Years and years ago -- back in 2006 -- the Thai government tried to stop Yale University Press from publishing a biography of the Thai king, The King Never Smiles. Now comes news that a US citizen, Joe Gordon, who translated the biography and posted the translation on-line (some years ago while living in the US) is in jail in Thailand awaiting sentencing for defaming the royal family. Here's an excerpt from a post I put up at propertyprof back in September 2006:
The New York Times has an article (entitled "A Banned Book Challenges a Saintly Image of Thai King") on Paul Handley's book The King Never Smiles (Yale University Press, 2006), about King Bhumibol Adulyade of Thailand. According to the article, one of Handley's central points is that the king--who has enjoyed very favorable press--has been more concerned with order than democracy.
What particularly interested me were the efforts made by the Thai government to suppress the book, including sending representatives to meet with President George Bush, with Yale University's president, and (apparently) with the director of Yale University Press. Extraordinary, particularly for a book from a university press. The press did push back the publication date (so that it would not coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the monarch's ascension) and also permitted, apparently, Thai officials to comment on the manuscript before it was published. Both reasonable, though I should imagine, unusal concessions. (Also, I should emphasize that I am in no position at all to evaluate the merits of Handley's thesis.)
Not surprisingly, the publicity surrounding the attempt to supress its publication (and its banning in Thailand) has led to a lot of sales. This afternoon it was ranked #259 on Amazon--an astonishingly good performance for a university press book. Exciting times at YUP, no doubt, even if the king is not smiling....
I continue to be surprised at the efforts to control the distribution of an academic book. Not sure that I know of any other academic press book that's generated this kind of controversy. The King may not be smiling -- and I'm mighty certain that Mr. Gordon isn't either.
Update: Now there are reports that Mr. Gordon has received a two and one-half year sentence. I'm not sure how that serves the interests of anyone.