The contract from Princeton University Press has been negotiated, issued, signed, and returned.

So now I have a question for you: what should the book be called?

Important details: The book traces the metamorphosis of public confession of sin. I argue that, over the course of the twentieth century, it changes from a religious ritual that takes place in front of fellow believers, into a secular rite that erring leaders HAVE to perform in front of their followers in order to hold on to power. I examine, in detail, the scandals surrounding Grover Cleveland’s illegitimate son, Aimee Semple McPherson’s disappearance, Ted Kennedy’s plunge into the creek at Chappaquiddick, Jimmy Carter’s Playboy interview, Jim Bakker’s tryst, Jimmy Swaggart’s voyeurism, and Clinton’s…well, everything that Clinton got up to.

My working title was THE ART OF THE PUBLIC GROVEL: SEXUAL SIN AND PUBLIC CONFESSION IN TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICA. I really didn’t expect Princeton to hang onto that title, but my editor at PUP says that he likes “The Art of the Public Grovel.” (Although I should add that the outside reader of my dissertation, which had the same title, didn’t like “public grovel.” At all.)

However, he’d like to change the subtitle to: How Leaders Return to Power After Sexual Sin.

Which is a perfectly good subtitle. It’s just that (warning: academic-speak coming up) I want to be careful about implying that there’s monocausality behind, say, Clinton’s successful attempts to resist his removal from office. Clinton’s methods of confessing and apologizing DID play a big part in his ability to hang on to the good opinion of way more people than you’d expect. But it wasn’t the ONLY reason that he managed to stay in office.

On the other hand, this isn’t a strictly academic title–it needs to appeal to a wider readership, so I do need a title and subtitle that’s attractive to general readers.

So if you’d like to suggest a title and subtitle, please do. If we use yours, I’ll send you a couple of free copies of any of my books that you’d like. I’ve got a big box of the Korean version of the History of the Ancient World, if you happen to read Korean. It’s very beautifully done. (Once again, my Korean publisher takes the prize for production values.)

I’m in Princeton this week, as it happens, saying hello to my editor at Princeton, visiting my friend Lauren, and reading inscriptions from medieval south Indian kingdoms in the basement of the Firestone library. Tomorrow I’m headed down to Manhattan to consult with my agent and my editor at Norton; I’ll report on that as soon as I get a chance.

Showing 27 comments
  • Kimber

    Here’s my stab at it–

    Secret Sin, Public Confession, and the Art of Staying in Power

  • Kimber

    Here’s another idea that I think is better–

    Private sins, Public Confessions, and the Preservation of Power

  • Michelle Matheny

    I second Kimber’s second suggestion. (How’s that for a sentence?) Very catchy!

  • dangermom

    Ack! I have to think of one, so my Korean SIL can have the book! *think think think*

  • AmyL

    I’ll give it a shot. 🙂

    After the Affair: How Fallen Leaders’ Public Confessions Kept Them in Power

  • mary kathryn

    You could use “Mea Culpa” somewhere in there.

  • strider

    I should have said I prefer Kimber’s SECOND suggestion–Private Sins, Public Confession, and the Preservation of Power.

  • Summer

    The Public Confessional: why modern American politics demands tell-all leaders 🙂

  • JFS in IL

    If I come up with something good, I’ll give a book ot my dd’s Korean martial arts instructor!

  • Sherry

    Metamorphosis: The Art of the Public Grovel

  • Louise

    I’ll try: The Power of Secret Sin and Public Confession

  • Sylvia

    ‘Fessin’ Up: The Use of the Public Grovel

    (I know–wrong language level, but fun to think of seeing it on a PUP book). I like “The Art of the Public Grovel” as something one does, but I like the idea of it as a tool, too.
    Here’s another I rather like:

    The Public Confessional: Redeeming Political Power

  • Frodo

    Mea Culpa: From Religious Rite to Political Might


    Mea Culpa: From Religious Rite to Secular Might

    BTW, I’ll forgo a freebie if you’d act as a reader for a future academic publication of mine. (Or my wife will take an IOU on your next history book.) Congratulations on this latest achievement.

  • Anne

    How about “Sorry!”?

    Not as erudite — more likely to get you on the Larry King Show.

  • Kelly

    Maybe adding “arc” as reference to the progression of the act through history.

    Building on suggestions above, howabout:

    Private Acts – Political Confession
    The Arc and Art of the Public Grovel Through American History

  • Susan in TX

    Here’s a simple one:
    The Art of the Public Grovel: Coming Back After Getting Caught
    Or The Art of the Public Grovel: Putting the Spin on Sin

    Good luck!
    Susan in TX

  • Jerry Patengale

    Public Confession: From Contrition to Calculation among American Leaders,
    Calculated Public Confessions: An Art among Modern American Leaders
    Public Confessions in Twentieth-Century America: The New Art of Political Survival

    Susan — You continue to intrigue audiences with your breadth of writing. In my forthcoming review of your History of the Ancient World, which is my introduction to you other than a BC piece, I liken you to a public intellectual–whichi, by the way, is a good thing. JP

  • K Rad

    Susan in TX has it nailed down
    The Art of the Public Grovel: Putting the Spin on Sin

    She’s calling a spade a spade and sin sin, which is heartily lacking in both confessions, and commentary on such confessions.

  • Cathy

    Getting Caught and Crawling Back

  • Delores

    How about:

    Private Sin, Public Confession: Political Groveling in 20th Century America

  • Petros

    Plan B: The Bitter Pill of Public Confession

  • Christy B

    Calculated Confessions: Returning to Power After Falling From Grace

  • Jamie C.

    Secret Sin – Public Penitence: the confession’s journey from box to box office

  • Larry_D

    Contrived Contrition: The Art of the Public Grovel

    Manipulating Forgiveness: ”

    Managing Forgiveness: ”

    I look forward to reading it.


  • mary kathryn

    Ooh – I really like the “Putting the Spin on Sin” thing!

  • samuel

    Broken and Returned:
    How Leaders Come Back from Private Sin by Public Confession

  • Cindy

    How about:

    Bowing at the Altar of Public Confession: The Rise, The Fall, and the Confession of America’s Public People

    Can’t wait to see this book in print!

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