Mischler, Jim jim.mischler at
Tue May 27 15:11:25 UTC 2008

The posts by Katz and Givon bring up the question of the purposes of a book review.  Both posts highlighted important aspects of the answer--the goals of a book review are to discuss what the author found about an topic important to the academic field and to engage the reader to think seriously about that topic.  A review can be either negative or positive and still reach both goals, but in my mind the best reviews present *both* the strengths and the weaknesses of a work.  Striving for a balanced view of a book (and topic) can help to reduce the problems that the previous posts pointed out.

Methods to achieve balance can be found in both Katz's and Givon's solutions: the book reviewer must work to get at the truth about the issue presented in a book and must choose books to review that that the reviewer personally likes and respects.  Weaknesses can be found if the writer has a positive view of the work (assuming the writer is committed to the truth), but it is much more difficult to find strengths when the writer has a negative view.  The only "truth" often expressed in a review of a book the writer does not like is "the book is not worth reading."  That kind of review misses the point.

It is also more difficult to engage the reader when the writer's view of the work is negative.  In my experience, highly negative reviews tend to discourage serious consideration of the topic rather than start or continue discussion.

Jim Mischler
Oklahoma State University
jim.mischler at

From: funknet-bounces at [funknet-bounces at] On Behalf Of A. Katz [amnfn at]
Sent: Monday, May 26, 2008 8:53 AM
Subject: [FUNKNET] Reviews

The problem with reviews that have only positive things to say is that
they don't really help to start a dialogue about the material.

When I write a book or an article, I am far less gratified by "good book,
good article" to which there is no possible response except "Thank You"
and the conversation is over. Whereas if someone comes up to me and says:
"I read your book/ article, but I didn't understand (or agree with)
this part", then we can have a real conversation, and we can both come away
enriched by it.

This may reveal my naturally argumentative nature, but the thing is that
logical argument is not a bad thing. In the sciences, it's encouraged. How
else are we ever going to get at the truth?



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