Science in Christian Perspective
BOOK REVIEWS: A STIMULATING
AND PROFITABLE ENDEAVOR
John Brown University
Siloam Springs, Arkansas
From: JASA 37 (March 1985): 56
Twelve years ago I reviewed my first book for the Journal
of the American Scientific Affiliation. Since that time I have
reviewed over 30 books, gaining knowledge, insight and
inspiration in the process. As I look forward to reviewing
books in the future, I take this opportunity to thank the
Journal for its Book Review section.
The assets of reviewing books are many: you receive free books, read regularly in your academic field, see your reviews appear in print, and provide a useful service for readers.
There are a few liabilities: sometimes it is hard to find time to squeeze book reviewing into a busy schedule, sometimes the books are duds, sometimes you may bruise the ego of the author whose book you are reviewing, and sometimes you may present the truth as you see it and have no one agree with you.
But in balance, since I enjoy reading, appreciate authors, and like expressing my opinions, I find reviewing books a stimulating and profitable endeavor. I read the Book Review section regularly and appreciate the Journal for devoting so much space to it.
Since I have been reviewing books, I have come to some conclusions. When I first started, I tended to think the main task of a book reviewer was to search out the flaws in a book and expose them to the public eye. While I still think that is part of a reviewer's task, I think it is a secondary part. The main part is to provide information which will allow the reader to have an idea of what the book is about and whether he should invest money in buying a copy. If a reviewer considers his role to be mainly that of a critic, he may find himself majoring on the minor and thereby giving a distorted view of the book. In such a case, the reader will go away with a false sense of the book's worth. In other words, I think that it's important to keep a book's flaws in proper perspective and not allow them to become the main part of a review, unless the book has few redeeming qualities.
When I first started reviewing books, I had a firm conviction that it required a lot more skill and effort to write a book than to review one. I still do. This may be one reason why I continue to write book reviews and not books.
Samuel Johnson thought that the role of critic is one to be disdained since it feeds on another person's creativity. Literacy criticism was Johnson's least favorite writing form because by it "men grow important and formidable at very small expense." It's much easier to point out the shortcomings of someone else's book than to come up with a spotless creation of one's own.
My sympathies are squarely with authors. Misspellings, incorrect grammar, nonsequitors, incompleteness, illogicunless these are the salient features of a book-should receive second billing. Someday, I may write a book and that's the kind of treatment I'd desire. It's the golden rule.
It's always possible to fault a book for saying too little or too much, being too pedantic or too popularized, being too annotated or too skimpy. But I think the main way to evaluate a book is to ask: does this book have something important (relevant, significant) to say and does it succeed, for the most part, in saying it. If the answer to that question is yes, then I think the book should receive the reviewer's endorsement and recommendation. This is the guideline I use.
There are many excellent books being written. Thanks to the Journal for providing its subscribers with so much useful information about a lot of the best.