Another “Hell and High Water” — how annoying is that?

Seriously. I’m asking you — how annoying is that?

I honestly don’t know how I should feel about someone copying my title for a book on exactly the same subject. But I learned today (of all days) from Paul in the comments (here) about this:

I thought it was a good title when I came up with it — although in all honesty it didn’t sell enough copies to make any royalties [Note to self: Get over it!], so his book certainly won’t hurt my “sales.” Heck, I might even get some more sales by accident.

Hmm. Now that I check it out, my Amazon ranking two years later — 169,231 and #33 in books on climate change (woo hoo!) — is lower than his four months after his publication. Which I suppose all goes to show that there’s not a lot of point in writing books on global warming anymore unless you are really famous. Perhaps this post will even boost his sales.

Indeed, given that my blog reaches maybe five times as many people every month than the number who have read all of my books combined over the past two decades, I don’t really see the likelihood of my writing books in my field every again. [And that’s very optimistically assuming people who buy or received my books actually read them. In reality, I can’t imagine more than half do.]

So go ahead would-be authors of not-particularly-high-volume-sales future books, take all my titles: The Once and Future Superpower and Defining National Security and Lean and Clean Management and Cool Companies. Well maybe not all. I am still rather fond of The Hype about Hydrogen — hard to see how somebody could borrow that one in the future, although you never know what people will be peddling when we get really desperate to avoid catastrophic warming in the 2020s.

I have emailed Alastair McIntosh, so we’ll see what he has to say for himself. He’s one of those people who make you verify your name using one of those word-recognition programs before he accepts your email — ’nuff said!

31 Responses to Another “Hell and High Water” — how annoying is that?

  1. albert says:

    They’ll simply call the book “Hindsight” in 2020.

  2. Rick says:

    you can never trust an environmentalist with a scruffy beard – they’re up to no good I tell ya

  3. John Hollenberg says:

    Don’t they even do a search on Amazon to see if the title is already taken?

  4. Paul says:

    Unbelievable. I can only say sarcastically – at least they took the trouble of changing the title to red & black and not white! Again vow!

    Very disrespectful. Very everything…

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Titles are not copyrightable.

    So I could also write a “Hell and High Water” to cash in on the confusion. :-)

  6. Doug350 says:

    pretty damned annoying … yup …
    pretty dammed annoying … I say!

  7. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Hey Joe!

    Haven’t you heard the phrase, “Come Hell or high water…” ? I remember it was in common use about 60 years, but it went out fashion a long time ago, like maybe in the 1960’s when the hip generation started emerge from the adolesent life statge.

    Attn Rick!

    Never trust a man who has a beard unless he is a sailor, a biker, or is bald!

    I coined this phrase about 30 years ago.

    [JR: Of course I have. That’s where the title comes from. The “or” becomes an “and” thanks to global warming.]

  8. Drew says:


    Feeling your pain,


  9. alex says:

    “Its worth checking out David Benson’s Blog, Climate Progress. David is a regular commenter to the Big Biofuels Blog. He takes a wider view of the US climate sicence, politics and solutions. “

  10. Dana says:

    Wow, that’s pretty shabby.

    I’m surprised you haven’t sold more copies of ‘Hell and High Water’. I thought it was a great book.

    If it makes you feel better, the folks at RealClimate thought so too. They called your book a “notable paperback this year” in their roundup of interesting and noteworthy books of ’08.

  11. llewelly says:

    I read your Hell And High Water and I didn’t buy it. Does that make up for someone who bought it and didn’t read it?

    (I got it from the library. And my queue position was 2 when I placed the order, so other people were at least checking it out.)

    [JR: Didn’t think of that. I suppose it does.]

  12. Brewster says:

    I bought it AND read it…

  13. Brewster says:


  14. Linda S says:

    I’m another ‘got it at the library,’ so that makes at least two of us. After I read it, I started wondering, ‘what would Joe Romm think of what is happening now?’ And with the magic of the internet, I was able to find out!! Loved the book; love your blog, Joe. Keep at it. . . You are providing an invaluable service to mankind even if you are not being compensated anywhere close to your worth. And merry Christmas!

  15. Hal Levin says:

    Lots of thanks and lots of sympathy, Joe, but you are doing just fine. I am confident you will get over this (too). I had a somewhat similar experience, although I had not published my still-to-be-written book. Read on for the details, if you are interested.

    I coined the term “Building Ecology” in 1979 and first published using that as the title of an April 1981 article in the now-defunct “Progressive Architecture” magazine, incorporated into the AIA’s magazine, formerly called “Architecture,” now “Architect.”

    I never wrote “the” book, but I have used the term in lectures on five continents (including Australia – never been to New Zealand though). In the late 90s I was the “official” building ecologist for the government of Queensland, Australia.

    Should I have published a book? I’ve published over 3,000 pages over the past 30 years. I dunno.

    In 2003 a New Zealander named Peter Graham’s book “Building Ecology: First Principles for a Sustainable Built Environment” was published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. I wrote to him to ask if he had read any of my several articles with Building Ecology in the title or whether he had heard of my work at all. He replied that he had never heard of me nor of my work. Remarkable because you can’t Google the “building ecology” without coming upon numerous references to my work.

    Am I upset? Yes and No. I was initially upset that I had never written the book, but I was pleased that the term made sense to at least one other architect on this planet. It’s not a bad book at all, although it’s fairly general and fails to convey the essence of my own concept of building ecology, the fundamental dynamic inter-dependencies between buildings, occupants, and the larger environment.

    I bought his book. I was planning to write my own. Thanks for the heads up, Joe. Maybe I’ll start a blog instead. or, you can check out lots of my writings on my web site, At least I got that one before someone else did. Lots of good stuff there on “sustainable” buildings and indoor environmental quality.

  16. Hal Levin says:

    Oh, yeah. bought your “H+H H20” and read it.

  17. Gareth says:

    Well, my title was nicked too – with the subtle addition of a definite article… But I was first. That’s always some small consolation.

  18. TomG says:

    I bought your excellent book as well, but I hesitate to use the word ‘love’ to describe it. Appreciation is a much better word.
    I doubt not one iota of what it contains, but I do not love it as I would a good novel. It is more like life saving medicine…but the taste has every chance of being bitter.
    Your book is very well written, everything is easy to understand and yet I had to re-read some sections more than twice to gain the full depth of what you were telling me just to establish in my own mind the serious future we all face. Serious being a rather tame word.
    I keep the book close to hand in my small but growing climate library as a reference source and I have already recommended it to my friends.
    I am glad you wrote the book and I certainly don’t regret reading it.
    Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year.

  19. Tim Hurst says:

    That’s got to be a little embarrassing for McIntosh. At least Laura Bush could run back upstairs and change when the three other women showed up wearing the same dress at a White House gala in 2006.

  20. jo abbess says:


    Alastair McIntosh is a Scottish theologian, who has been moving in spiritual circles, so it’s very unlikely that you’ve ever met him, since you’re an American scientist, and that makes it equally unlikely, therefore, that he plagiarised the title for his book.

    This man is no copycat, so please drop the offendedness. He’s a-moving and a-shaking the establishment churches in the United Kingdom, and he weaves together the science on Climate Change with the message of spiritual hope, using metaphors and allegories about Energy and Light.

    I heard him speak at the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in Cheltenham UK in August 2007 and August 2008 and his message was very poignant.

    Your books will have extremely constrasting content, so a shared title means nothing.

    A blessed festival season to you, and a successful New Year 2009.

    [JR: Fine. But I’m sure he’s heard of Google. Who writes a book these days without googling the title?]

  21. Baerbel W. says:

    I bought and read your book and would love to recommend it to others as it makes for very good – if frightening – reading. There is just one caveat: I live in Germany and it doesn’t look as if a German translation is available (yet). Unfortunately, not too many of the people I know like reading books in English, let alone books on climate change.

  22. Andy Revkin says:

    Maybe there’s a pattern with climate books, Joe. After all, David Archer wrote “Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast” 14 years after I wrote “Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast.” C’est la guerre. This is such a “Groundhog Day” story….

  23. Mark Kowal says:

    I second the words penned by Jo Abbesss. I have talked with Alastair a couple of times and read through his website content. It could be the case that the title came to Alastair’s mind and to yours, just by chance – it is after all a common idiomatic phrase, unlike some of the two-word confections used by other works on the climate crisis – the Forgiving Air, Fixing Climate, Apollo’s Fire would be clearer candidates for plagiarism.

    A quick search showed it was used by the rock band Deep Purple in 1993 as a CD and DVD title, maybe originated in US cattle ranching in the 1850s and has been in common use, written and oral, since the early 1900s. It could easily pop into the mind of many a writer setting about the climate topic.

    You’d probably accept that you’re unlikely to be called up by Deep Purple’s agent with a complaint that you’d nicked the title of their CD… you would be surprised if you were so bothered, and if the case came to court, you’d likely fall back on the defense that the phrase was well and truly out there in the public domain.

    In fact, another climate-related book by Michael Eric Dyson covers the post-Katrina failure (..and the colour of disaster…), so it looks like you’ve got a tough fight to preserve the patch! I suggest you ask him to explain himself before leaping to conclusions … ?

  24. Larry Coleman says:

    I never know what to make of duplicate titles. “Fearful symmetry” is a book by Anthony Zee on elementary particles. Some years later, Ian Stewart wrote a book with the same title. It is possible/likely that they both got it from Blake’s “The tyger.” It’s just too wonderful to pass up even if someone else has used it, and even if you know it. Then, there is “No Way” by David Park. I asked him once how he came up with the title (It is a book about things that physics does not allow, e.g., perpetual motion machines.). He said that he and his editor met to decide on a title and each came with his own preference with no prior discussion. They both wrote down “No way.” So some titles seem decreed from above.

  25. Michael says:

    I read your book Joe, cover to cover.

    Also, please check out Climate Matters, a new blog from the Columbia University Climate Center offering original research and unique commentary, at

  26. John Mashey says:

    I bought a few extra ones to give away.

    But regarding numbers, I pass on the words of an old Bell Labs colleague Brian Kernighan (whose name might be recognizable to computer folks.) He said:

    You don’t make much money, but if you write a book, people start thinking you know what you’re talking about.

  27. Russ says:

    I imagine converting “hell or high water” to “and” is likely enough that lots of people could come up with it independently. On the other hand, that wouldn’t explain the lack of googling, so I imagine they were aware of the existing book but decided to go ahead anyway.

    As for Deep Purple, I don’t think a heavy metal album and a book on climate change are competing with one another, nor is there likely to be much confusion between them.

    But here, there’s likely to be both competition and confusion. Even if you don’t care about the former, you have to care about the latter.

  28. Ben says:

    As an author who was profoundly unhappy with the title of the book that my publisher forced upon my first published work, I’m compelled to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe he didn’t have any say in the matter? Those publishers are plenty callous and wouldn’t give two hoots about stealing a title (or anything else).

  29. Dear Joseph Romm

    First of all, let me say that I am sorry to learn, as you put it in your short email to me, that you are “a tad annoyed” that my book shares the same title as yours.

    However, it is not a question of I “took your title”. You write, “I thought it was a good title when I came up with it” but as a titles search on Amazon will show, it is a common title and not one that is original to either of us. Several books, a film and music tracks have been called “Hell and/or High Water” going back to at least the 1940s. Your book discusses Hurricane Katrina, but a year before yours came out, a book was published in the USA about Hurricane Katrina with a similar title – “Come Hell or High Water”. The truth as some contributors to this blog have pointed out is that this is a worn phrase. I’ve always understood it to be an alliteration of Biblical apocalypse with particular reference to the Noahic Flood.

    I started work on my book in 2006 before yours had been published. As such, your title did not come up when I undertook my original literature search. I only discovered it late in 2007 by which time I had already decided on my title. When I discovered your book I didn’t see this duplication as being much of a problem. From a legal point of view under UK law there is no copyright over titles, names and common phrases – see . I have not checked out US law on the matter, but I doubt it’s greatly different otherwise you yourself would be in breach of copyright due to earlier uses of the title by US book publishers. The only thing that bothered me was whether there might be significant risk of confusion in our respective reading publics. I would no more want people accidentally buying your book when they were looking for mine than you would wish the same error. It was quickly apparent to me from a web scan of your book that yours was from a US publisher, mainly addressing US policy issues and written very much for a US public. I could see that it would be of interest to specialists on this side of the Atlantic but probably not to a wider audience. Equally, while I’d like to see my book as being aimed at a world audience, I know that the reality is that the trade will see it mainly as “a Scottish book”. This is confirmed that by the fact that there have been excellent reviews in the Scottish newspapers, but none whatsoever in the English ones! I also know from past experience that my books hardly sell in the USA. Soil and Soul, for which I am best known, has sold into 5 figures and been translated into French here in Europe, but has shifted only about 300 copies in the USA. Given such compartmentalisation of the market I therefore didn’t consider confusion between our books to be likely enough problem to justify changing the title that I was building things around. The reality of market compartmentalisation is confirmed by our respective sales rankings on Amazon. I see (today) that yours is selling at about 15,000 on the USA’s, but it stands at 373,000 over here on In almost perfect symmetry, mine languishes at 297,000 on, but averages around 15,000 on

    So there we are. Neither of us has used an original title. Both came up with the title completely independently of each other. And our sales territories are manifestly compartmentalised.

    What’s more, notwithstanding appearances, my book is not primarily about climate change as such. Only chapters 2 and 3 present the science. My interest is in the cultural psychological and the spiritual dynamics that underlie the drivers of climate change. I’m interested less in the hardware than in the software of where we might best focus our efforts to address dysfunctionality in the human condition. My work was originally due to be published (as a much shorter book aimed at the Scottish Parliament) at precisely the same time as yours came out … but a tragic personal event delayed it by a year and led to a much longer and richer book in the end.

    That said, after encountering your book I wanted to read it, and did so exactly a year ago over Christmas 2007. At the time I was just polishing up the final draft of m/s which was due at the publisher for late February 2008. I found what you’d written to be damned good. Notwithstanding its American focus, I reckoned it one of the best recent books I’d read on the subject, and that gave me a last minute dilemma. Because I’d warned my readers early on that my book was not primarily about climate change and that I am not a climate change scientist, I had a section where I pointed them towards the best available recent works for an informed lay reader. I now realised that yours was up there amongst the best. This meant that I should mention you too. However, I was aware that some of my own readers might then think that I’d “pinched” your title, when this was not the case. I could have circumvented this problem simply by ignoring your book, but that would have been intellectually dishonest. My solution was to mention it indeed, but worded in a way that would make clear to my readers that your book was a) more for the American market, b) that while our main titles were the same the subtitles very different, and c) just for the legally minded, a reminder that there is no copyright on titles for the good reason that copyright law recognises that titles will inevitably duplicate.

    Here, then, is what I wrote, Joseph. And I sincerely hope it will help shift some copies of your book just as I hope that your having raised this issue might interest some of your readers in my material. I note your comments about disappointing sales, and would only wish to add that I share that experience. My book has so far sold between two to three thousand copies. That’s great at one level, but the truth is that most of them will be to readers of my “bestselling” Soil and Soul who have long awaited a “sequel”. I know this is the case, because most of what’s gone out the warehouse was for advance orders from booksellers. In other words, the bulk of what I’ve sold so far is based on reputation rather than virtue. I hope that might change, but I can’t assume it! Added to this is the fact that climate change has fallen off the Richter scale of public awareness since the credit crunch bit. Of course, our job is to show that the climate and credit crunches share the same underlying drivers – consumerism, in my view – but the reading public haven’t caught up on that yet.

    Anyway, let me paste in for you below what I wrote in my book about yours on pp. 36-37. I hope it will please you. To compare your clarity of writing with George Monbiot is high praise in a UK context.

    Best wishes,

    Alastair McIntosh

    “On top of these there is a growing wealth of carefully researched books for informed lay readers. These include, as we have seen, George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning (2006), Robert Henson’s The Rough Guide to Climate Change (2006), James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia (2006), and Fred Pearce’s With Speed and Violence (2007). One of the best books that I found late on in my own research has the same main title as this book (it is far from original, there being no copyright on titles), but aimed very much at the American market: Hell and High Water: Global warming – the Solution and the Politics by Joseph Romm. Romm was formerly a Department of Energy advisor to President Clinton. I found his clarity akin to George Monbiot’s, though many would find his prescription even more controversial. It includes cutting U.S. carbon emissions by two-thirds by taking such steps as building one million large wind turbines and ‘700 new large nuclear power plants while shutting down no old ones.’2 Such are the disturbing implications of trying to move to a lower carbon economy while still maintaining business as usual for the American way of life.”

    2 Romm, Joseph, Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solution and the Politics and What We Should Do, William Morrow, NY, 2007, pp. 154-5.

  30. Dear Alastair,

    As you knew of Joe’s book and it caused you such a dilemma, you could at least have written to him before publishing your book to explain the situation and apologise for any confusion that your choice of title might cause. That would have been the right thing to do if you felt you could not change the title.

    Kind regards


  31. Dear Chris

    Yes, I agree, you are right. As I said above, my dilemma was very much a last minute one. The book cover had already been prepared and had gone to press for the publisher’s catalogue in November 2007, and it was not until December that I read Joe’s book and realised that it was of sufficient significance to merit the reference that provoked my dilemma.

    And so, with hindsight, yes, it would indeed have been courteous to have written to Joe like you suggest.

    Joe and I have since corresponded by email and I see he’s now, with something of a wry humour, shifted this discussion to the “humour” archive of his website. Perhaps, however, it will round things off more adequately if, by way of conclusion, I share the following passage from what I wrote privately to him:

    “My chain of logic was … [much as above]. But I do see the coherence of your chain of logic and, more to the point, feeling, and I am sorry that we have had this disagreement.

    “Would I have changed my title if I’d thought you might have had this reaction?

    “Yes, because I would not want to have caused you grief.

    “Did I forsee that? No, for the reasons summarised above, and in my earlier message posted to your site.”

    The bottom line, then, is that whatever the factual context and the rights and wrongs of the issue, Joe has not caused hurt to me but one way or another, he feels that I have caused hurt to him. I don’t apologise for independently having used the same unoriginal expression as a book title in what is a manifestly different sales territory, but like with the person one knocks into when coming round a street corner, I do apologise to Joe (and his online community) for my part in the hurt that he has felt.

    Sincerely, Alastair.