When the nutritional rap against sugar went viral last year, an out-of-print book written by British scientist John Yudkin in 1972 called Pure, White, and Deadly suddenly became extremely valuable. Copies that wouldn't have been worth much a few years ago are now selling for hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Every year, the website Bookfinder.com compiles a list of the most coveted out-of-print books, and this year's report pegs Pure, White, and Deadly near the top alongside out-of-print standbys Madonna's Sex, Stephen King's Rage (which he wrote as Richard Bachman), and Nora Roberts' Promise Me Tomorrow. How exactly did this long-forgotten book become such a sought-after title?
The rediscovery of Pure, White, and Deadly was catalyzed by UC San Francisco's Prof. Robert H. Lustig. His Youtube video "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" has nearly three million views, no small feat for a 90-minute long lecture. Thirty-two minutes into his anti-sugar spiel, Lustig cites Yudkin as a prophet in the crusade against sugar. "Every single thing that this man said in 1972 is the god's honest truth," Lustig says with utmost conviction. "If you want to read a true prophesy, you find this book. It's not easy to find, but you go find this book and I'm telling you, every single thing this guy said has come to pass. It's astounding." A widely discussed New York Times Magazine cover story "Is Sugar Toxic?" from last year further piqued interest in Yudkin's work.
Pure, White, and Deadly doesn't even chart in Bookfinder's 2011 report, but in this year's, it skyrocketed to No. 5. The only books more sought-after than Yudkin's have been mainstays on the Bookfinder report for years. Madonna's Sex is No. 1 for obvious reasons, and King disowned No. 2 Rage and No. 4 My Pretty Pony while Roberts vowed to never reprint No. 3 Promise Me Tomorrow, which has made them legendary collectors' items. Bookfinder's Scott Laming says that Pure, White and Deadly's debut on the chart was less predictable. "All of a sudden something happens to spark interest in a book, and everyone wants it," he says. He saw the same thing happen with Edward Gorey's The Recently Deflowered Girl in 2009. Gorey's cheeky children's book got republished after a blog post took it viral. "I could see Pure, White, and Deadly getting reprinted in the U.S. fairly soon."
Which begs the question: why hasn't anyone republished Pure, White, and Deadly in the U.S. already? Pure, White and Deadly was most recently published by Penguin in 1988, and all of Yudkin's other books have remained out-of-print in the U.S. for over 15 years. The U.K. wing of Penguin is seizing upon the book's newfound popularity, and plans to republish it in November. Yet there's still no word on any U.S. publisher doing the same. John Yudkin died in 1995, so perhaps his books are tangled up in disputes over who holds the rights to Yudkin's work, although that would not explain why there's a deal in the U.K. but not in the U.S. Pirated versions have been circulating online, and the demand is clearly high. With so few sure-things in publishing, there must be some reason why no one is chomping at the bit to get this one back on shelves, or at least on Kindles. We'll be looking into this little publishing mystery and will report what we find.