Oddest Book of the Year

Is Superman Circumcised? faced some stiff competion but it won the 2021 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book of the Year after garnering a 51% share of the public vote. The book—an academic study on the Jewish origins of the iconic DC Comics character—outlasted the other nominees to win the annual honor.

Is Superman Circumcised? beat out the second-place title, The Life Cycle of Russian Things: From Fish Guts to Fabergé by 28 percent. Just over 11,000 members of the reading public cast a vote for the prize. The book won even after a a concerted effort by Kremlin-backed troll farms to swing the vote to The Life Cycle of Russian Things.

Although the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book of the Year is all about humor,  Schwartz’s book is a serious study of the Jewish influences on the iconic character, from Superman’s creation by immigrant teens Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, who based the superhero’s origin story on Moses, his strength on Samson, his mission on the golem, and his nebbish secret identity on themselves. Schwartz also documents that in the decades after Siegel and Schuster sold the rights, Superman’s primarily Jewish writers, artists and editors continued to borrow Jewish motifs, such as basing Krypton’s society on Jewish culture and a trial of Lex Luthor on Adolf Eichmann’s.

This is the remaining shortlist for 2021:

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

Despite strong support from countries previously within Soviet sphere of influence, this look at Russian material culture over the last four centuries—including an essential examination of how the Red Army’s T-34 tank was a microcosm of socialism—had to settle for second.

Miss, I Don’t Give a Shit 

Adele Bates’ guide for teachers, which includes tips on how to get through a lesson “without a desk flying at you or a blazer being set alight”, had to settle for third place. Not good enough, but a gold star for effort.

Curves for the Mathematically Curious

A bookies’ early favorite, Julian Havil’s look at the beauty and elegance of mathematical curves proved too erotically charged for mainstream Diagram voters.

Handbook of Research on Health and Environmental Benefits of Camel Products 

That this essential guide to the latest academic data on alternative agricultural commodities produced by the Ship of the Desert slumped (or humped?) to a distant fifth place suggests not enough people are familiar with the bold, musky brew that is fermented camel’s milk.

Hats: A Very Unnatural History

Malcolm Smith’s look at the impact that hats made of birds and other mammals have had on wildlife throughout history may have finished dead last, but making the shortlist at all can be deemed a crowning achievement.


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