At least in the humanities, it seems to be fairly common for journals to publish book reviews. To be honest, I don't think I fully understand why many academics write them and why many journals publish them. I don't read them very often because I usually don't find them very enlightening. If I want to find out whether a book is worth looking at, it is usually easier to take a look at the table of contents or else to get it from a library and take a look rather than reading the review.

However, I could imagine the following incentives:

  1. The reviewer thinks the book is particularly interesting and should be known to a greater audience, so they want to promote it.
  2. Writing book reviews is considered a service to the community, and authors would also like to get their own books reviewed in a journal later on.
  3. Reviewers influence the community with their evaluation of a book.
  4. Reviewers accrue prestige by publishing book reviews.

Which of these reasons, if any, make academics write book reviews? If it does add to their prestige, how much? Is it, very roughly, possible to say that one research article equals x published book reviews in terms of added prestige (and increased prospects for promotion)?


3 Answers 3


I wrote a book review once. For me (1), (3), (4), and the first half of (2) were all relevant factors. (Like all book reviews in mathematics of which I am aware, it was at the unsolicited request of the journal editors.)

In mathematics, book reviews are uncommon, and (contrary to cheesemeister's experience) they are somewhat prestigious to write. Only about a quarter of my book review actually reviewed the book. In the rest I described (as I was asked to by the editors) why someone would want to read a book on Subject X in the first place. I had an opportunity to "sell" my research area, and this was definitely rewarding!

Finally, it was an excellent excuse to thoroughly read the book I was reviewing, which I was eager to do in the first place. This was a lot of work, but it was very rewarding (as I could tell from the beginning that it would be). Personally, I would only review a book if I was keen on carefully reading it.

  • Interesting, thanks for contributing your perspective. May I ask whether you also (regularly?) read book reviews?
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 21:03
  • I regularly glance over book reviews in Nature and Science, which are the only journals I regularly read that do reviews. I've almost never heard of the books that are discussed, and occasionally spot something I'm interested enough in -- or that the review makes intriguing enough -- that I'd read it.
    – iayork
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 17:13

In my experience, reviews are written at the request of journal editors and are typically not initiated by the person writing them. My colleagues and I usually write several book reviews every year because our supervisor is on the editorial board of the journal and tells us to write them. As reviewers, we do receive a free copy of the book, if you consider that an incentive. There is no prestige associated with writing one, and they don't count as publications in our annual performance reviews.

  • Reading through a book makes you learn its contents.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 19:33

I'm a bit late to this game, but thought I'd remind you that librarians are academics! We read book reviews to help with our collections decisions. I'm a nursing librarian, so I read reviews in nursing journals regularly.

  • It looks like a comment. I think it should be expanded?
    – Coder
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 17:51
  • 1
    Thanks for posting this - I really hadn't though of it from this perspective!
    – Robert
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 10:30

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