LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
Reluctant Book Reviewers
To the Editors:
“Book Reviewing in the Sciences,” in the July–August issue of American Scientist, made interesting reading but failed to mention my principal concern as a book review editor. Stated simply: Who, today, wants to review a book? Scientists—indeed, all academics—are judged on their ability to publish research papers in the leading peer-reviewed journals, to gather more and bigger research grants and, perhaps, little else. The humble book review is not seen as an essential part of this academic landscape. It can take several attempts and rejections before I am able to place even the most worthy of books with a reviewer. Although some reviewers are at pains to return a timely and well-written review, others sink into anonymity once they have received the book, and even stop answering e-mails.
There is no cure for this situation. It is a product of our culture and the often excessive demands on the time of modern scientists. Every book review editor will take note of reviewers who provide readable reviews on deadline, and will call on those reviewers again. But many potential reviewers choose to decline this worthy task that provides such an obvious service to their fellow scientists.
Stephen K. Donovan
Book review editor, Geological Journal
Naturalis Biodiversity Centre
Leiden, The Netherlands