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I have published a monograph and now would like to see it reviewed by a/some journal(s) in the field. Given that there are many other books they could publish a review on, they might not find a reviewer who is interested (I have already contacted them).

So I was thinking of asking a colleague to review the book (I have collaborated with him in the past, but we're not at the same institution). Is this ethical? Presumably he would be somewhat less likely to voice criticism than someone who doesn't know me personally. (Although this criterion would exclude a whole lot of people)

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    If I was your colleague, and I reviewed the book and told the world that it is rubbish, what would you do? The reviewer must be absolutely one hundred percent free to express their opinions of the book, no matter what they are. – gnasher729 Jul 25 '16 at 15:07
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    On the other hand, if your book is the best one ever written, and the reviewer writes just that, as soon as the world finds out it was your colleague, your reputation is gone. – gnasher729 Jul 25 '16 at 15:08
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    I wouldn't say 'gone'. It would still depend, IMHO, on how objective the review was. If the book is indeed good and the review says so, anyone can verify the claims. Then, the fact that you guys know each other is irrelevant... – Fábio Dias Jul 25 '16 at 16:54
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    @gnasher729 many fields are so small that finding reviewers that do not know the author would be near impossible. – StrongBad Jul 25 '16 at 17:31
  • It's not exactly "unethical", but may not accomplish what you want, if/when it becomes publicly clear that a friend of yours wrote the review... and, indeed, people may think worse of you upon discovery that you arranged the situation. That is, as other people have noted here, there is a sort of implicit understanding (?!) that books reviews have some impartiality to them... – paul garrett Jul 26 '16 at 14:10
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In the book fields I am familiar with there are two types of reviews. The first is the traditional peer review which is used to help decide if something is publishable. The second type of review, which I think you are asking about here, is a summarizing review.

Finding peer reviewers to judge the if a book should be published should be left up to the editor. If the editor asks for suggested reviewers, you should provide suggestions. In this case, having previously collaborated with the colleague, the editor may see this as a conflict of interest. If you suggest your colleague, you should be upfront about the prior collaboration

For reviews that summarize the work, if you know a publisher that takes unsolicited reviews, and you want a review there, then it is fine to ask people you know if they would be willing to write a review. Knowing, and even being friendly with, someone is not generally considered a conflict of interest. The issue is that the person you want to ask is a former collaborator. This might be seen as a conflict of interest. You can still ask the colleague and mention that you do not see the prior collaboration as a conflict of interest. You might want to suggest the collaboration check with the publisher prior to writing the review.

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If someone reads a book review in a journal, they expect that this review reflects an unbiased assessment of the academic qualities of the work in question. The key word here is unbiased.

In your described scenario, it would be the author who suggested that his or her book was reviewed in the first place (+1 potential bias). In addition, the respective reviewer would be one of the author's choosing (+1 potential bias). Finally, the reviewer would be a former collaborator (+1 potential bias).

So, there are three potential points of bias. None of them inevitably has to lead to a biased review: the book might be suitable for a review article in that article anyway, the chosen reviewer might be the candidate anyway that is most fitted for the task, and the final review might be in itself fully fair and objective.

On the other hand, if you suggest your own work for a review article, it might receive more attention than it normally would (and perhaps deserves). If you invite a particular person to write the review, you might be choosing someone who you can assume to agree with your work, perhaps because they work within the same theoretical framework as you do. Researchers from other camps might be less favorable of your book, but they are not given the same opportunity to voice their concerns in their review article, because they never were invited to write one. If the reviewer is one of your former collaborators, they might be more forgiving in their evaluation of your work than actually warranted.

The reader doesn't know that all this is going on behind the scenes. On the contrary, for all what they know, none of the points exist which have the potential of biasing the review, because usually it's not authors who invite reviews, it's not authors who choose reviewers, and usually there should not be a relation between reviewers and authors (at least if the field is large enough). The readers don't expect any of these things, and they therefore cannot take them into consideration when reading and evaluating the review. This is a situation that I consider quite unethical, because information that is crucial for the readers is unavailable to them.

In order to alleviate the situation, you should insist that the review contains a disclaimer which minimally states that the reviewer and the author are former collaborators. In my opinion, it should also reveal that this particular reviewer was suggested by the author.

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