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Kerry book rattles online merchants

Booksellers can't keep up with orders for "Unfit for Command." Amazon, meanwhile, allows no-hold-barred commentary.

Good luck finding a copy of "Unfit for Command." But you can complain all you want about the controversial new book's attacks on presidential candidate John Kerry.

Major online bookstores, as well as their real-life counterparts, were having difficulties fulfilling orders Wednesday for the book, which details allegations from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth critical of Kerry's Vietnam War service.

The book, currently listed as No. 3 on The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction, went on sale Aug. 11 with an initial printing of 85,000 copies, according to publisher Regnery Publishing. Incessant publicity has made that initial run resoundingly inadequate, with chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders having to apologize for not having copies of the book in stores while deflecting allegations of political bias.

The story is pretty much the same online, where major retailers are advising of varying delays to ship orders for the book. is promising delivery in 24 hours, needs five to seven days, and other retailers are showing three to five weeks. Regnery has promised a second printing of 550,000 books next week.

But Amazon customers can at least have their say right away, if not the book. A notice on the product page for the book says normal restrictions on posting comments have been lifted.

"We've decided to suspend our normal customer review policies and rules for this title," according to the notice. "For example, we usually prohibit ad hominem attacks. That policy in particular seems to be incompatible with presidential election year politics. Therefore, short of obscenities, reviews on this book are now a free-for-all. We take no responsibility for the following discussion. Aren't presidential election years great? Have fun!"

The result has been more than 1,000 customer reviews, almost all five-star hosannas or one-star flames. "Heidi Fleiss meets Gomer Pyle," begins a typical basher.

Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith said she couldn't recall another incident of Amazon lifting its usual customer review policing for a particular product, but "Unfit" was a special case.

"We have guidelines concerning customer reviews, and one of those things is that the review should be about the book, not the author," Smith said. "In this case, because of all the publicity and the news coverage, people feel very strongly about the book, and you just can't separate the views."

Smith said the volume of customer reviews for "Unfit" also has been unprecedented. The latest "Harry Potter" book, for example, has generated about 5,200 reviews since its release in June 2003. At its current pace, "Unfit" would amass more 34,000 reviews in a similar time period.

"Unfit" was already a hot topic on the Web before its release, with hackers breaking into the Barnes & Noble site to deface the book's product page, changing the title to "Fit for Command."