May 07, 2007
Book Reviews
Posted by Gordon Smith

Inspired by Virginia Postrel, Tyler Cowen is wondering about the functions of book reviews. He concludes:

I use book reviews as I would use ads for books and blurbs for books. I just want the bottom line.  I would be happier if newspapers published many more one-paragraph book reviews, but with very clear and definite evaluations.  Entertainment Weekly does just this, although I find their taste in books unreliable.  Nonetheless I am not alone in my preference, and I believe that few people read long book reviews.

Many law reviews publish occasional book reviews. Michigan Law Review has an annual survey of books, which is most noted among law professors for being an easier way than general submission to get "Mich. L. Rev." on your cv. The book reviews that find a place in law reviews typically are short compared with the articles published in law reviews, but long by most other standards. And heavily footnoted.

I have mixed feelings about these book reviews. I don't read them as a matter of course, as some people read the NYT Book Review, and I can't remember ever finding a book through one of these book reviews. (Increasingly, I find new books by reading blog reviews.) I occasionally read reviews -- when they relate to my research -- but I would have read those works had they been published as a general article, too.

I have never written a book review for law review publication, but I have been tempted from time to time, simply because a book provoked some fruitful reflections. In the end, however, I usually incorporate those reflections in an article or content myself with a blog post.

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Comments (1)

1. Posted by Jeremy Telman on May 7, 2007 @ 13:35 | Permalink

I write book reviews, and I get a lot of my information about books from other people's reviews. I actually don't find the NY Times Book Review that useful because the articles are too short and the writers too opinionated (and I often don't trust their opinions). I read the NY Review of Books carefully, cover to cover -- and that is why I've got nearly a year of back issues on my nightstand.

In short, I seem to be the snti-Tyler Cowen. I would not find a one-paragraph book review any more enlightening than Roger Ebert's thumb. But a good review educates me on the opinions of both the author and the reviewer and tells me not only that I should or should not read the book but why.

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