A Comment On A Review


Public reviews of books are an important and integral part of academia. As such, authors must deal with them, whether good or bad, as a matter of course. Equally crucial to academia is the review process, as it summarizes a book's argument, strengths, and weaknesses for a wider audience who may be deciding whether to read the book, purchase it for a library, or just have an understanding of existing literature in a particular field. Books filled with shoddy research or argument ought to be singled out and criticized, and there is a certain trust implicit in the reviewer to be correct about what the reviewer is criticizing.

But what is one to do if the reviewer has not done his or her job? What if the reviewer has only read a portion of the book, or skimmed it, and then wrote a review for public consumption? If this were to happen, the trust implicitly bestowed upon reviewers would be violated, and the trust of the reviewing journal would also be damaged.

Such is the case with a review of my latest book in the Library Journal. The reviews it publishes are brief, and meant to help libraries decide whether to include a book in their collections; they also appear online among book sellers and library search engines. Indeed, the LJ has been around for many years and has earned a certain level of respectability. But the person the LJ chose to review my book clearly didn't read it. The reviewer writes that I only noted five Supreme Court cases as primary sources, and then takes me to task because "1973's landmark Miller v. California is glaringly absent." Besides The FBI's Obscene File being about the FBI, Hoover, and how he used the file (he wasn't much interested in pushing legal cases after WWII), the Miller case is in no way "glaringly absent." In fact, I do discuss the case — repeatedly. I discuss the Miller case on pages 86, 89, 98, 99, 100, and 129. Moreover, it's so "glaringly absent" that I even indexed the Miller case for readers. Anyone who read my book would know as much, as it plays an important role in the pages cited above. Even more, the reviewer pointedly redirects readers away from my seemingly bad book and to Tim Weiner's non-academic history of the FBI, which doesn't even discuss the topic of obscenity or the obscene file. If a student of mine turned in a book review without having read the book, I doubt that student would receive a passing grade. VERDICT (as the LJ styles its reviews): what is glaringly absent from the Library Journal's review of my book, is a true and honest review.

Some may read this as sour grapes, but I rather think a violation of the public's trust in the journal's reviews is what's important here.