Book Reviews

Amazon halts tit-for-tat critics

Charles Davis writes "Authors and publishers face credit card barrier to anonymously puffing their books.
The world's biggest online bookseller, Amazon, is to clamp down on anonymous reviews of titles on its website in an attempt to curb excesses of back-stabbing in the competitive world of publishing.
After mounting concern about abuse of its open door policy regarding feedback, Amazon has begun a new system, Real Names, which requires reviewers to provide their credit card details before posting a comment.

The change, which was quietly introduced earlier this month, is intended to put an end to authors and publishers anonymously showering their own books with praise while trashing the work of their rivals. An Amazon spokeswoman said: "This is the latest step in an ongoing effort to continually improve the content of the site."
More at
Guardian "


A Review and a Rant

Aleksandar Hemon has written a review of over at Slate. He calls it the worst book he has ever voluntarily read. He says he wrote this review because this scribbling is that it is exactly what you end up with if publishing and fiction writing become a pursuit of cheap hipness and movie rights.

"Perhaps it should be encouraging to young writers to know they are running out of cool authors in New York, so they have to import them from Switzerland. Or to witness that the democratic ideal inherent in literature—everybody has something to say—has reached its limit in Wagner's case: It is no longer necessary to be able to write in order to be a writer."


Summertime and the Reading is Easy

In case you missed Nancy Pearl on NPR's Morning edition today, you can listen to her description of several light reads for the summer here .

Titles include sci-fi, thrillers and chick-lit. Nancy says, "a good summer book has to be light enough to hold above your head when you're lying on the beach. You don't want to get into these 900-page that point, it just becomes exercise."


US Losing War on Terror: Book by CIA Official

Fang-Face writes "Here's something that should fan the flames of hysteria. An article about
a book entitled Imperial Hubris . The name of the author is given as "Anonymous". This author, however, is an insider and 20 year veteran of the CIA, and he does not treat the administration kindly, it seems. Although he was also critical of the Clinton administration, so the Bushites can capitalize on that to trumpet, "I Told You So!"

Also, I'm sure that all the conservative leaning among us will be quick to point out that this person's opting to not reveal his name invalidates anything he could possibly have to say, but I will pre-emptively reply to that with Tomeboy's refrain. He has to be allowed to remain anonymous because getting caught speaking out could cost him his job. (Even though the CIA pre-approved the book.) Personally, I think it could cost him his life, given the precedent the Bush administration established by outing Jack Plame's wife."


Great Books for the Short Attention Span

An Anonymous Patron sends us this book review for "The Five Minute Illiad and Other Instant Classics" by Greg Nagan. Besides the Illiad, other works given the Five Minute treatment include Dante's "Divine Comedy," Melville's "Moby-Dick," Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray," and Joyce's "Ulysses."
More than an introduction to literature, this book can also entertain those who are familiar with the works. From the review: "The book is well-worth the read, whether you have read these classics or not. Of course, if you have read "Catcher in the Rye," "1984," and all of the others, you may understand some of the more humorous elements of the mis-told and hardly-told tales.


Locusts--did they shape our gov't policy?

nbruce writes "There's a review of a fascinating book Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier at Books & Culture. The reviewer commented:

Perhaps what most weighed upon my mind as I read Lockwood's book was his diagnosis of religious responses to the locust plagues. On the American frontier, farmers who faced the oncoming cloud of ruin were forced to ask for aid. At first, they asked the church, and the church responded with prayers. But when it came time to ask for more than prayer, the church shut its doors. As Lockwood states, "Offering up prayers was one thing—giving up wages was quite another."

In the end, the destitute turned to the federal government for their subsistence, eventually raising a series of fundamental political questions that would set precedents for agricultural policy, natural disaster, and federal relief into the present time. Today, we wait for the government to pronounce a "natural disaster"—where "natural" means precisely that.

The reviewer's enthusiasm fades near the end of the book where he thinks the author gets a bit flighty. I haven't read the book, but wondered if it had been 1975 instead of 1875 that locusts devastated the U.S., would the environmental movement have tried to save them?"


Anna Karenina on Oprah

nbruce writes "The newest selection (the 5th) for Oprah's classic book club choice is Anna Karenina, the first on her long list that she admits she's never read.

"I cannot imagine a world where the great works of literature are not read. My hope is The Oprah Winfrey Show will make classic works of literature accessible to every woman and man who reads. ... I hope to invite readers throughout the world to visit or revisit a universe of books of enduring usefulness, because I believe that the sublimity of this experience, this gift to ourselves, is something that we owe to ourselves." — Oprah Winfrey"


Largest book reviewed in detail

nbruce writes "Finding a copy and then reviewing it, was no small task for Laurence Wieder of Books and Culture, who reviewed Bhutan:

“My appointment to look at Bhutan also gave the [LC] Prints and Photography Division staff their first opportunity to go through the book. They pushed several library tables together against an outside wall of the reading room to make a raised platform for turning the pages. The book was cradled by foam bolsters to ease pressure on the spine when it lay open. A step-stool helped elevate me above the viewing surface, although probably not far enough to attain the right aesthetic distance from the page. The custom easel hadn't been unpacked yet. The blinds were drawn to cut down glare. I borrowed a loupe, to inspect the prints' dot structure.�"


Summer reading recommendations from Nancy Pearl

Librarian, author and action figure model Nancy Pearl offers a summer reading list to her hometown Seattle Post Intelligencer. I've heard of three of the titles she mentions, but I haven't read any of them.


Dershowitz's Book Gets a Second Book Review in PW

Unhappy with the original negative review of his lengthily-titled book "America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles that Transformed Our Nation -- From the Salem Witches to the Guantanamo Detainees", author/professor/lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz expressed his dissatisfaction loudly to Publishers Weekly Editor-in-Chief Nora Rawlinson.

Her response concurred that the original review "did not comply with our reviewing standards," more or less admitting that the review was a reflection of the {unspecified} reviewer's personal feelings about the author rather than a critique of the book. Here's the story from



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