The first amendment

BOOK publishing is portrayed as a genteel refuge from life. So it should be no surprise that it is in fact a cut-throat world, riddled with absurd editorial interference. Members of NibWeb, the Network for Information Book Writers and Editors, have been sharing egregious examples.

One is writing an atlas for an eminent US publisher. On mentioning fossil finds in the Omo valley, Ethiopia, he was told "We can't mention evolution or anything related to it since there are several American school districts and hundreds of home schooled kids who only learn creationism." Maybe they should tell the US Supreme Court, which ruled in 1987 that creationism may not be taught in state schools?

He was forbidden to describe the people of the Sahel as "poor": apparently it's "durrogatory" (sic). And, on describing the climate in Tasmania: "Replace 'cool' with another adjective in the third sentence. It's a slang term here, so kids may not understand the actual meaning that you're going for." Cool. We'd never have known.

Oh, and could he replace a piece on the geysers of New Zealand with one about the filming of Matrix and Lord of the Rings.

Another reports "a whole sheaf of don'ts, also from the US," which forbade any references to: sausages (junk food, we can't have that); talking animals (poor Ratty!), baseball caps (they indicate gang warfare, and are obviously not worn by anyone not planning to shoot you, knife you or sell you crack); and, mysteriously, barbecues and free-standing wardrobes. And then there's the complete ban on hedgehogs that has become second nature to non-fiction writers. There are no hedgehogs in the US. So there shall be none in their books.

Finally, the whole of our coverage of the Olympics follows. You've guessed? Yes, a book on ancient Greek games had its artwork censored by a nervous US editor, with "ridiculous blue kilts added to the athletes" at page-proof stage. The text was unchanged, so it contradicted the images. And of course, the UK ended up getting the same art as the US edition.

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