Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reviews of Indological books on Amazon or Philpapers etc.?

Reviews are essential for the well functioning of research. An author needs to know the flaws of his or her work in order to improve and a reader needs to be warned about them. Insider warnings, such as one's teacher's or mentor's words, are often not enough, since they tend not to put into question the whole picture, but rather only details of it.
However, traditional reviews are often not enough:
  1. 1. because they tend to be overall superficially positive or pedantically negative as for typos and other less central topics,
  2. 2. because it is hardly the case that they stimulate a discussion, with replies and counter-replies,
  3. 3. because journals are slow, whereas one would need to be able to interact fast and efficiently,
  4. 4. because, even in the best cases, they only involve one, two, or maximum three people; they never include a huge number of readers who might add some remark.

Reviews on blog, as already argued in this post, may work much better, because they are often honest, fast, and allow for comments. However, in this case the main problem is that of accessibility: one runs the risk of reading them only if one already knows the blog. Thus, why not using search engines for books and articles to discuss even our South Asian technical books and articles? I am thinking of the chance to review books on Amazon, or Barnes and Nobles or to discuss articles and books on PhilPapers… I istinctively tend to dislike the first option, but in fact I have to admit that many people use Amazon just as a catalogue and might be happy to read a review found there just to get an initial idea about the book. I myself do it, whenever I want to know something about a book on a topic I know very little about (say, popular religion and the belief in the afterlife in the Midwest). However, I never checked Amazon to know about an Indological book. I just never thought I would have found anything interesting about it. And it is true that I could not find any review on a book about Classical India on Amazon.

In order to be ready for writing this post, I wrote my first two reviews on Amazon, which you can read here (on Vincent Eltschinger's Penser l'Autorité des Écritures) and here (on Rajendra Nath Sarma's translation of the Vākyārthamātṛkā by Śālikanātha Miśra). It goes without saying that two reviews have no impact at all, if no one else joins the project.  
Do you think it makes sense to make our opinions as readers accessible and open a discussion? If yes, where? Amazon or other commercial websites or rather Philpapers or the like?

I already discussed the need of honest reviews in this post, this one and this one (on reviews on blogs). On reviews and personal attacks, see this post, this one (on Lewis' approach to the problem) and this one (again on Lewis and reviews). You can read more detailed discussions on Eltschinger's book in this post and in the ones following it.

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