Penguin has been employing "Harry Potter-style security measures" for a book it releases today [26th March], billing the secret non-fiction title as containing an "astonishing breakthrough" which explains the birth of Christianity for the first time.
The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection by Cambridge art historian Thomas de Wesselow has been kept a closely guarded secret by Penguin, with only three staff at Penguin in the know about it until this year. C.e.o. Tom Weldon and Viking editorial director Joel Rickett acquired world rights through Philippa Harrison at Ed Victor.
The book tackles the question of how Christianity was born. The religion began when, after Jesus' crucifixion, Jesus' followers claimed to have seen him alive again. In The Sign, de Wesselow argues that it was the Turin Shroud, the cloths Jesus was wrapped in after his reurrection, which his followers saw, seeing the imprint of Jesus in the cloth and taking it as a sign of resurrection. Though the shroud has been assumed to be a fake created in medieval times, de Wesselow provides what the publisher describes as "conclusive evidence" that the shroud is authentic, based on the fact that the imprint of Jesus' body is a negative image.
Penguin UK has ordered an initial print run of 25,000 hardbacks for the UK market, and 20,000 trade paperbacks for the international export market. It will also be available in e-book at an initial price of £9.99.
Dutton in the US will publish the title on 2nd April, with Uniebook Spectrum publishing in Holland and Companhia das Letras publishing in Brazil over the next two weeks. Bertelsmann will publish the title in Germany in the autumn.
Rickett said: "All the printers, typesetters, international publishers and so on have had to sign strict non-disclosure agreements and have put in place Harry Potter-style security measures.
"London Book Fair will be a big rights focus, we've still got a lot of territories to go; we only went to key markets where we could trust the publisher."
He added: "We wanted to get it out before Easter. The chains are backing it amazingly and putting it in incredible positions. There's a mixed record for secret books in the trade—we've had to judge it slightly. We didn't want to barrel out there with 100,000 copies and totally saturate things."
He said: "This book unlocks 2,000 years of history by giving the first comprehensive, tangible, secular cause for early Christian belief in the Resurrection. Only a brilliant art historian with an insatiably curious mind could have made this astonishing breakthrough."
Forty-year-old de Wesselow earned his MA and PhD at the Courtauld Institute in London, before becoming a scholar at the British School in Rome. He then spent a year in the curatorial department at the National Gallery in London, before being appointed a post-doctoral research associate at King's College, Cambridge. He gave up his position at the University after three years in the post in order to devote himself to research about the Shroud of Turin.