February 1, 2004

· Books

Coming up with a good title for your book is a tricky business. There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks ago about the convention of “Vague General Title: More accurate but perhaps less interesting subtitle.” Sadly, the working title of my own draft book falls squarely into this mode. It’s hard to avoid it while also staying away from the grandiose, the misleading, the glib or the overly cheesy. Not all disciplines face this problem to the same degree. My other half is an old fashioned analytic metaphysician, for instance, and when you are developing a new property mereology to solve problems in ontology then you can get away with a book title like Objects, which might in other respects seem rather general.

One persistent trend is books titled “American [Whatever].” American Dynasty, American Skin, ,American Terrorist, American Nightmare, American Empire … Those are just the ones I knew off the top of my head. Are there any other countries where authors or publishers have this habit? Maybe it happens because the adjective “American” scans easily in a way that, say, “French” or “Azerbaijani” doesn’t. So we should expect, say, Namibian Psycho but not Welsh Skin.

Given the prevalence of this kind of title, maybe I should re-name my own book—which is about blood and organ donation in the U.S. and Europe—to American Kidneys.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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