Thursday, July 26, 2007

Shocker: Lefty Book Reviewer gives Right-leaning Book a Bad Review

David Harsanyi, the author of Nanny State, is miffed that the left-leaning Publisher's Weekly gave his book a rather negative review:

Nanny State recently received a short review from the trade publication Publishers Weekly. It was unfriendly. I came away with the feeling that the reviewer hadn’t actually read the book. (I won’t bore you with the specifics.) But then again, who knows, perhaps the review was deserved.

As this is my first book, though, I decided to investigate other Publisher Weekly reviews on Did a negative review effect sales? Did the reviewer typically betray a ideological position as this one had? This curiosity led to non-scientific stroll around and a discovery. One that Tammy Bruce had already noted. I work in mainstream media. Though I’m not someone who buys into the widespread liberal media meme, the one-sidedness of the PW reviews was inescapable. After all, a provocative or combative political book can be well written and worth reading even if you disagree with the central thesis. I’ve reviewed books for almost a decade. I know this can happen.

I wrote about the bias of Publisher's Weekly in a post here, after finding the same negative reviews of conservative books and positive ones of liberal books. Tammy Bruce states that "conservative authors agree, you know you've done a good job when you've made Publisher's Weekly collective head explode. ... if PW is foaming at the mouth about a book, and uses the words "screed," "strident," or "unfortunately," (in an effort to appear thoughtful), I consider it a must-read and put it immediately on my list of books to get." So Mr. Harsanyi, congratulations, maybe that unfriendly review was just a hint that your book will be a real success.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not be the least surprised that this happens. While I was in Toronto, I would occasionally read book reviews in Pravda Canada (more commonly known as the Globe and Mail) and more than once I noticed reviews of libertarian books were just political screeds attacking the author, and I could see little evidence of having actually read the book. If they dealt with the ideas at all, they were often the ones on the jacket.

6:27 PM, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Jay Currie said...

I wrote reviews for a long time - for a lot of Canadian papers and a few in the States. I covered history, science, assorted public policy stuff.

Now, it may well be that the sorts of people who write reviews are left wing, but the book editors I dealt with, around a dozen in all, were pretty non-partisan.

The sad thing is that I pretty much quit reviewing because the review pages were cut by about 80% and with them my reviewing income.

7:28 PM, July 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Smith: Believe it or not, PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY (PW) reviews are moderate---in comparison with other trade journals. I'm a librarian and have had to read several (e.g. LIBRARY JOURNAL, BOOKLIST, KIRKUS REVIEWS) and I would say that only BOOKLIST is more "moderate" than PW. KIRKUS by comparison, is a kettle of venom that would embarrass the Maoist fanatics who ran China in the 1960s, boiling away in a frenzy, unable to pass either a rabies or an IQ test. I would think there would be a market for a neutral, let alone right leaning, reviews, but I have not found it yet. If anyone really wants to test Albert Ellis's principles, let him publish a book to the right of, say, the Daily Kos---and then read the KIRKUS review.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

9:12 PM, July 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like we need an online book review magazine. I volunteer to write the SF/Fantasy section.



9:17 PM, July 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...boiling away in a frenzy, unable to pass either a rabies or an IQ test.

Mr. Koster, that's the funniest line I've read all week. I can foresee lots of chances to reuse it. Thanks!

11:00 PM, July 26, 2007  
Blogger Peregrine John said...

Mr. K, I second Mr. S's opinion! My coworkers are probably wondering what the heck I'm laughing about.

Tennwriter, that is a brilliant notion - and I'll join you on that staff in a heartbeat.

Lastly, Dr. H, I have to put in 2 points about Tammy Bruce: First, I think she's fantastic. Second, while I love hearing/reading her observations, your voice is a lot easier on the ol' eardrums. I mention this because of that confusing "Gee, you don't sound horrible!" comment someone left a few weeks ago regarding the podcasts. An example of its likely explanation.

10:45 AM, July 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peregrine John,

1. The magazine would need a sponsor, like CEI or Hoover Foundation. It would be good for them and the reading public as well.

2. The magazine would need a 'code of reviewing'.

a. All books are first evaluated on the basis of 'what the author is trying to do'.

b. Whether the book is honest, fair-minded and just.

c. And lastly, whether the reviewer liked the book, and why.

The focus should probably be more on being informative than on being entertaining, although entertainment is good.



12:09 PM, July 27, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the heads up. Believe it or not I actually sent two galleys of my book, culturism, to Publishers Weekly today. I nearly paid for a review at Kirkus review. Now all doubt about not paying is gone and I will feel less bad if my book said to be "unfortunate" or "shrill."

As my book is conservative I will check out booklist.

If any of you would like a free galley copy of my book, contact me through There's a chapter on culturist psychology.

4:06 PM, July 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy into the Liberal Media Goblin nonsense myself. I WAS part of the print media for some years. Most of the people I worked with were left/left-center but not egregiously so. When I worked in sports it was pretty much the opposite.

However, it does seem to me that the folks who do book reviews at the big publications do have a decidedly liberal (political, not dictionary definition) bias.

I deplore this. Not only does it encourage a restriction within the realm of ideas but it goes against the grain of everything a REAL liberal fights for. People should be able to air their views without censorship or intimidation. Hey, free listening is the opposite end of free speech. If someone's an idiot, by all means let them speak.

Loudly. In public.

With a fruit-vendor in the square within firing distance of the soapbox selling rotten tomatos at cut-rate prices.

But maybe we should listen to people before we cast the first stone. Tomato. I meant tomato.

I read a lot of people whose ideals I don't exactly agree with. That doesn't mean that everything they have to say is worthless & just maybe, with a little empathy, we might see that from where they are standing, they might have a decent argument.

From a certain point of view.

Now, uh, anyone know where I can find a decent fruit & veggie stand?

6:50 PM, July 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Martin and Peregrine: many thanks for your kind words.

For Peregrine and Tennwriter: Ambition becomes us all, and you have grabbed at a big task. How big? Well, like the fella who told me he was thirsty, stuck the building's fire hose into his mouth and signaled, "Turn it on!" Such incidents are always a strain (or maybe "stain") on my character...OK, enough jokes. Tennwriter, there is a good sources of reviews for SF & fantasy. viz. LOCUS magazine. Take a look at the forthcoming books section here:

There are 33 books in July alone. Nor is this all: most of the small presses and the mass market paperbacks have been left out (so you have to subscribe to the magazine, a perfectly reasonable notion.) I would guess that there are close to a hundred books being published in this month---which is a slack time in the publishing business. You are also going to have the problem of 802,701 people wanting to write the Harry Potter review and one person (me) wanting to write the review of Volume 11 of Theodore Sturgeon's Collected Stories.

I also need to ask you if you are writing for the general public, in which case, you will need 400-600 words reviews that are published slightly before or slightly after publication. Or are you aiming at librarians/booksellers, who need 100-200 words months in advance? Next, there are the hugely popular books that aren't reviewed. Which repair manual for the 1993 Ford Escort should you buy Chilton's or Haynes's? Finally what about the odd topic. Exempli gratia, the library patron who told me after much throat clearing and toe stubbing that she had been sentenced to prison, and were there any books on how to survive a spell in the slammer? There was a time when I needed a good review and couldn't
find one readily.

I'm taking up too much of Ms. Smith's bandwidth. Thanks to all.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

2:36 AM, July 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Obviously, one wouldn't start with trying to review the whole known universe. Although you do make a good point that helps make plain the neccessary logical assumptions.

So selection bias would creep in. The reviewer would find certain books to be Worthy of Review and certain books to be Inconsequential or Boring. One might need guidelines for that as well, although I'm not sure how to phrase it.

I would prefer to do longer reviews in the 1-2000 word range. But this would be for the public because it would be assumed that most librarians are tending left, and are happy with what they receive. Its the public that would like intelligent, fair reviews of some books that don't receive that with the current establishment.

Its not entirely a problem having multiple people writing reviews of a popular book. An astonishingly popular book probably deserves multiple reviews. But yes, it would be a problem. And this 'writing for a popular book' would probably be an exception category since Harry Potter already has abundant reviews. Actually, come to think of it, perhaps HP would not need a review, at all. Adding one more bleat to a chorus of baa's would add little. And no doubt, some of those baa's would be honest, fair, and thoughtful which would be the conception.

You will note that I did not volunteer to be editor, but only to review for SF/Fantasy. I'm not qualified to write the Chilton/Haynes comparison review. But, I certainly can see the need for such a review. And, I think that such a review would fit into the very foggy and speculative conception under discussion as in 'useful and interesting books that don't receive an honest review, and need one'.

Your example is interesting and amusing, but I don't see working for the prison market.

I do see too little intelligent reviewing in the SF field. I also know that the field has tended toward certain pov's, and that this needs to be opened up (As an example: The MSM had its close to monopoly, but blogging broke it up. Slightly more complicated, there was the MSM, and two or three alternate narratives such as National Review and Mother Earth News. And all of a sudden, the lights went on, and a dazzling array of alternate ideas appeared. A lot more conservatism, but also, a lot more Other Stuff. This needs to happen in the SF field.

Looking about, sometimes I feel like the Last Original Idea was Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep. Where are the Bold New Ideas? The Blogosphere exploded the very limited News Ecology--now lets hope that someone will drop a grant in our laps to start the same process in the SF market because Locus has been around for a while.


12:58 PM, July 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original post had the point that the author felt like the reviewer did not bother to read the book, and described what looked like the reviewer using this as a chance to sharpen his partisan axe.

A. Radio hosts are notorious for the first. I find this ridiculous, an intellectual fraud. If you don't have time to read the book, then you probably should decline the review, or at least announce "I read ten chapters until I got the feel of the book". Unfortunately, ten chapters or even five chapters is frequently asking too much of a radio host.

Why should I care what uninformed opinion a guy has? I want informed opinion based on reasonable guidelines and standards.

One such standard: You can get out your partisan axe after you have explained what the author was trying to do, and whether they succeeded.


1:13 PM, July 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Booklist to get ideas for books to purchase (children's books) and I think the magazine leans pretty far to the left. It never misses an opportunity to Bush bash, and honestly the reviews aren't much help. I recently read a biography of Lady Randolph Churchill that was full of errors. The reviewer for Booklist loved it.

1:43 PM, July 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I volunteer to edit Tennwriter.

7:03 PM, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Bob's Blog said...

David Harsanyi is one of my favorite Colorado columnists. He is always worth reading.

11:46 PM, July 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Koollll, I's gots an eaditor, now, lol, eye kin elax, and tipe like, ah, ah Kos diarist.

More seriously, thanks.

I don't know how to make this bird fly, but I do think it just may be an idea whose time has come. So someone is going to do it./SF extrapolator off


12:46 PM, July 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just thought I'd share an experience I had lately. Someone recommended "The Sociopath Next Door" to me.

I read the book and thought it was interesting in places, but the author had a habit of going off on these strange sociopolitical tangents critical of war in general and with veiled jabs at the Bush administration. I found it very irritating and found myself skipping over parts of the book.

I rarely (ok, never) post reviews of books on Amazon, but thought I should say something about this. I wrote a very tame review, giving it three stars, which mentioned the ideological bent of the book and warning people that some may find it irritating.

Amazon either never posted the review or pulled it. It's not there.

12:34 PM, July 30, 2007  
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