Reposted from The Philosophers’ Cocoon.
Book reviews can be a tempting way to get a quick publication as well as a free book, and they can be a good way to keep up to date about literature relevant for your research. But they can also take a lot of time, and it’s not clear that the benefits are worth the trouble. I’m currently writing a book review for Philosophical Quarterly, and I’m once again reminded about how much work that can be, so I’ve been thinking about whether it’s worthwhile or not to do them. I’ve only done a couple of book reviews, but I’ve turned down several invitations. However, I also feel that I might lose an opportunity if I just flatly reject all invitations to review books. It’s not clear to me that people read book reviews very often either — I rarely do — so that’s another aspect that might influence your decision. Let’s try a simple cost-benefit analysis.
- You often get a free book, at least unless your review is unsolicited.
- You get a certain publication fairly quickly.
- Someone might read your review and remember your name.
- The author of the book at least will probably hear about you and your review.
- You basically have to read a book from cover to cover, which will certainly make you more knowledgeable about the topic than most.
- It can take a lot of time, especially if the book is long or very technical.
- No one might actually read your review.
- The publication will probably not count for much, even if it’s in a top journal.
- Instead of a review, you could perhaps use the time to write a short critical piece about the book and get a proper publication.
Any other benefits or disadvantages you can think of? I think it’s quite clear that a book review in your CV is not going to get you a job. But is it equally clear that *not* having done any will not count against you? I’d be inclined to think so. Of course, if you can spare the time and the book is something that you would’ve bought or wanted to read anyway, then there’s not much to lose — except that you have a deadline. But if the book is not quite in your area, if the publisher isn’t very good, if you’ve never heard of the author, or if the journal where your review would be published isn’t great, then you’re probably better off turning it down.
The way I see it, reviewing books is a type of “service to profession” similar to refereeing articles for journals. You certainly get some potential benefits though, compared to virtually none in the case of refereeing, but those benefits on their own may not be enough to justify the effort.
What do you think, is it worthwhile to write book reviews, and why?