The Oddest Book Titles of 2021

A trophy with a placard reading: "Oddest Book Title"

The Diagram Prize Shortlist Announced

By Leo Bevington, Curious Mind  |  Friday, November 11, 2021

The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year isn’t one of the prizes that Brilliant Books maintains on our website, but boy is it fun.  Now in its 43rd year, the Diagram Prize recognizes book titles that are implausible, creative, and just plain weird.

With the boatloads of books released each year, you'd think that it'd be easy to find contenders, but even though the Diagram is humorous, it has its standards.  The prize has gone unawarded twice since its inception, in years when book titles have simply been too boring.  However, we have high hopes for this year's shortlist—which has already earned a place in Diagram's history as the first shortlist comprised entirely of academic titles.

While academia has never before completely swept the Diagram shortlist, research and scholarship have been a large part of the Diagram’s story.  The very first Diagram Prize went to the academic title Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, and academic books have made up 40% of all prize winners since then!

So, what are the books this year?  Take a look at the nominated books below: a collection which prize administrator Horace Bent has called “peak Diagram.”  Which title do you think is the strangest?


Curves for the Mathematically Curious

By Julian Havil

While some might be interested in curves for non-numerical reasons, this book takes a look at the math (and mathematical history) of ten different curves.  According to the publisher's marketing: "Every curve has a story worth telling."


Handbook of Research on Health and Environmental Benefits of Camel Products

Edited by Omar Amin Alhaj, Bernard Faye, and Rajendra Prasad Agrawal 

Have you ever drunk camel milk?  Well, you might want to after reading this.  (Or you might not; I haven't read it yet).  With a whopping retail value of $356.25, this book contains everything you need to know about the health benefits (or the lack thereof) of drinking camel milk.


Hats: A Very Unnatural History

By Malcolm Smith

While hats have many benefits for the humans who wear them (e.g., keeping the sun off one's face, retaining heat, displaying one's wealth or personal style, etc.), they haven't always been as kind to nature.  From birds to beavers, this book examines the devastating impact of headwear on the natural world.


Is Superman Circumcised?

By Roy Schwartz

Did you know that Superman is Jewish? From the work of Jewish writers and artists to the influences of Jewish stories and figures, Schwartz explores the history of Superman in a book that, according to the publisher, "is sure to give readers a newfound appreciation for the Mensch of Steel."


The Life Cycle of Russian Things: From Fish Guts to Fabergé

Edited by Matthew P. Romaniello, Alison K. Smith, and Tricia Starks

This book's title really says it all!  A mix of commodity and cultural studies, anthropology, economics, and more, this collection examines the complex nature of consumption, destruction, inheritance, and preservation in Russia.  Basically, what's going on with Russian things—and what does that mean?


Miss, I Don’t Give a Shit: Engaging with Challenging Behaviour in Schools

By Adele Bates

Everyone who's ever set foot in a school knows that classrooms are not only spaces of learning and curiosity, but also of chaos and confrontation.  In this new guide, Bates offers both theory and practical approaches helping teachers to foster healthy classroom environments—and survive the chaos of school.


There they are, folks!  I hope these titles were strange enough enough to pique your interest—and maybe change your perspective on camels.  Which book do you think will take number one?

My own personal favorite is Hats: A Very Unnatural History, for the sheer brilliance of its title on either side of the colon, and the way these two segments fit together like a puzzle and its last missing piece.  A book titled Hats already has already piqued my interest—if not for the colorful variety of its subject matter, for the sheer boldness of the title's brevity.  Sure, maybe there's already something wonderful and absurd that I find in the very concept of hats (which I should probably examine), but any title made of a single word followed by a colon has a courage to which I can only aspire.  And after the punchy single-word title, we get the brilliant subtitle "A Very Unnatural History."  This would gain my interest placed after any noun (as it does on its own), but it's especially effective when placed after the word "Hats," since now the "Unnatural" has been placed in close proximity to an object which frequently adorns my head.  Five stars.

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