Bad Reviews

A Universe from Nothing got a scathing review in the New York Times.  Jerry Coyne finds the courage to pile on, although he disagrees with the reviewer’s remarks about religion (rightly, I think — I really couldn’t make much sense of those remarks).  Krauss responds in the comments.  Peter Woit at Not Even Wrong (no supporter of Krauss, apparently) points out that the reviewer is the recipient of a huge grant from the Templeton Foundation, widely despised in some circles for throwing vast amounts of money at people for trying to reconcile religion and science.  Does the reviewer have a hidden agenda?  How could we possibly know?

This got me thinking about reviews.  The older I get, the less attention I pay to reviewers I’m not familiar with; life is too short to care about the opinions of strangers.  I trust Jerry Coyne, because I’ve been reading his blog for a while (and I read his book and enjoyed it a lot), but I’ve never heard of the Times reviewer.  Doesn’t mean he’s wrong, of course, and I have no way of judging arguments over cosmology or quantum mechanics.

I have sympathy for writers (like Krauss) who have clearly put a lot of effort into their work, only to have it savaged.  Writing is about as solitary an occupation as you can imagine, but sooner or later most of us try to inflict the results upon the world.  And then we face rejection and criticism and (most depressing of all, perhaps) indifference.  It ain’t easy!

Oddly, my books have never received any really bad reviews–at least, not any I remember.  It’s entirely possible I blotted out the memory.  Lots of rejection, on the other hand…

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3 thoughts on “Bad Reviews

  1. Back in the early 80s my late wife Louise Gault published a book called Pavarotti — My Own Story. It was billed as the great tenor’s autobiography written “with” William Wright. Of course Bill did all the writing. The was surprisingly (at least to Doubleday) successful, hitting the top ten of the Times bestseller list, no mean feat (either then or now) for a book about an opera singer.

    The review in the Times book section was savage. What the reviewer didn’t disclose was that he wanted to write the book and had been passed over in favor of Bill. Did this affect the review? Who knows but one is entitled to be highly suspicious.

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  2. Pingback: The “Universe from Nothing” Brouhaha | richard bowker

  3. Pingback: Bad Reviews 2: The Alix Ohlin Story | richard bowker

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