This post was originally posted as part of my Rat Race column for Worn Through.
As PhD students and early career academics, we are repeatedly told about the importance of getting published. Traditionally, this would mean writing peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and indeed monographs. Increasingly, new avenues are opening up to promote our work, such as social media, web projects, and blogging. While these publication methods are not comparable to the traditional peer-review process, they do play an important role in getting us noticed (I plan to explore the role of blogging in a later post). However, the role of the book review remains ambiguous to many PhD students and early career academics.
Book reviews do play an important role in the academic publication process. Many academics see it as a duty of sorts to contribute to the academic community in this way. For the author, the publication of reviews provides direct and immediate feedback from peers. Furthermore it encourages engagement with new work, and promotes it to the journal’s readership.
But what does it give the reviewer? As a busy student, will it contribute to your career, and is it a worthwhile use of your time?
My advice is to occasionally write reviews, but to carefully discern whether it will be useful to you based on the publication your review will be published in, and most importantly, the book you will be reviewing.
The Journal: How prestigious is the journal? How related is it to your field? Most journals, even the prestigious ones, are always on the lookout for reviewers, so you can afford to be picky. Try to choose a journal that is read by many of the researchers in your field.
The Book: Would you be reading this book anyway? Is it useful to your current research? A big perk of reviewing books is that you get to keep the book for free, so it is a very useful way of acquiring books which may otherwise be prohibitively expensive. If you would be reading the book anyway, and especially if it is important to your research, reviewing it will force you to think about it critically, and therefore the process itself can be useful to you and your research. Furthermore, if the book is by an author whose work is central to your own research, writing a review can be an excellent way to open up communication channels with them.
Of course, while a couple of book reviews show willing on the academic CV, they certainly won’t contribute to the advancement of your career by themselves. In a future post, I will explore how to write a good and useful book review, and how to make sure that the reviewing process contributes to your own research.