Flipping titles

I had a bit of a bust-up with Palgrave regarding the cover. I thought it was beautiful and that they had done a great job coming up with an illustration, but I also thought the title was far to long. It looked ugly and was difficult for casual book-browsers to catch. I wanted to break up the title and put “Liberal Barbarism” above the picture and the rest below. This, apparently, is against Palgrave in-house style.

The Palgrave people then suggested that we break up with title in a main title “Liberal Barbarism” and a subtitle — and they provided various suggestions for subtitles. That way “Liberal Barbarism” could be in a large font and the sub-title in a smaller font. I then suggested that we’d go back to my original idea with “The European destruction … ” as the subtitle. Which Palgrave, very reluctantly and after serious arm-twisting, accepted.

There is a publisher’s lore that the main title has to be packed with key words and that it therefore can’t be catchy or too abstract. For that reason publishers always flip titles around. They thus originally wanted the book to be called “The European Destruction of the Palace of the Emperor of China: Liberal Barbarism.” To me, a title like this just screams of “academic book, hardback only, 87 dollars.” Or worse, “you are desperate to get your book in print so we can treat you whichever way you like and get away with it.” The original compromise was to run the main and the subtitles together into one and that’s what created the problem of the exceptionally long, and ugly, title.

The idea that titles have to be flipped goes back some 10 years and refers to the way search engines used to pick up key words back in the 1990s. Now it’s not a concern.  Google searches everything, all the time.

I won this one in the end, but I’m amazed at the stubbornness of the publisher and their lack of respect for my work and my efforts.

Suggestions for covers

Here are three suggestions for a cover that I just got from the art dept at Palgrave. I wonder which one I should choose?

I had an idea I wanted a peaceful, pretty, version of Yuanmingyuan to contrast with the often violent content of the book itself. I also don’t want a classical Chinese painting — covers like that are a dime a dozen. I really like picture in the middle, except that the house looks a bit too delapidated. What I want is Yuanmingyuan before the destruction. The cover to the right is out since it shows a building in the Forbidden Palace, not Yuanmingyuan. The cover to the left works, but since it is zoomed pretty heavily it looks a bit indistinct.

Diane doesn’t like the pink but I don’t mind. Admittedly it’s not a very Chinese color, but that’s sort of the point. I want to de-Orientalize the setting.

Another problem: there are too many words in the title. I wanted a colon between “Liberal Barbarism” and the rest, but Palgrave thinks that reduces the number of search results in Google or whatever. Perhaps there is a way to put “Liberal Barbarism” above the picture and the rest of the title below, in slightly smaller font.

Still, we’ll come up with something. This is good start 😉

5 most downloaded articles in IO

One of last year’s greatest surprises was getting an article into IO, International Organization, the leading American journal on international relations. Now, it turns out, my article was also one of the most downloaded. OK, OK, I realize “most downloaded” doesn’t mean “best,” but still.


Access 2012’s most popular research from International Organization

Dear Colleague,

To kick off 2013, Cambridge Journals has gathered together 2012’s top five most downloaded articles from International Organization. Now through March 1, 2013, download these articles free of charge.

2012’s Most Downloaded Articles

  • The Illusion of Democratic Credibility (vol. 66:3) Todd S. Secher
  • Historical Institutionalism in International Relations (vol. 65:2) Orfeo Fioretos
  • The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda (vol. 65:1)Eric Helleiner, Stefano Pagliari
  • Performing International System: Two East-Asian Alternatives to the Westphalian Order (vol. 66:1) Erik Ringmar
  • Contingent Credibility: The Impact of Investment Treaty Violations on Foreign Direct Investment (vol. 65:3) Todd Allee, Clint Peinhardt

Stay tuned for the release of volume 67:1 later this winter, and make sure to explore Cambridge’s full catalog of political science and international relations journals at journals.cambridge.org/polsci.

Happy New Year,

Michael Marvin, Cambridge Journals

the Chinese gov’t declared war on me

The Chinese government just made me into its personal enemy. Yesterday a spokesman for the Environment Minister, and then a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, insisted that the US government should stop disseminating data regarding the air quality in Shanghai. Apparently the data is too accurate and the information makes the government look bad.

I need this information. If the air pollution is high, I can’t go out or do physically exhausting activities. Last year I collapsed after a simple walk to the library. Denying me this information is a personal threat to my health.

Things like this is what give a totalitarian government a bad name. Really, I can’t live in a place like this.

Book club feed-back

There is a book club here in Shanghai which met to discuss Why Europe Was First. Very exciting. This is a report from their proceedings:

We had 11 people come to discuss your book yesterday, and most of them got through the whole thing.

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Confucius and the soul of China

We went to a truly remarkable art exhibition today — seven installations on the theme of Confucius by the Chinese artist Zhang Huan. I cannot remember the last time an exhibition left such an impression on me. It was an event, something happened in those three rooms, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

The first room had a gigantic statue of Confucius made in silicon which looked perfectly life-like. If Mr Kongzi had started talking I would not have been surprised.  Clearly he is alive and doing very well in today’s China. The second room had three large paintings made from ash showing the ocean, the disciples of Confucius and of Jesus. The gray colors looked desolate but clearly the old images still survive despite all the destruction China has endured. The final room had a large cage with a violent and erratically moving zombie Confucius. A large tree was trying to sprout again, but it was not planted properly and many of the branches were wilting. Monkey were jumping around in the cage, or they were jumping around before they were removed — presumably they didn’t much care for the life as museum exhibits.

I normally don’t like performance art which I find too jokey and too clever, but this is serious and moving stuff. Zhang Huan is surely one of the greatest artists alive today. He has that unique gift of seeing what others don’t see and of being able to present it to others to improve on their vision. Consider the below: Zhang Huan meditating in a public toilet in Beijing, smeared with honey, waiting for the flies to land. It is Buddha’s rejection of the world, and his deep concern for the world — all presented in a contemporary Chinese context.

I’m delighted China has artists like Zhang. There is nothing derivative about his work, it is an expression of a mature and self-confident person — a China mature and self-confident enough to question itself and its future. And he lives right here in Shanghai!

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No burning!

I came across this sign on the wall of one of the reconstructed buildings in the Yuanmingyuan compound. Perhaps it would have helped if they had had the sign up some 151 years ago — and perhaps it should have had text in French too.