Friday, August 1, 2008

Book reviews, Google and the Wikipedia

Just as bit of musing on my part. As I mentioned in a previous commentary about how I write my reviews, the availability of the Internet, Google and the Wikipedia have revolutionized the concept of a book review. For those who are old enough to remember not only the pre-WWW world, but also the lack of existence of mega-sized book retailers, detailed book reviews were often the only indication we could get to determine whether ordering a book was worthwhile. What did the book address? To what degree of detail? What about maps and illustrations? Of course my main area of concentration in those days, as it is now, is non-fiction. Novels you could find much more easily, but decent non-fiction, specially decent military history, was something very rare in the local small bookstore.

So book reviews had to cover all those areas, and also had to assume that the reader wasn't necessarily familiar with the subject matter, so part of the review had to educate the reader to some degree. My review of Byron Farwell's history of WW1 in Africa, which I have just posted below, would have had to contain some degree of information about the campaigns because it was quite probable that the potential buyer might not even have been aware of them and so would need to be at least informed about their existence and why a book about them would be interesting.

Fast forward to today. Do a search in Wikipedia for "WW1", then click on the "African campaigns" link in the table of contents and you get a link that directs you to the major article "African theatre of World War I". Now as a reviewer I could duplicate a lot of that information, but with time at a premium I leave it to the reader to go, at their option, to bone up on the history if they wish. So I leave to myself just the task of saying whether the book does a good job of covering the subject and to recommend what type of reader the book would appeal to.

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