steinem. It received so much support – more than 20,000 viewers some weeks – that Mr. Hendrix and his colleagues are now looking past the original end date, trying to continue their momentum.

“The thing we were surprised at was just how quickly others were willing to jump in and lend a hand,” he says.

Released to the public April 18, the Mueller report became an instant bestseller – even with free versions posted online. But buying the report is one thing, and reading it is another. In May, only 3% of Americans had actually read the report, and fewer than 25% had read any of it, according to a CNN poll. Even some leading members of Congress, The Washington Post reported at the end of May, hadn’t read the full report.

On air June 12, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said the Mueller report was something “everyone in America should read. Everyone.”

Whether the report exonerates the president is left to personal opinion. What’s certain is the interest it’s generated – inspiring live readings from San Francisco to New York, free online audio versions, podcasts, and of course, book clubs.

In a public statement last month, Mr. Mueller cautioned people to let the report speak for itself, later adding that the report is his testimony.

Angie Holan, editor of PolitiFact, a nonpartisan website devoted to fact-checking politicians’ statements, says Mr. Mueller’s press conference felt like a direct appeal for Americans to read the report themselves. PolitiFact recently announced its own Mueller report book club. Ms. Holan says the goal is to support people who want to read it but don’t feel comfortable doing so alone. 

“The idea is that you let people interact with the text on their own terms, but you provide some guidance to help them get started and to help them continue reading. Because it’s not easy for everybody,” she says.

Politifact plans to publish materials in its newsletter as the book club progresses. By the end of their eight-week series, Ms. Holan says they hope to have an available template for similar clubs in the future. She has been surprised by the amount of public support they’ve received so far – both from current subscribers and the 2,000 who joined soon after the club launched June 6.

Similar responses have been especially encouraging to Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign and a colleague of Mr. Hendrix on the book report project.

“It’s nice validation that people really do care and want to take action on this and want to be part of a response,” he says.

People around the country have been writing letters to their local newspapers and telling him about their own chapters, he adds – like Ms. Nelson.

“Oh my gosh, I feel like I’m back in college,” says Ms. Nelson about the weekly readings.

She acts as the moderator for her group and is encouraging members to engage beyond the book club. Take it home, she recommends, tell the neighbors, talk to strangers.

“Read it and find out for yourself. Read it and discuss it with other people,” she says. “Unless you start reaching out and listening to other people, this stalemate is going to continue. ... We need to reach out to everybody, of all political stripes.”

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