Is Superman Circumcised? wins Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year

Is Superman Circumcised? wins Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year

Is Superman Circumcised? has cut through the competition to claim the 2021 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book of the Year, earning a 51% share of the public vote. 

The title—an academic study on the Jewish origins of the iconic DC Comics character—flew faster than a speeding bullet to quickly grab the number one spot in the polls when the public vote was first announced in early November, a lead it never relinquished. This is just the third time since voting for the Diagram Prize was opened to the public in 2000 that a winner has earned more than a 50% share, following 2018’s The Joy of Waterboiling and 2011’s magisterial Cooking with Poo

Is Superman Circumcised? beat the second-place finisher, The Life Cycle of Russian Things: From Fish Guts to Fabergé by 28 percentage points. Just over 11,000 members of the public cast a vote for the prize; only 2008's Diagram of Diagrams—a special 30th anniversary edition to salute the oddest title since the Diagram was founded in 1978—has generated more interest.  

Horace Bent, The Bookseller's legendary diarist and Diagram Prize administrator, said: “Congratulations to Is Superman Circumcised? and its author Roy Schwartz for the heroic effort put into winning the 43rd Diagram Prize. Mr Schwartz seems smarter than Lex Luthor (and presumably less evil) as I can’t recall any author being so pleased to make the Diagram shortlist. He has been busier than Meryl Streep’s publicist during Oscar season in pushing Is Superman Circumcised? out to his fans.

"There were obstacles—including a concerted effort by Kremlin-backed troll farms to swing the election to The Life Cycle of Russian Things—but truth, justice and the Kryptonian way ultimately prevailed."

Bent concluded: "All of our shortlistees would have been worthy winners but with all due respect to them, I am glad of the margin of victory, for if it was a close-run thing I would have feared a slip of the tongue if I had to talk about Is Superman Circumcised? winning by the skin of its, er, teeth." 

Tom Tivnan, The Bookseller managing editor and co-ordinator of the Diagram, said: "The Diagram Prize has gone from strength to superhuman strength with this year’s win for Is Superman Circumcised?—provided there is no Kryptonite around, I suppose. But following on from 2019’s champ, The Dirt Hole and its Variations, and 2020’s A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path: Animal Metaphors in Eastern Indonesian Society, we’ve seen once again that Diagram voters are pulled to titles that are just a wee bit naughty."

Tivnan added: "As a lifelong comics fan I am cheered by the result. And certainly by winning the world’s most important literary prize, Is Superman Circumcised? will do much to rescue the Man of Steel’s reputation, which has suffered so much after the risible ‘Save Martha’ scene in ‘Batman v Superman’ and Henry Cavill’s terrifying digitally removed moustache in ‘Justice League’."   

Tel Aviv-born and New York resident Schwartz’s book is a study of the Jewish influences on the “Mensch of Steel”, from the character’s creation by immigrant teens Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, who “based their hero’s origin story on Moses, his strength on Samson, his mission on the golem, and his nebbish secret identity on themselves”. Schwartz further argues 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. 

Schwartz said: “The competition was stiff, but I'm glad I was able to rise to the challenge... I'm sincerely honored to receive this august literary prize. It's a great reminder that even serious literature is allowed to be fun.”

There is no monetary award for the Diagram Prize victor, but a “passable bottle of claret” is traditionally given to the person who nominates the winning entry. Is Superman Circumcised? was nominated in-house at The Bookseller by creative editor Danny Arter, so the claret is being given to a subscriber tothe organ who voted for the winner, chosen at random: Rumana Haider, UK and export sales director for London-based publisher Michael O’Mara Books. 

The remaining shortlist in full:

23%  
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.  

10% 
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. 
 
7% 
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.   
 
6%  
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.  
 
5%  
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.