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Shane Ralston

From Philosophy in Review journal site:

Five Kinds of Reviewer

(adapted by Roger Shiner from Susan Swan, 'Nine ways of looking at a critic', Toronto Globe and Mail 30th November 1996. E23)

1. The Spankers are out to administer discipline over anything from ill-conceived plot-lines to misplaced commas.

2. The Young (and Old) Turk sees the review solely as an opportunity to demonstrate her or his own intellectual superiority and above-average intelligence.

3. The Self-Abusers feel they could have written a better book on the subject, given half the chance, and describe it at great length.

4. Gushers skip over discussion of the book; they just want to communicate the enjoyment of reading it.

5. The Good Reviewer will represent the book (without lapsing into long-winded summaries) so the reader gets a sense of what the book is like whether the reviewer likes it or not. The good reviewer will also offer an interesting or revealing point of view from which the book can be perceived critically.


One thing I appreciate in book reviews is a substantive explanation of where the book fits into its wider field: what does it simply repeat, what does it ratify and endorse from what's out there, and most importantly, what does it contribute that's genuinely new? Then (if it's a good book) what avenues does it open for future work?

The other thing, more basic, is that I think a book review should have an argument about the book's quality and significance, developed throughout the review just as an argument is developed through any short piece of argumentative writing. I see too many reviews that are disconnected sets of report-statements about the book's contents and of objections to the book's points, but without any overarching account of why this all matters.

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