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January 5, 2007

Which academics are set to make a mark on the popular bestseller lists in the coming year? Publishers offer Harriet Swain their hot tips for 2007

If the recent boom in popular science and history books suggested a desire to know where we came from, our current concern seems to be where we're at, and where we're going.

Global politics, the clash of civilisations, climate change and the environment are all generating academic work that is being snapped up by publishers keen to plug in to the Zeitgeist.

Terrorism is flourishing as an academic subject, with a surge in interest from students and plenty of contemporary material for researchers. Jon Tonge, chair of the Political Studies Association, says that as the issue of terrorism has become much more complex, it is being incorporated into international studies and becoming an exciting growth area. He says a key figure in the field is likely to be Richard Jackson, a senior lecturer in international politics at Manchester University who is already a regular contributor to the media on issues of terrorism and war. Tonge also singles out Roger McGinty of York University, who is one of the growing band of academics studying peace.

Vanessa Pupavac, the editor of the newsletter of the British International Studies Association, agrees that international relations is a particularly exciting area with a thriving community of students and a variety of research approaches.

She tips a band of PhD students who have set up the working group Sovereignty and its Discontents as likely to go far. "They are only PhDs, but they have organised some very good workshops that have been looking at the direction of international relations in Britain, and (they) are challenging what has become a British take on international relations," she says. "They are very dynamic and punching above their weight."

International relations of a much older sort are also proving popular with punters: ancient history is growing in popularity, according to Stuart Proffitt, the publishing director of the Penguin Press UK.

This month, Penguin is bringing out Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Civilizations , which is the first foray into popular writing by Martin Goodman, a professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University. Penguin has also commissioned a work on Carthage by Richard Miles, a lecturer in ancient and early medieval history at Cambridge University.

"The growth in ancient history is partly because the history boom is looking for new territory," he says. "It's also a field full of fantastic stories - it's where our own roots lie - and it has been a relatively untilled field in terms of historians writing for general audiences."

Proffitt says the public appetite for big modern history books is still very much present, but he predicts that more publishers and audiences will move into ancient history "and then into this interesting area where history and politics and economics meet".

Already, economics has somehow become sexy, thanks to the success of Freakonomics , by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, whose tales of the curious ways in which economic theory can be applied to everyday conundrums became a bestseller.

There has also been a boom in studies of individual countries and their economies - especially places such as the Middle East, China and India, which have suddenly become interesting to Western readers because of their increasing global impact.

Many of the recent books focusing on specific countries are, however, written by journalists rather than by academics. This is partly because mainstream publishers prize accessible writing and partly because of the pressures rumbling along in the background of academic life.

Richard Fisher, executive director responsible for humanities and social sciences publishing at Cambridge University Press, says the problem with trying to identify rising academic stars is that the names that tend to crop up are predominantly from Oxbridge and London Review of Books circles; this bias means that the most exciting work being carried out by young researchers is often overlooked.

"Is it the next media stars you want?" he asks. "Because a lot of people do not think that's the purpose of being a don." He says there are plenty of young people grafting away in unglamorous ways whose work will make a significant contribution.

Wellbeing, War and other everyday matters


For someone who chooses to study the mundane, Joe Moran has made his publishers very excited. Moran's Reading the Everyday , which studied the places and routines of everyday life, such as commuting and the office, created a stir in cultural studies circles last summer.

His next book, Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Daily Life from Breakfast to Bedtime , which comes out in June, is aimed at a general readership. "I think it's an exceptional book," says Daniel Crewe, senior editor at Profile.

Moran can bring together material from a range of sources and pull it together into a cogent argument, Crewe says. "He has a wide knowledge, he's very comic, with a dry wit, and he's a really nice guy." Moran can also communicate: the Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed had a record response after he took part.

Moran, 36, a reader in cultural history at Liverpool John Moores University, studied international history and politics at Leeds University before completing an MA in 20th-century English literature and a DPhil in American studies at Sussex University.

It was the Mass Observation Archive at Sussex that sparked Moran's interest in the quotidian. When the Mass Observation social research organisation started collecting material in the 1930s, people thought it was trivial, he says, but looking back, habits that we once took for granted now seem bizarre. "I thought that must also be true about today. We must have some strange habits that we aren't aware of because they are so familiar." His new book, which uses a mixture of history, domestic anthropology and cultural studies, includes sections on the practice of eating at our desks and smoking in the street.

Moran's fascination with the boring is unabated. For his next book, he plans to study the UK road system.


When Adam Tooze's book The Wages of Destruction was published in July, a Sunday Telegraph reviewer wrote: "Rejoice, rejoice, for a great historian is born." Other reviewers seemed to agree, using words such as "provocative", "remarkable" and "brilliant". His publishers were impressed, too. "We have just signed him up for another two books that will take him forward for the next ten years," says Stuart Proffitt, publishing director of the Penguin Press UK.

Tooze, 39, went to secondary school in Germany, returned to England to study in the sixth form, and studied economics at King's College, Cambridge. He found himself in Berlin in summer 1989 and stayed "because it seemed the best place to be in the world". He dragged himself back to London to study for a PhD in economic history at the London School of Economics. Although he is now a senior lecturer in modern European economic history at Cambridge, he continues to draw heavily on his experience of Germany and the German language.

The Wages of Destruction tells the story of the making and breaking of the Nazi economy during the Second World War. His next book will look at the global history of reconstruction after the First World War, arguing that we should look back to 1919 for clues about the modern world order rather than the pre-1914 imperial age beloved of Niall Ferguson.

"It seems to me counterintuitive to hark back to empire when for probably the first time in history there is no substantial group of people living under empires at the moment," he says.

Tooze calls himself "fundamentally a modernist" who finds economic history more satisfying than economic theory because it taps into the real world.

"I think we face new challenges," he says, "and I think history has a role to play."


The subject of Roberta Bivins's forthcoming book is likely to spark interest. But it is the author's drive and originality that convinces her publishers that she will go far.

"She is young, but she seems to be really sparkling in her writing style and her enthusiasm," says Luciana O'Flaherty, trade history editor for Oxford University Press, which will publish Alternative Medicine? A History in September.

The book will look at cross-cultural and cross-century attitudes to alternative medicine, highlighting the similarity between modern debates about practices such as acupuncture and those that took place as far back as the 17th century.

"We have had global medicine for three centuries," Bivins says. "We should get used to it."

Bivins, 36, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She studied comparative literature, then biology and neurobiology in the US, before doing a PhD at the Wellcome Trust, where she worked with the late Roy Porter.

Comparative literature was "fun and interesting, but it wasn't applicable", she says. And although she found the big biological questions extremely interesting, the day-to-day scientific grind was not. The history of science seemed the solution, particularly the history of medicine. "We all have a body, we all go to the doctor. It was immediately relevant, immediately interesting."

Bivins, now Wellcome lecturer in the history of medicine at Cardiff University, wants her work to reach as wide an audience as possible because she believes it has a practical use. "If you give people access to the history of medicine, they are much more powerful in their daily affairs," she says.

She relates how, after discussing menopause in one of her classes, a student took her mother to the doctor to get the treatment she needed. This is exactly the kind of thing Bivins hopes to do on a broader scale.

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