Seeds of Change

If you plan on attending the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) 44th Annual Meeting next month in Chicago, be sure to make time to attend Session 4F, “Open Science and SDGs: Harnessing Open Science to Address Global Issues.” Lucas Toutloff, CTO at Cabells, will be part of an outstanding panel that will be discussing ways the scientific community and journalism can drive change and wider societal outreach through open science policies and by embracing SDGs as a key topic in research impact.

Over the past year we have written extensively about our commitment to doing our part to move the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, ultimately, their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, forward. We were proud to join the SDG Publishers Compact as one of the first U.S. organizations and non-primary publishers globally to be awarded membership, and we look forward to becoming more involved in the rankings, ratings, and assessments HESI action group, tasked with guiding the changes to the criteria for assessment of the performance of higher education institutions to include contributions to the UN SDGs.

We’ve also been thrilled at the growth of and excitement for the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) academic journal rating, the first system for evaluating how journals contribute to positively impacting the SDGs. The SDGII is the result of our collaboration with Dr. David Steingard, Director of the SDG Dashboard initiative and Associate Professor of Leadership, Ethics, & Organizational Sustainability at the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University, and his team of researchers.

The SDGII uses SJU’s AI-based methodology to look at article output in journals from Cabells’ Journalytics database and gives those journals a ranking determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years with respect to the SDGs. The SDGII provides a rating of up to five ‘SDG wheels’ to summarize the SDG relevance of articles published over a five-year period (2016-2020).

Last month, we had the chance to champion the potential benefits and impact of the SDGII at the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) North American Biennial Meeting in Virginia, and at the AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in New Orleans. David and his team discussed their vision and efforts to inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications.

From right to left: Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes, Dr. Kathleen Rodenburg, and Dr. David Steinberg speak at the PRME 2022 Biennial Meeting at George Mason University in Arlington, VA.

At PRME, we discussed how impact-focused metrics can support progressive publication and business education agendas and unveiled a new iteration of the metric – the SDGII 3000, which provides a rating to measure the SDG-intensity of 3000 academic business journals, as well as the net impact of a business school’s faculty on publications advancing the SDGs. The SDGII 3000 will analyze 95%+ of all relevant business school and SDG-related journals where faculty publish and represents a massive expansion of the measurement of the social and environmental impact of publications through the SDGs.  

Dr. David Steingard presents the SDGII 3000 for the first time at PRME.

We look forward to continuing this discussion in Chicago at the SSP conference, both during our session and beyond. We will discuss the ways that open science is impacting SDG initiatives and programs and explore methods for operationalizing SDG-mindedness as a tool for measuring both research impact and potential. The momentum is building for this game-changing initiative and we hope to see continued interest and excitement from all corners of academia.

Conference Season Continues…Back in the Big Easy!

This week, we are on the road attending the Medical Library Association’s annual conference, MLA ’22, in New Orleans, where we’re excited to showcase our soon-to-launch new product, Journalytics Medicine & Predatory Reports. If you are at the conference in New Orleans, be sure to stop by booth 520 to say hello and take a look at our exciting new offering designed to help medical researchers, librarians, administrators, and funders ensure their work and resources are protected and impactful.

We have had a busy and wonderful 2022 conference season so far. At the Principles for Responsible Management Education North American Biennial Meeting in Arlington, Virginia, and the AACSB’s annual ICAM conference, also in New Orleans, we had the amazing opportunity to discuss our collaboration with David Steingard and Saint Joseph’s University (previously discussed here and here) in examining how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications.

We look forward to chronicling our adventures and sharing the successes of the conferences after we’ve had the chance to reconnect with everyone and make our way back home. Stay tuned!

Back Together Again

Conference season is upon us and all of us at Cabells are excited to get back to in-person events to safely reconnect with old friends and establish ties with new ones. Like everyone else in the world, academe has had to adapt, pivot, and evolve to a new way of life, one largely designed to limit human interaction. Maybe that’s why it seems like there is a bit more excitement surrounding conferences this year, the anticipation of being back together with our community and all the ideas, learning, teaching, and growing that in-person events foster.

Cabells is hitting the ground running and we will be at the upcoming Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) North American Biennial Meeting April 21-23 in Arlington, Virginia. PRME is a United Nations-supported initiative founded in 2007 as a platform to raise the profile of sustainability in management and business schools around the world. Their mission to transform management education and shape the skills and mindset of future business leaders to advance sustainable development and create collective impact dovetails perfectly with Cabells’ values and goals.

Speaking of fitting perfectly with our mission, we are also very excited to be returning to AACSB’s ICAM 2022 in New Orleans, April 24-26. We will have a large contingent at ICAM this year, find us at booth 219 or in one of the conference’s insightful sessions to say hello and learn what we have been up to since we last met.

At both PRME and ICAM we are looking forward to discussing our work in collaboration with David Steingard and Saint Joseph’s University (previously discussed here and here) in examining how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications. We’ve looked at opportunities that help and obstacles that hinder work on making this shift happen, and hope to offer solutions that help accelerate progress.

Our work in helping to develop the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) journal rating, which measures business and management journals on their focus and impact on sustainability and related issues has been challenging and rewarding. We’re looking forward to sharing our work and the progress we’ve made in helping shift the paradigm on what counts as impact in academic and business research.

We hope to see you in Arlington or New Orleans, travel safely!

Can Research Lost to Predatory Journals Be Saved?

At the launch event last month for the InterAcademy Partnership’s (IAP) recently released report on combatting predatory academic journals and conferences, an all too familiar question was posted to the virtual session’s chat by an attendee:

… I made this mistake once and I published a paper in one of these journals … now it does not appear online on searching … how can I withdraw this paper and republish it in a trusted journal??

This is a variation of a question we at Cabells are asked and consider frequently, and one that perfectly encapsulates the scholarly publishing-esque three-act drama that unfolds when a researcher is entangled with a deceptive publishing operation:

Act I: Setup

‘… I made this mistake once and I published a paper in one of these journals …’

The ‘mistake’ made (or in our drama, the ‘inciting incident’) was unknowingly submitting work to and publishing it in a predatory journal. This can and does happen innocently and somewhat easily to unsuspecting researchers, most often students and early career researchers.

Act II: Confrontation

‘…now it does not appear online on searching…’

The stakes are raised as the ramifications of the inciting incident from Act I are realized. One of the damaging results of having research published in a predatory journal is that it won’t be easily (if at all) discoverable. Some predatory journals advertise that they are included in well-known databases like Web of Science, Scopus, or Cabells, when they are not. These operations devote no time or resources to developing SEO or facilitating inclusion in research databases, so published articles will be difficult, if not impossible, to find.

Act III: Resolution

‘…How can I withdraw this paper and republish it in a trusted journal??’

The short answer, as provided in the launch event chat by Susan Veldsman, one of the authors of the IAP report, was succinct and unfortunately accurate:

‘Authors have reported that it is very difficult to retract these articles, actually no chance, as publishers just ignore requests and pleas from authors.’

This is the sad truth. Once an article is submitted to a predatory journal there is little to no hope of successfully withdrawing the article. These requests by authors are either ignored or not acted upon. Once published by the predatory journal, which often occurs without notice, researchers risk running afoul of publication ethics concerning duplicate publication if they submit the article to a second publication, whether or not copyright has been transferred. But should this be the case?

One alternative for dealing with research that has essentially been ‘lost’ to predatory operations, and so dismissed or ignored, was put forth by Jeanette Hatherill, Scholarly Communication Librarian at the University of Ottawa. Hatherill proposes that an author be able to “… retract or withdraw the article, acknowledge its ‘prior publication’ and submit it to a preprint server to make it available for open peer review.” While most preprint servers, including bioRxiv, require that articles be submitted prior to being accepted by (and of course, published in) a journal, Hatherill points out that these policies are set by the preprint servers and can be examined and revised.

As for the question of copyright, Hatherill notes that ‘even deceptive publishers’ such as OMICS, the predatory publishing giant recently on the losing end of a $50 million dollar judgment due to their predatory publishing practices, ‘state that all articles are available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.’ Publishing an article open access under Creative Commons licenses leaves the copyright with the author, meaning from a copyright standpoint it should be permissible to post on a preprint server as long as the place of first ‘publication’ is cited.

This solution doesn’t address the harmful effects of duplicate publication, like skewed citation metrics or flawed research due to redundant results from multiple publications, but the risk is minimal as papers published in predatory journals attract little attention and citations from scientists, especially when compared to those published in reputable publications.

Until a more comprehensive, structured, and widely applicable solution to the dilemma of how to salvage legitimate and potentially valuable research that has been unknowingly published in a predatory journal is found, creative solutions such as posting to a preprint server with an acknowledgment of prior publication and might be the most effective and efficient way to proceed.

IAP Report Sets Out Plan of Action for Fighting Predatory Academic Practices

Stemming the tide of predatory publishing operations is a challenging endeavor. Cabells has witnessed this firsthand through the rapid growth of our Predatory Reports database, which now lists over 16,000 deceptive publications. Advancements in digital publishing have made it easier than ever to launch and operate academic journals and have done much to democratize and globalize research. However, these same advancements have also made it easier than ever to create fake publishing operations that are focused solely on profit, with no regard for scholarship.

Recently, we discussed the importance of ‘researching your research’ and how one researcher’s persistence in vetting a suspect speaking opportunity at a conference traced back to a predatory publisher, Knowledge Enterprises Inc. (KEI), who happened to have six journals included in Predatory Reports). Predatory publishing outfits such as KEI were the focus of the recently released report from the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), the global network of over 140 science, engineering, and medical academies. The report, “Combating Predatory Academic Journals and Conferences,” was the result of a two-year study to determine what constitutes predatory practices, pinpoint their root causes and drivers, and provide recommendations and guidance on how they can be identified and avoided.

We previously covered the initial findings from the survey of over 1,800 academics on 112 countries, which found that:

  • nearly a quarter of the academics had either published in a predatory journal, participated in a predatory conference, or didn’t know if they had
  • over 80% thought predatory practices were on the rise or a serious problem in their country of work
  • over 80% thought these practices fueled misinformation in public policy.

The study shows that researchers in all countries, at all stages of their career, and in any discipline can be vulnerable to predatory practices, and as a result, raising awareness is now a vital mission for IAP.

The authors identified three main drivers of predatory practices: the increasing monetization and commercialization of the scholarly enterprise, the predominance of quantity-over-quality research evaluation systems, and serious challenges and weaknesses in the peer-review system. To make a lasting and measurable impact on the pervasiveness of predatory journal and conference practices, these root causes, and the unintended consequences that spring from them, require urgent action.

The final section of the report examines the conclusions of the study, including the need for an evolved definition of predatory academic journals and conferences and an increase in the awareness and understanding of predatory behaviors. The study also concludes that predatory operations are on the rise and undermine public trust in research, waste resources, and exploit weaknesses in the peer review system.

Most importantly, the authors set out recommendations for a course of action to combat these harmful and pervasive outfits. Cabells takes seriously the fact that our resources, in particular Predatory Reports, are recommended as trustworthy and effective tools to identify and avoid predatory operations.

Ultimately, the report stresses the need for urgent and collective action among all stakeholders as predatory practices continue to rise at an alarming rate. Training is imperative as is the need for cooperation from all players in taking action on the report’s recommendations. The authors assert that efforts to identify, understand, and expose predatory academic operations must continue, and the root causes of predatory practices need to be addressed if interventions are to have any lasting impact.

Achieving Gender Equity is Fair and Desperately Needed


In the US, March is Women’s History Month, a time for celebrating the key part women have played in American history, and globally, March 8 was International Women’s Day, a day to “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” The theme for #IWD2022 is #BreakTheBias, a call to action and a stark reminder that while it is important to celebrate the progress that has been made on the path to gender equity, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Major League Baseball serves as a microcosmic example of the problems facing society when it comes to gender equity. Though there has been progress toward equality in baseball recently (MLB scored a C for gender hiring in the 2021 Racial and Gender Report Card from the University of Central Florida [up from an F in 2020]), most notably with the hiring of Kim Ng by the Miami Marlins as the first female general manager in baseball, there remains a long way to go. And certainly, as baseball finds itself on the verge of having to cancel another batch of regular-season games due to a continuing labor dispute, it has escaped no one’s attention that the most active and visible people involved in negotiations on both the MLB and MLBPA sides are all men, and things have gone horribly.  

In STEM fields, the stakes are higher and contributions by women have been overlooked throughout history. The lack of scientific innovation has real consequences and leads to missed opportunities for advancement in crucial areas. The climb toward gender equity in STEM is a work in progress, but barriers persist and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Instead of having the best minds working on solving the biggest problems facing the world, such as the climate crisis, we’ve spent too much time with one hand tied behind our collective back by making it unnecessarily and irrationally difficult for women to contribute.

Credit: Unsplash

Scholarly and scientific publishing are not immune to gender inequity, with biases endemic in their editorial infrastructures and reflected in their ranks of authors, reviewers, and editors. Recent studies have found clear disparities on the editorial boards of journals in psychology and neuroscience as well as chemistry. A study published last month in the Journal of Information Science found no significant difference in publication rates by gender over the course of the pandemic overall, but the evidence points to gender bias being still quite prevalent in certain fields.

As Jennifer Tour Chayes noted recently, “addressing the gender disparity in STEM isn’t just a question of striving for a fairer society, it’s also fundamental to solving the complex challenges that affect us all.” Scientific advancement springs from the minds of creative, innovative, and doggedly determined people. By not having equal support, training, funding, and hiring opportunities available for women, we are missing out on finding the best and the brightest among all of us – this is not only wrong and unfair, it’s harmful.

SDGs and the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative: The Way Forward


The 17 integrated UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Research and higher education will play vital roles in society’s march toward achieving the SDGs by the end of the decade and in building a sustainable future by providing current and future stakeholders with the knowledge, skills, and ethos to make informed and effective decisions to this end.

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) is a partnership that gathers over two dozen UN agency members and Higher Education Sustainability Networks. The Initiative tackles the most crucial challenges of our time by redesigning higher education to provide leadership on education for sustainable development, spearheading efforts to ‘green’ campuses, and supporting sustainable efforts in communities, while also ensuring the quality of education, equity, and gender equality.

Initiated in 2012 leading up to the Rio+20 conference, and bolstered with support of the United Nations, HESI provides higher education institutions with a vibrant confluence of higher education, science, and policymaking by enhancing awareness of higher education’s role in supporting sustainable development, facilitating multi-stakeholder discussions and action, and sharing best practices. The Initiative emphasizes the crucial role that higher education plays in educating the current and next generation of leaders, propelling the research agenda for public and private sectors, and helping to shape the path of national economies.

HESI also aims to directly address the problem of aligning research programs and outcomes in scholarly publications. By highlighting those journals that are already focused on this alignment – and those that could do better – Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University are hoping to play a big part in facilitating this process.

One of the overall goals of Cabells is to optimize decision making for both researchers and institutions. The SDGs are becoming increasingly important to these groups, and we strive to support them in enhancing the impact of the work they’re doing. One way we’ve been able to do this is through our collaboration with Saint Joseph’s University and Dr. David Steingard, developers of the SDG Dashboard at Saint Joseph’s University, to create a new metric called the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) journal rating. The SDGII seeks to contextualize and understand the relevance of academic research in terms of the SDGs. Climate change, sustainability, and equity are among the most powerful forces for change in society, and yet they are ignored by traditional citation-based metrics.

The SDG Impact Intensity uses a sophisticated AI methodology from SJU to look at article output in journals from Cabells’ Journalytics database and gives those journals a ranking determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years with respect to the SDGs. The SDGII provides a rating of up to five ‘SDG wheels’ to summarize the SDG relevance of articles published over a five-year period (2016-2020).

As previously discussed in The Source, the SDGII show that journals well-known for perceived academic quality in business and management performed badly when assessed for SDG relevance, while journals focused on sustainability issues performed much better.

We believe our work with SJU and Dr. Steingard will be a key collaboration within the industry and its work on the SDGs, and we’ve joined the SDG Publishers Compact (Cabells was proud to be named the Compact’s member of the month for December 2021) to help further this partnership and the pursuit of the SDGs. In the coming months, Cabells and Dr. Steingard will be on hand at the upcoming PRME, AACSB, and SSP annual meetings to discuss a new iteration of the metric and lead discussions on how impact-focused metrics can support a progressive publication agenda. Greater than a change in perspective, there is an ongoing paradigm shift occurring as the value of journals moves past ideas of quality based largely on citations, reputation lists, and prestige, to impact and mission-driven research outputs.

One, Two, Three… Blog!

It is a little over three years since Cabells launched its blog The Source, and over 100 articles later it is still here dispensing wisdom on publication ethics, scholarly communications, and even the odd cartoon character. Simon Linacre reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly from the last 1,000 days and counting…


A quick look at the tag cloud at the bottom of this blog tells you everything you need to know about the main topic of conversation that has dominated its content for the last three or so years. While the number of predatory journals appearing and being identified in Cabells’ Predatory reports shows no sign of abating – 15,715 and counting – it is a topic that always generates the most interest among readers. Part of this fascination, I think, is that for many of us law-abiding citizens, coming face to face with actual crime and misdemeanors happens relatively rarely in our lives, But with every unwanted spam email we receive we are up close and personal with actual criminality in action.

Posts concerning predatory publishing that have garnered most interest – and this is replicated in the many webinars that Cabells delivers globally – tend to cover practical advice on avoiding predatory journals, as well as the wackier side of the phenomenon. For example, the post in 2019 that featured a journal with Yosemite Sam from Yale on one journal’s Editorial Board attracted a lot of attention, as did an article last year answering common questions about predatory journals. Despite the widespread coverage in academic journals and wider media, the topic still holds huge interest for all stakeholders in academia.

Other topics that have also been popular have focused on ‘how to…’ guidance, such as the latest criteria used to identify journals for inclusion in the Predatory Reports database and an ‘A to Z’ of predatory publishing in 2020. This perhaps highlights there is still great uncertainty amongst the many authors, librarians and publishers who read the blog about how to navigate the predatory journal landscape.

More recently, posts about hijacking journals and various issues highlighted in scholarly journals on wider issues of publication ethics have also garnered significant interest, with growing threats such as paper mills worrying many academics. Indeed, reflecting on the 100+ posts shared on the blog, there does seem to be a disproportionately large number of topics on bleak topics such as climate change, threats to academic freedoms and lack of research funding. However, some positive items have shone through and inspired a good deal of response and hope amidst the gloom. Chief among these is the work being done by Cabells and others to highlight the increasing engagement research reported in academic journals is contributing toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition to Cabells’ pilot collaboration to create a new metric, one of the most viewed recent posts was on how this ‘new perspective’ could change the entrenched paradigms of research publications for the better. Such interest in new ideas and positive change offers a glimpse of a more open and collaborative future, one that is not mired in scandal and tired thinking. There is much, then, to look forward to in The Source over the next three years and hundred posts.

2022: Year of the SDGs?

As a New Year year begins, Cabells would first like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and kick 2022 off with some reflections on what could be the hottest trend in scholarly communications this year: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Simon Linacre shares an update on this fast-moving area and surveys the runners and riders in a new digital arms race.


In 2012, the New York Times famously declared that year was the ‘Year of the MOOC’. Remember them? These ‘massive online open courses’ were going to disrupt higher education forever and lay waste to inefficient university programs. The truth was rather more mundane – while they proved a boon for lifelong learners and some who couldn’t afford college, and the lasting value was probably enabling a much better response from universities to the COVID-19 pandemic than previously envisaged as the whole world moved online for a few months.

So, it is not without trepidation that a decade later we are calling 2022 the Year of the SDGs. Like the MOOC, this acronym may be surpassed by events and a general withering lack of interest from the general public. However, there is some evidence to suggest that this could be the breakthrough year for SDGs and scholarly communications. Firstly, there are the goals themselves – the 17 aims are timebound to be achieved by 2030, and as every year goes by the urgency grows. This was reflected in the pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow in November, as wells as sustained coverage by global media linking freak weather events and policy decision-making to overarching sustainability imperatives.

Secondly, interest in the SDGs by publishers is undoubtedly growing. In addition to the numerous projects and initiatives by publishers linked to SDG themes, there are now 165 members of the SDG Publishers Compact committing to the promotion of the SDGs in their activities as well as a measure of internal adoption. For our part, Cabells was the Compact’s member of the month for December 2021 – here is a video explaining why we chose to join the initiative:

Thirdly, not only are publishers becoming more involved in the SDGs, but so is the content they publish. Just in the last few weeks, two major papers have been made public regarding the SDGs and the extent to which articles relate to them. Understanding these links is becoming more and more valuable – funders, universities, research offices, practitioners, and policymakers all want to understand what content is engaging with the SDGs to optimize decision-making to maximize the impact of research being funded and conducted. As with citations, what comes with this is not just the value of that impact but being able to count it as well.

In their paper ‘SDGs: A Responsible Research Assessment Tool toward Impactful Business Research’ (Rodenburg et al, 2021), the authors look at the relevance – or rather lack of relevance – the 50 journals used by the Financial Times for their business school rankings has regarding the SDGs. In a similar vein to Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University own research in this area, the authors want to highlight what can often be a yawning gap between the traditional notion of quality, and a more modern perspective of relevancy, impact and utility.

But are these quantitative approaches valid? As with the numerous criticisms of using citations as proxies for quality, there will be similar difficulties in equating simple mentions of the SDGs in articles to actual engagement and real-world impact. This and other concerns are methodically highlighted in a paper posted in the arXiv repository by industry expert Philip Purnell in his paper ‘A comparison of different methods of identifying publications related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Case Study of SDG 13 – Climate Action’ (Purnell n.d.). The paper looks at four major new approaches to wholesale rendering of SDG engagement across large swathes of article content, and in so doing identifies that no one service can encapsulate such engagement, and there is relatively little overlap between them either.

Just because 2022 is set to be the ‘Year of the SDGs’ for the scholarly communications industry, that doesn’t mean it has a clear path forward. There is a range of competing interests and systems at play which could go in any one direction. However, visit any publishing conference this year – real or virtual – and the SDGs and how to interact with them will undoubtedly by one of the main topics of conversation. And when we remember what the SDGs are actually for, this isn’t a bad thing at all.

Cabells’ Best Reads (and Listens) of 2021

As another turbulent year draws to a close, the Cabells team has been inspired by our friends and colleagues at The Scholarly Kitchen and other blogs and shared our thoughts on our favorite books we’ve read in 2021. We’d love to hear about your favorite books as well, so please feel free to leave your suggestions on the chat at the bottom. In the meantime, best wishes over the holidays to all our readers and a Happy New Year for 2022!


By Honor Bound by Tom Norris and Mike Thornton, with Dick Couch

By Honor Bound tells the harrowing true stories of two heroes and Medal of Honor recipients, Tom Norris and Mike Thornton, Navy SEALs who served together during the Vietnam War. Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor for repeatedly leading a team of South Vietnamese Sea Commandos behind enemy lines to extract two downed American pilots. Just months later, in the waning days of the war, Norris and Thornton led a reconnaissance mission deep into enemy territory where they encountered a vastly superior force. Norris was shot in the head and presumed dead by a South Vietnamese soldier who alerted Thornton once at their extraction point. Without a second thought, Thornton fought his way back to Norris (who was in fact not dead and went on to a long career in the F.B.I.) and out again, an unbelievable act of courage and loyalty that resulted in his being awarded the Medal of Honor. This represents the only time in modern history the most prestigious military decoration was awarded in a combat action where one recipient saved the life of another. These inspiring firsthand accounts, told by Norris and Thornton to fellow Navy SEAL Dick Couch, are as remarkable as the men who lived them. ~ Mike Bisaccio

Not Just the Tudors by Professor Suzannah Lipscomb


I have a confession to make. I haven’t read a book from cover to cover since the onset of the pandemic and realise that browsing around a bookshop figures highly in my enjoyment of the printed word. I have instead become a devotee of the podcast and would like to recommend Professor Suzannah Lipscomb’s ‘Not Just the Tudors’. It isn’t necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of the 1500s and the 1600s or its protagonists to enjoy this podcast. The style is such that you can be forgiven for thinking that you’re eavesdropping on a couple of expert historians discussing their research. The enthusiasm and passion for the subject is always evident while the experts make sure to provide background and context. Subjects are international and range widely through fashion, food, art and culture but even the very niche topics are brought to life. Quite a surprising amount of source material has survived in private collections so it’s thought-provoking to see how historians are using this to blow away some modern- day misconceptions, for example about Tudor and Elizabethan interactions with the Muslim world and with people of African descent. This podcast is a fascinating and thought-provoking listen but at the end of the day, if plain old intrigue, politics, sex and power play in the Tudor royal court is your thing, there’s still plenty of it to discover here. ~ Sarah Pollard

o caledonia by elspeth barker

This is a gem of a book, it largely takes place in a draughty old castle in Scotland and begins with the murder of the 16 year old protagonist Elspeth. Despite this grisly start, the beautiful, rich and witty writing make this book a joy to read. The story covers Elspeth’s short life and her misfit status both within her family and at boarding school. Elspeth finds solace in books, the landscape, animals and her relationship with her unconventional whisky-loving, Aunt Lila who is an expert on all things Fungi. Imbued with a feel of the gothic and more than a little of the strange, this is the perfect winter read. ~ Ruth Bailey

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

This book tells the deliciously horrifying true story of the Donner Party in the mid-1840s. Distasteful pun intended. As was that one. The story gives great insight into the unimaginable difficulties, pain, and decisions the members of the Donner Party faced as they trekked across the American wilderness from Illinois to California. They walked alongside wagons pulled by oxen across plains, desert, and through mountains before finally getting caught in unusually cold and snowy weather in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a heartbreaking story of death and loss, but underneath it all is a story of survival – of doing whatever it takes to overcome the odds and live another day. Throughout the book are real accounts from letters written by survivors and explanations of how and why the victims’ own biological processes failed them. This was a riveting story – despite widespread knowledge of how it would end – but much like the early American emigrants’ journey, it’s to die for. (Final pun intended.) ~ Kathleen Berryman

matrix: a novel by lauren groff

I actually have 17 favorite books this year, so far (the year’s not over yet). In the interest of brevity, I have painfully narrowed the list to three.

Literary Fiction: Matrix: A Novel by Lauren Groff – I was devastated when this novel did not win the National Book Award last month. It is set in the 12th century and centers around Marie de France. She is the first known female writer of francophone verse, but very little is known of her actual life. At its heart, the novel is a thematic exploration of how suppression foments righteous rage which can be used to fuel defiance, devotion, determination, and ultimately power. Bonus points for the novel’s title which highlights the Latin origin, meaning “mother”.

The Brothers Karamazov

Classic Fiction: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – One of the greatest novels ever written. Maybe the greatest? As I read it for the first time this year (why did I wait so long?), I found myself wishing over and over that I could read it in the original Russian. If Dostoyevsky’s genius can peek all the way though the translation, imagine the glory that must be present in the original language text. I found myself stopping to cross-reference various translations trying to extract as much meaning and elegance as possible. The novel is a tour de force of insight into human nature and psychology.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir


Popular Fiction: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Such a fun, life-affirming read! Amid the difficulties and despair of 2020 and 2021, it is a sheer pleasure to read a novel that highlights the best attributes of humanity: intelligence, determination, devotion and kindness. A science-fiction tale of survival that highlights the stellar power of friendship. ~ Lacey Earle

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Perhaps more suited for the 1886 Book of the Year, I explored the literary classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The modern adaptations we grew up with, from film to Looney Tunes cartoons, managed to streamline the narrative and soften out all the rough edges that make the original so rich. The duality of man theme is at the story’s core, but it’s explored, in full psychological depth, through a sort of mystery whodunit. Watching helplessly as our neighbors struggle and slowly transform into dangerous new forms without the ability to rationalize or stop it feels just as relevant of an idea today as it ever was. Add to that the after-dark backdrop of 19th century London, and you feel like you’re in a Victorian-themed escape room. Unravel the mystery, revel in scientific discovery, and watch in horror as one “man” terrorizes a small community. ~ Ricky Colson

The Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History by John Reader (aka The Untold History of the Potato and Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent)
Propitious Esculent

In John Reader’s book that goes by many names, the central focus is our favorite nightshade: the potato. Though it discusses the history of the potato itself, including its cultivation in its original soil and its expansion to into every corner of the world, the book really shines in its examination on the potato’s role as a catalyst that stoked the furnace of urbanization and, ultimately, the industrial revolution. It explores how the potato has been used to variably feed the hungry, exploit workers, create whole economies and shepherd socioeconomic class systems into the modern era. This book is worth a read for anyone who likes to eat potatoes or has been taking part in post-industrial civilization. Suffice to say, that’s most of us. ~ Lucas Toutloff