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07/21/2012

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Marcus Arvan

I've done one book review, and I felt like it was more trouble than it was worth. Though it's nice to have another line on the CV, it takes a *lot* of good time to write a good review -- and if the book's bad, both reading it and writing the review can be a chore. I guess one possible benefit is that you might make some sort of professional connection with the book's author. Then again, if you write a scathing review, that probably won't happen. ;)

Kyle Whyte

I'm the book review editor for a journal and a lot of the reviews are written by graduate students. I do give feedback, of course, on the various drafts of submitted reviews, and I've seen it be a useful exercise for graduate students. I also agree it can be a good networking opportunity, in general. Though, it doesn't have to be with the author. If you write a scathing review, then the networking is more likely with the group of scholars who agree with your scathing review. I have actually never published a book review myself, so I cannot say much beyond my experience as a book reviewer editor. Having not written one certainly has not affected me on the job market in any way that I could measure. I have heard, in the case of tenure, that some departments have rules for counting book reviews as 1/4 or some other fraction of an article, depending, of course, on the journal. Some folks have even told me that coming down to the wire on tenure they wrote a bunch of book reviews to get them up to "the number". Is this really true? I'd be curious if anyone on this list has heard of this practice before. Not that it should be recommended.

Clayton

I have written a handful of reviews now and have another handful that will be due soon. One of the benefits of writing these reviews is that it can force you to think through some material that is new to you. This often pays dividends. Writing a review of Michael Zimmerman's latest book on obligation taught me more than I could ever need to know about obligation and led me to do some work on moral responsibility I would not have done otherwise. Writing a review of Maria Alvarez's book on reasons for action taught me a great deal about reasons for action and has led me to do much more work on reasons for action and belief. If you are finishing your PhD or have just finished your PhD and have not yet managed to send out bits of your dissertation for review, reviewing a book might be more trouble than its worth. If, however, you have that behind you and are ready to branch out a bit, I think that they can be a really good idea. (Part of the trick, I think, is to get asked to review things that force you to broaden your horizons at a time when you have the time to do so.) I don't think you should write a review just because the review itself will improve your profile, fwiw. If you want to get to know the author, send them an email about their work. (As Marcus notes, the scathing review isn't going to win you any friends. Neither is the cloying review. You'll win more friends simply by dropping a note to someone who authored something you aren't reviewing to tell them that you like their work.) If you need a line on a CV, I'm not sure that a review will replace a paper.

Tuomas Tahko

Thanks for the input guys! I agree with all that. As Clayton notes, a book review is a good way to get to know new material too. The book I'm reviewing is on tropes, which, while familiar to me, is an area of metaphysics that I could certainly know better. Now I do! But it does take time, and sometimes I think I'm branching out a bit too much... Anyway, sounds like people are generally in agreement about the potential benefits and disadvantages.

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