Several literary giants and celebrities — including Mark Twain and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — have prevented their personal material from being published until years after their deaths. But as the WikiLeaks founder knows better than most, objecting to the release of information is no guarantee that it will be withheld. And when the book recounts not only the launch of the whistle-blowing Web site but sexcapades in Sweden that led to allegations of rape, all bets are off.
The publication of the highly anticipated memoir, titled somewhat unimaginatively “Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography,” follows a spectacular falling-out between Assange, 40, and his British-based publisher.
Three months ago, Assange tried to cancel the book contract, for which he reportedly was paid more than $1 million, saying the initial draft by his ghostwriter — Scottish novelist Andrew O’Hagan, whom Assange describes as a close friend — deviated sharply from his vision.
“This book was meant to be about my life’s struggle for justice through access to knowledge. It has turned into something else. The events surrounding its unauthorized publication by Canongate are not about freedom of information — they are about old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity,” Assange said in a statement posted on the WikiLeaks site.
He said that when he asked to cancel his contract, he pleaded for a new one with an extended deadline, in light of his ongoing legal tussles. He said he told Canongate that he could deliver a manuscript by the end of the year.
Nick Davies, the publishing director of Canongate, said in an interview that he “pretty much takes issue with everything” in Assange’s statement posted Thursday, adding: “We have strong legal and moral ground for publishing this book.”
He said that in March, it was clear that Assange was unhappy with the initial draft O’Hagan wrote, but even though Assange was repeatedly invited to comment, make edits and spell out a new vision for the book, he “did not deliver a single word.”
What he did do is ask to cancel his contract. Canongate “reluctantly agreed” and asked Assange to pay back his advance, Davies said.
But the money already had been handed over to Assange’s attorneys to pay legal fees.
“I’ve worked on other books, and you hit a bump and you find a new way of writing,” Davies said. “Or, you go separate ways and the money is repaid. But this has been just a bizarre situation.” He contended that the seemingly paradoxical “unauthorized autobiography” category could be “a publishing first.”
Assange did not respond to requests for an interview, but in his statement he lashes out at his publisher for “profiteering from an unfinished and erroneous draft.”