Cherry Picking a Book Review

A cherry picked book review is honest in that the words that it reproduces indeed appeared in the original full review. The reproduction though is utterly misleading; it means to impress on the viewer and potential buyer that a prominent publication, The Times of Some Big City, reviewed this book favorably. In truth, the Times reviewer had given an overall unfavorable review but the few good things that he sprinkled in his review are now picked out, divorced from their neighboring words, and now alone featured prominently on the book’s selling page.

Having said nothing new so far, here’s where I earn this blog post’s keep by providing you with examples. The sections in red represents the cherry picked quotes, while the black gives a more complete picture of the full review. (Links after the quotes are to their respective sources.)

Sally Denton’s The Plots Against the President:

“A valuable reminder of how the four years following 1932 steered America in an uncharted direction … Readable and informative.”— Wall Street Journal

“Sally Denton offers a flawed but valuable reminder of how the four years following 1932 steered America in an uncharted direction . . . As an introduction to FDR’s first term, “The Plots Against the President” is readable and informative. But the author barely acknowledges that many attacks on Roosevelt—as on President Obama—sprang from disagreements about the size and role of government, not from paranoia, hate or incipient fascism.” Wall Street Journal

Carl Bogus’s Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism:

“[Bogus’] discussion of the various intellectual players is well informed, and he makes a useful contribution to understanding the contending variations of modern American conservatism.”— New York Times Book Review

“His discussion of the various intellectual players is well informed, and he makes a useful contribution to understanding the contending variations of modern American conservatism. But his argument gets lost in a thicket of irrelevant digressions, from a recapitulation of “Atlas Shrugged” to a potted history of Vietnam, and loses sight of Buckley himself.” New York Times Book Review

Dale Peterson’s The Moral Lives of Animals:

“Mr. Peterson does develop a provocative case for the existence of a broadly shared evolutionary imperative that under pins human moral instincts … It is hard to argue with his proposition that the powerful emotional saliency moral issues have for us, and their connection to serious matters of social organization and conflict—sex, territory, possessions, reciprocity, kinship—point to a hard-wired evolutionary adaptation of group-dwelling animals.”— Wall Street Journal

“Despite having begged the question of human exceptionalism at the start—by dismissing the sense that we are different as mere “Darwinian narcissism”—Mr. Peterson does develop a provocative case for the existence of a broadly shared evolutionary imperative that under pins human moral instincts . . . The problem with leaving it there, however, is that the moral world of humans, to even the most casually reflective observer, reaches far beyond such primal urges . . . And Mr. Peterson simply ignores several decades worth of recent studies in cognitive science by researchers . . . ” Wall Street Journal

William Silber’s Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence

“What [Silber] does bring is a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of monetary policy and international finance, along with that rare ability among academics to explain it while weaving an interesting tale.”— Washington Post

“Although Volcker exercised no control over the final product, Silber makes no pretense that he has brought the same critical eye to his subject as would a historian or a tough-minded journalist. What he does bring is a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of monetary policy and international finance, along with that rare ability among academics to explain it while weaving an interesting tale.” Washington Post

I suppose a possible defense the people who cherry picked these reviews could mount is that they intend these select quotes to show that their books were important enough to have received attention from these big-name papers in the first place. A possible defense, sure. But then why cherry picked?

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3 Responses to Cherry Picking a Book Review

  1. A.M.B. says:

    That’s awful. These days, I expect that everything written on the cover of a book is misleading.

    • Hi A.M.B.,

      I saw this piece about Harper Lee suing her literary agent in the LAT and immediately thought of you. Do you think you’ll write a blog post about this incident? I would very much Iook forward to hearing your thoughts as a lawyer cum author.

      • A.M.B. says:

        Yes, I read the complaint, and I’ll have a few thoughts about it on my blog tomorrow. I’m no expert on fiduciary duties of literary agents, but it does look like a sad example of elder financial abuse (assuming the allegations are true).

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