The ethics of book reviewing

Yep, there is such a thing. Like, read the thing before you write the review.

But there is also a time-honored approach that sees reviewing primarily as an opportunity to advance one's own arguments rather than to discuss the arguments of the book in question . The piece I just read, from the March 2001 issue of Choice, squarely falls in that category. The reviewer, a prominent if controversial academic, describes the aim of the author as follows:
He wishes to show that Bosnia's tradition has been one of unity in diversity, with adherents of Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity linked in the spiritual pursuit of transcendence. The argument is that this traditional orientation towards transcendence has been lost to a politics glorifying individuality and modernity, achieved by the targeting of Bosnia's Islamic component and the slaughter of its Muslim population by those who deny tradition in order to justify separate nation-states.
You may or may not buy this particular argument of the author, but I think it's a fair summary of what he says. But then our reviewer continues, without catching his breath, with the following judgment:
Useful as an example of the arguments of Muslims who want a unified Bosnia in spite of the rejection of that project by most of their Serb and Croat neighbors, the book will be of interest to Balkanists as an exploration of Bosnian Muslim ideology. But it is not suitable for use by undergraduates without much explanation of why some non-Muslims in Bosnia may see its very Islamic argument as evidence justifying their fears of Muslim domination.
No comment needed, right?


Yakima_Gulag said...

What book is being reviewede here, who is the author and who is the reviewer?

T K Vogel said...

Fair question. The book is Rusmir Mahmutcehajic's Bosnia the good: tolerance and tradition (CEU Press 2000); the reviewer is Robert Hayden. Not much surprise there, really.