Friday, November 25, 2011

How my book got translated into Korean

I write (both of ;-)) you today from Seoul, Korea, where I will be holding two lectures comparing German and US energy policy next week. The person who invited me is also the Korean translator of my book, Energy Switch. We finally had the opportunity to talk about how he came to translate the book. The story is yet another event in my life proving that a lack of success can also be fortuitous.

His name is Yong-Du Jun, and he is a professor in Korea with a PhD from Cincinnati. Several years ago, he was a guest professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. One day, he decided he needed to learn more about energy (not just renewables!) and went to the library to check out some books. The first eight he tried to check out were all already on loan, and then he discovered mine, which was still available. Had more people been reading my book, it might have been checked out from the library in Reno – and therefore never translated into Korean.

We sat having lunch yesterday at a Japanese restaurant, and Yong-Du explained that he became absolutely fascinated with my book. He had not begun it as a proponent of renewables, but "I am 100% on your side now." He says he has not read Hermann Scheer and some of the other books that inspired me, but I had a similar experience with some of those books myself.

My book differs greatly from Scheer's in particular in one aspect: style. Scheer is a German, and Germans write as though they could not let their guard down intellectually. In doing so, they intimidate their readers. Germans are used to this and don't see anything wrong with it, but Americans want to be entertained, as the reviews of Scheer's latest book at Amazon demonstrate.

Yong-Du says he was fascinated by my style (which most Americans would probably consider to be run-of-the-mill popular science), and it apparently was challenging for him in the translation. He said he struggled to find that middle ground between tough engineering language and readable prose for laypeople. Come to think of it, I probably did, too.

Nonetheless, he says he does not think that Americans would like my book (it certainly hasn't sold well) because I am highly critical of what the US is doing. I told him I wasn't so sure – after all, people like Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman sell pretty well criticizing the US quite a bit. The main problem is that I sold far fewer copies in English than I did in German. Almost no one read my book in English.

But one guy did: Yong-Du, a professor of aerospace technology who now works in the automotive sector, was compelled to spend his scarce spare time translating my book about a topic unrelated to his work because he wanted his countrymen to read it, too. What an honor! It certainly was nice to sit there and have someone so knowledgeable tell you that your book changed their life. It's a feeling I hope a lot of you have at some point. Honestly, that one sentence from him made writing the book worthwhile on its own.


  1. Wow, you certainly have had quite a year... Happy belated Thanksgiving, Craig, and enjoy Korea!

  2. Naaa, you just know about the two highlights ;-)

    I suppose that Japanese lunch was my Thanksgiving dinner – or maybe it was the seafood pancake I had for supper:

    Anyway, happy holidays to you as well (we get to start saying that now, don't we?)