Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blogger Ethics: Book Reviews

Some ethical considerations for my blog are obvious to me:
  • I'm always honest, and do my best to be fair. 
  • I choose not to take any ads, because that's what I prefer in my internet experience. 
  • I don't even read most of the email solicitations I get, from people requesting to do guest posts, or asking me to link to their '10 Best X' sites. I have asked a colleague to do a guest post because I loved what she wrote on a small population email list, and I considered letting another blogger do a guest post here because I liked his blog (we just never worked out the details). To me a guest post must be from someone whose work I know and respect.
  • If I'm reviewing anything I got for free, I mention that fact.

But I've had a question in my mind for a while about book reviews, and haven't answered it yet.

Once in a while, when I see an interesting new math title, I request a review copy from the publisher. If it's good, I read it and review it, mentioning in the review that I got the book for free. (There's one book at least that I liked but haven't yet reviewed. I want to find time to look it over again before I review it.)

But if I don't like the book, my feeling is that the best thing to do is just not write a review. I think other people might like the books that I don't like; our reactions to books can be as varied as our reactions to any art.  If I say that I don't like a book, that requires evidence to back up my displeasure. But I don't want to bother with all that if I'm not fond of the book. I think I'd like to pass those books on to another blogger. Perhaps they'll find a reader who likes them better.

Is this the right thing to do, or is there some reason I ought to review the books I'm not fond of?


  1. I don't know what the ethical thing to do is. I usually choose not to review something that I don't like. I agree w/you...for most things, there are people who would really like them and get something out of them...even if I don't. So I do as it says in Bambi..."If you can't say somethin' nice..." :)

    Not sure if that's good or bad.

  2. I would love the review anyway. There's tons of stuff out there and any information helps me filter. If you think someone else would enjoy the book, you just didn't, you should say that (and maybe what kind of person might like it).

    I respect your opinion and really like the book reviews. I'm planning to get a couple of the Tanton books as soon as I figure out which ones might be best for 6-8th graders in pre-algebra and algebra (help?).

  3. To me it seems like a matter of taste, not ethics. I'd like seeing the negative reviews, and if I wrote a blog I'd write them.

    But your tastes are what matter most here.

  4. If I was to say anything negative, I would be specific about why that resource didn't suit my tastes or the needs of my students, and try to identify who it would suit. But I DO appreciate reading reviews of all opinions, as otherwise it's very hard to make an informed choice.

    Some 'negative' book reviews have convinced me to buy a particular book, because I had different goals than the reviewer (eg. too challenging or fast paced, to me that's perfect). Likewise some positive reviews really turn me off, or help me see a book wouldn't satisfy my needs.

    Passing the books on to another reviewer sounds like another good option.

  5. Well, I'm so glad I asked the question. It's good to know people like my reviews. Hmm, maybe I could just bury all my negative reviews in the comments. ;^)

    I asked publishers for both Proofiness and The Calculus Diaries because other bloggers had given them good reviews. Both are annoying to me, but might not be to you. (I disagree with the Proofiness author, sometimes politically, which isn't grounds for a bad review. The Calculus Diaries starts out with too much about how she hated math, and its style of chattiness isn't working for me.)

    I will send each to the first person requesting it. (Just request the one you'd be more interested in.) Send email to mathanthologyeditor on gmail.

    There may be other books I've asked for and not liked, but they aren't coming to mind right now. If you've subscribed to these comments, you'll be likely to hear about them when I remember them.

  6. I too don't know what the ethical thing to do is but I don't like to get just good news. I think too, that a well written review that says why you don't like something will be useful because then I can decide.

    I do that all the time with movie reviews.

    Gathering the energy to review a book that you don't like is another matter though.

  7. Thank you for the offer, but I won't request either book at this time, we're still at Yr 2 level in maths, plus I live in Australia. Someone else will enjoy them hopefully!

  8. Love your blog! I worked for an academic publisher for 15+ years. A percentage of a print run is devoted to complimentary review copies in the hopes they will be mentioned and or reviewed by folks like you. You are under no obligation to review the complimentary books you receive however the publisher will be delighted if you do and will even consider a bad review good publicity. That said I feel you should write what moves you, what inspires you and what you feel like sharing with your readers. That is the beauty of a blog.

  9. Thought-provoking question! I think a bad review that is detailed and well-written can provide enough information to help people judge whether they would like the book or not. My problem is that I put so much work into a review that I find it hard to motivate myself to sit down and write one. The task looks too big, so I put off getting started.

    I'm backlogged, with at least seven books/games waiting for review, some for years. I haven't gone looking for books to review, but I usually accept them when offered --- though lately I've been warning people how far behind I am, and that they are taking their chances when they send me a book. Still, if I absolutely love a book, it's likely to jump to the top of my pile and maybe even get written up...

  10. There's usually some target audience who can find something good in the book. Two examples come to mind. "Math doesn't suck" - use if you are into glitz and don't want to be near intelligentsia. And "Times tales" - use in certain severe to moderate mental disability cases.

    I am yet to meet a math book that's completely useless for 100% of people.

    But I don't like to review things I have never used myself.

  11. If I requested the book, and did not like it, I would maybe not review it.

    If the publisher sent me the book, rather than my trying to get a freebie!, I would review it and try to be constructive in whatever negative comments or feelings I had about it.

    Analysing what it is that you don't like and putting it down on paper (computer screen) can be cathartic, as well as revealing, too!

    Whether you share those thoughts with others is another matter...

  12. Great question! I've actually been wondering about the same thing: some filmmakers sent me a math video for kids. I watched it, and actually thought it was pretty decent. However, I'm kind of down on the idea of teaching math through video, so I've been hesitant to review it and say I enjoyed it, because I don't want to support the larger notion of video math. So far I've just been putting it off. I'll be curious how you come down on this.


Math Blog Directory