First off, I know--or at least I've heard so many times it's become an article of faith--that you cannot copyright a book title. Not that this ever mattered to me; I'm not aware any of my dozen books duplicated the title of an earlier work.
The bottom line: You can slap any title on a book you darn well please. Call your work "War and Peace" if you choose. Or "An American Tragedy" or "A Tale of Two Cities." That seems to be the attitude of Simon & Schuster, which just came out with "Last Lion," subtitled "The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy." This volume, by a team of Boston Globe reporters, is a "definitive biography" of Senator Kennedy, according to a full-page ad that ran in the Feb. 22 New York Times Book Review.
Well and good. For decades, the now-ailing Ted Kennedy has been a commanding presence in the U.S. Senate, justly honored and respected on both sides of the aisle. He merits many books. But couldn't the folks at Simon & Schuster have been more original in naming the new release? "The Last Lion" is the title of an unfinished trilogy spanning the career of Winston Churchill. The first two volumes were written by William Manchester and published in 1983 and 1988. Manchester died in 2004 after having completed portions of the third volume. Another author has been working to finish the book, using Manchester's notes and research.
What's the big deal about the Kennedy title, you say. Maybe nothing. Perhaps this is simply the whining of a codger who enjoyed the Manchester books. It does seem, though, that there's a lack of creativity hereabouts. The Kennedy volume may well be excellent--I haven't read it yet. But are there so few titles available that we have to recycle them--in this case admittedly minus the definite article--after only two decades have elapsed?