Judging a Book By Its Title

by Conor Friedersdorf

Michael Moynihan takes aim at the overheated language on the cover of that new book by Markos Moulitsas, "American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right." And he rightly dings progressives who gave it cover blurbs, despite lamenting similarly idiotic language when it was used by blowhards on the right.

I understand the financial incentives that cause authors and publishing houses to choose these kinds of titles. But I don't know why anyone thinking strategically about political impact cheers them. It's a marketing strategy that basically guarantees a book will never be read by anyone who disagrees with it. The emotional satisfaction some people get from extreme vitriol is an astonishingly powerful driver of counterproductive political behavior.

Despite my reputation for calling out vituperation, I really don't think my standards are particularly exacting. Don't compare ideological adversaries to murderous totalitarians. Refrain from rudely interrupting emotionally troubled black women if your planned interjection is the n-word. Don't tell callers to your show that they're so annoying their spouse should put a gun to their head. (Note to skeptical Web historians: yes, those are all actual examples!) It's getting to the point where publishing houses are going to start re-issuing classics from their catalog under new polemical titles.