I’m reading Peter Hopkirk’s 2006 e-edition of The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia. The book is identical to the original 1990 version, with the exception of an added foreword. Although the reason the book was reissued in 2006 is undoubtedly because “after many years of total obscurity, Central Asia is once again in the headlines”, The Great Game has proven to be a popular and well sold books in the past, a fact that I gathered from it being reprinted many times previously. According to Amazon*, The Great Game initially came out in hardcover in 1990. In the same year, it was read and recorded on cassette tape (!). In 1991, the paperback version hit the market, to be followed by another edition in hardcover in 1992. The printing presses stopped for next 9 years, at the end of which period, Oxford University Press brought fourth another paperback issue. In 2006, the publisher John Murray printed the book in yet another paperback format as well as released it as an ebook. Thus far in its history, The Great Game was published by at least three publishers (Abbeville, Oxford Paperbacks/Oxford University Press, and John Murray). I would not rule out another reissue in the future, perhaps by an American publisher this time.
Another measure of the popularity of The Great Game is the 113 customer reviews, with an average rating of 4.6 (out of 5), it garnered on Amazon. I saw no editorial reviews on Amazon, but I would guess that if the book attracted enough attention to get reviewed when it was published, the reviews were likely to be glowing. Now, this book is a rarity for me in that I actually did not check its Amazon rating before deciding to read it. As a general rule, however, I do look to see what others thought before embarking on a book. I know that sounds terrible plebeian, conformist, and detrimental-to-approaching-the-materials with a fresh eye of me. My only defense is the commonest one on offer: there are a lot of books, I can’t read them all, I can’t even read all the ones on topics that I find interesting, and therefore I need some kind of filter. Reviews serve as the gatekeepers for me, an especially appreciated role considering my aversion to abandoning books half-finished.
Et tu? Do you pay much attention to reviews when selecting your reading materials? How much weight do you put on them? Is it more important that the book made a big enough splash for you to have heard of it, even if the “splash” carries less than favorable analysis of its content?
(* I happen to think that Amazon has a terrific database of books, and am not queasy to use it to check on a book publication history. I hope no librarian will have a heart attack upon hearing this. In this case, the information from Amazon regarding The Great Game multiple editions is corroborated by World Cat records.)
PS. The reviews are spot-on; The Great Game is a terrific book.