Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reviewing Books

If you intend to write a negative review of a book, then be sure to follow these common-sense guidelines.
  1. Address the argument of the book in full. Make sure you have restated the argument in your review and demonstrated that it is unsound. Don't pretend that a couple of marginal objections are devastating.
  2. Make sure that you do not take the credentials of the author or the intentions you imagine him to have had in writing the book as relevant to your evaluation of the book. For instance, if the book is in a field in which you are an expert and the author is not, be careful not to let that fact substitute for actual evaluation of the book's argument.
  3. Refrain from considering yourself entitled to insult the author when you have not adhered to guidelines 1 & 2.
The extent to which you knowingly violate any of these guidelines is the extent to which you engage in sophistry (or pseudo-inquiry.) Everyone can be subject to the temptations of sophistry to some degree, but a little care can dispel the temptation. And you will find that as the years roll by the persistent application of this care gets easier and more thorough in its results.

By the way, it is not only in the interest of inquiry that you should follow the guidelines suggested above but also in your own self-interest. Failure to follow #1 can make you appear less intelligent than you are. Failure to follow #2 can embarrass you as petty: as jealous of your own accomplishments and more interested in their favorable public comparison than in their actual worth. Failure to follow #3 marks you as someone who may be ignored.