A good book review can be a valuable research tool. On a number of occasions I have used book reviews to help guide me through the research process and determine what I must read to be informed about a topic. A good review will tell you the contents of the book, the contribution that it makes to the field and will critically interact with the topic. Poor reviews usually only summarize the book and reads more like an expanded table of contents than a critical interaction with the author's thesis.
I have done a number of reviews over the years that are published in academic journals and since I began this blog, I have been regularly posting reviews here. The practice of reading and reviewing a book helps you to digest it better and helps you to be a better scholar.
But some journals are moving away from publishing reviews. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece today titled The Endangered Scholarly Book Review.
"We're not sure that our readers pay close attention to reviews," said one editor. "And, besides, running a robust review section is labor-intensive because we have to keep track of and edit several works by several authors to fill the space that would otherwise contain a single scholarly article by one author."
Another journal editor told me there were just too many books being published, which makes the task of sifting through them and identifying the ones that should be reviewed both time-consuming and onerous. A third mentioned that he had become frustrated that too many reviews were simple summaries with little actual "reviewing"—that is, thoughtful engagement with, and critical evaluation of, the book's project.
Yet another pointed out that his book-review editor has had difficulty attracting writers, given that the book review is often deemed a lowly beast in the grand scheme of things. Midcareer professors and senior scholars typically are "too busy" to write reviews, opting instead to spend their time on their own books and journal articles. That means a preponderance of review writers are graduate students and new faculty members, a trend that can make a difference in what a review section contributes to the scholarly conversation in a discipline.
The author goes on to argue that the writing and publishing of good book reviews is still needed. And he provides eight tips for doctoral students who are writing reviews.
What do you think? Are reviews still important? Has the new media rendered them obsolete?