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Book’s success is no ‘baloney

Princeton NJ -- A serious philosophical essay published last February by Princeton University Press has soared onto bestseller lists with an eye-catching title that has provoked more than a few raised eyebrows.

“On Bull—,” written by professor of philosophy emeritus Harry Frankfurt, has spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and has been ranked in the top 10 bestsellers on Amazon.com.

“It’s a fabulous occurrence,” said Walter Lippincott, the press’ director. “It was not remotely what we would have expected.”

The unusual title graces an unadorned beige and green cover on a book so small it fits in the palm of your hand. A mere 80 pages, the book is a scholarly examination of the phenomenon of bull—, the distinction between bull— and lying, and its function in society. It originally was published as an essay in an academic journal in 1986.

More than 200,000 copies are in print, making Frankfurt’s book one of the biggest sellers at the press in the last 20 years.

But the title has caused headaches for book reviewers and headline writers, who have devised artful ways of abbreviating the title to avoid offending readers. The dashes and asterisks are an unnecessary precaution, according to Lippincott.

“It’s hard to believe in this day and age that the word is remotely offensive,” he said.

Nevertheless, Los Angeles Times columnist Dan Neil wrote that he had to obtain “special dispensation” from his editors to write about the book. He marveled at the volume’s slimness: “Any book that attempts to divine the greater significance of this concept in the Age of Spin, as Frankfurt’s does, ought to be the size of the Vedas.”