The Top 10: Demonstrably Inaccurate Book Titles

Ken Livingstone, Alan Bennett and Francis Fukuyama and the titles that seem to mock them

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Saturday 07 January 2017 11:57

This list started with my teasing of Geoffrey Wheatcroft over the title of his 2007 polemic against the last prime minister but two, Yo, Blair! As Stryker McGuire and others pointed out, he had not listened to the recording of George W Bush in which the President clearly says (at 1’39”), “Yeah, Blair.” Mark Burns asked if there were any others.

1. The Strange Death of Tory England, by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, published in 2005 (above). Premature, anyway.

2. Krakatoa, East Of Java. The island – there is still a bit of it left – is to the west. The error in the title of the 1969 film was retained for the novelisation. Nominated by Mark Burns.

3. Untold Stories, by Alan Bennett, 2006. Suggested by Steve Richards.

4. The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama, 1992. I’m sure Professor Fukuyama is tired of this by now. In his defence, the original and celebrated essay in 1989 had a question mark. Thanks to John Peters.

5. You Can’t Say That, Ken Livingstone’s 2011 memoir. As Nigel Fletcher said, it seems he can. He also wrote If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish It in 1987, which is not only a stupid title for a book by a radical politician but also qualifies for this list.

6. You Can’t Read This Book, Nick Cohen’s 2012 warning against censorship: similar idea, better executed. Nominated by Conor James McKinney and Chris Jones, who also proposed This Is Not a Book, by Keri Smith, 2009.

7. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, 1979 (and 1984 film). Popular nomination, from Hamish Thompson, Thomas Linner, Tom Joyce and Rob Wilkinson.

8. You Can Be the Happiest Woman in the World, by Aid al-Qarni, 2005. An Islamic self-improvement book nominated by Chris Jones: he very much doubted it.

9. You Can Do the Cube: simple, step-by-step instructions on how to complete Rubik’s cube, by Patrick Bossert, 1981. A similar but not quite so definitive nomination from Enid Driscoe, along with Yes, You Can Play the Ukulele, by Moana Rule, 2016, also nominated by Chris Jones.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, 1960. Bertha Mason complained that there is “not a single avian death in it”.

A lot of suggestions didn’t make the list. Borderlinefools nominated You Only Live Twice, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Midwich Cuckoos (on the grounds that they are not cuckoos). Robert Boston tried Naked Lunch, All Quiet on the Western Front, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Tropic of Capricorn. Just to prove I understand what fiction means, I said no. I let Harper Lee in only out of sentiment.

Mark Bassett suggested Consciousness Explained, which I thought might be taken as rude about Daniel Dennett rather than a comment on the ineffability of consciousness. No Ordinary Cat proposed The Coming of the Fairies: The Cottingley Incident by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Julian Jessop said: “Pretty much any book published in last 20 years with ‘Peak Oil’ in the title.”

Finally, there were a few nominations for Winston Churchill: A Study in Failure 1900-39, by Robert Rhodes James. But the point of the book is that he was a failure until the Second World War.

Next week: Nicknames for generals, such as James “Mad Dog” Mattis, named by Donald Trump as his Defense Secretary

Coming soon: Things too boring to buy, such as laundry baskets and life insurance

The e-book of Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop is now just £2.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

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