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I find it quite diffucult to find reviews of academic books on various subjects, especially for books in the english language. In Denmark we have a service where we can search almost any book academic or regular and get references to reviews. No such thing seems to exist internationally, which I find weird.

For example the book "Civilization in the west" by Mark Kishlansky and others I got from my university but I can't find a single review in any journals. And therefore cant really get any perspective on it's validity (even though I'm sure it's fine).

I have searched the databases: JSTOR, Web of Knowledge, Historical Abstracts, American historical review, English historical review and off course Google, to no avail. The same is true with the book "The Greeks: History, Culture, And Society" by Ian Morris and others. Where I can only find one review.

Am I doing something wrong, or are reviews this sparse? I find it weird because both books are published by Pearson, which I guess means they have a substantial audience. Many thanks in advance.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your question provides the basic response for books that are widely reviewed, however for books that are not widely reviewed:

Generally if a book hasn't been peer reviewed, that tells you all you need to know about the scholarly response to the work. Unless the book is in your sub-discipline and problem area it is discardable. Textbooks, for example, regularly go without review unless they're of importance.

Finding reviews in History, however, isn't simple. The journal oligopoly poorly indexes historical reviews, often merely indexing them as "Book Review" or "Book Review, XXX" covering all the reviews in that issue. The only certain way (given the poor quality of deep text searching in the oligopolists' archives) is by checking issues for two years after publication. Journal by journal.

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1  
Okay, thanks for the answer! That was my impression too. Pretty ridiculous how this system is sustained right now. Everything should be searchable like in google, simple as that, i don't mind paying, albeit a litte bit. Not 40$ for a small article as i have seen a few places now. I think everyone would benefit, because i certainly refuse to pay that much. Also many journals have cryptic webpages, it almost seems like there is an esoteric academic conspiracy sometimes ;) For example i cant acces "Reference And Book Reviews" from before 2003, and there is no archive anywhere i have found... –  lowkey Jan 13 '13 at 8:46

For academic books that have reviews (rather than reviews of any academic book) a good informal starting point is Danny Yee's book reviews. He is a perceptive autodidact who in over 20 years has built up an impressive corpus of approx. 1,200 book reviews on many subjects. I am e.g. inspired by what he shares on books covering China and Chinese history.

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  1. Do not underestimate amazon's user reviews. One must exercise caution and Quellenforschung there, of course, because some of the reviews are written by bigots and ignoramuses; others are written by good people who were perhaps looking for a different kind of book. Nevertheless, there is a lot of useful information there.
  2. For ancient and medieval subjects, Bryn Mawr has great academic reviews which a simple google scholar with the name of the book + Bryn Mawr review will usually bring up.
  3. Looking up citations in Google Scholar can sometimes help to evaluate a book as well.
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