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Five ways to be a terrible book reviewer

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James Cortada laments the sad state of book reviewing and categorizes the five most egregious faults of reviewers. While Cortada is writing about the public review media, scholarly publishers will recognize faults of peer reviewers for academic work as well.

I have probably reviewed over 200 manuscripts of potential books, written reviews on nearly an equal number of published books, and read a half-dozen reviews every week for the last quarter century. I am often amazed at how poorly people write reviews. As the author of over forty books, I have also had the opportunity to be stunned by how people have reviewed my work. But I do not know anyone who has been trained to write good reviews, except for a few of us who had outstanding English teachers in the eighth or ninth grade making us write one or two book reports.

Why should we write good reviews? There are many good reasons to do the job right. First, a bad review blows up in your face, not just in the author's. Second, if you are a publisher, you might reject a book or force changes to the manuscript that are not warranted, thereby losing a profitable opportunity. For example, in the mid-1980s a well-known New York publisher of business books turned down a book written by a midwestern consultant who was unknown at the time and who had written a book on how to form teams in business. He wrote the book before the publisher realized that the topic was important. By around 1993, the consultant had published the book, paying for all the production costs out of his own pocket, and had sold over 600,000 copies at $35 each. By anyone's standard, except the fancy New York editor's, the book was a runaway success. Third, it is...