Is Publishers Weekly Biased? May 5, 2007

Is Publishers Weekly Biased?

Brian Flemming summarizes how books with an atheist perspective are negatively received by Publishers Weekly, a very influential publication in the literary world. (Besides being highly respected, PW reviews are often the first ones you see on Amazon.)

He cites negative reviews (or at least negative aspects) of God is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), and The End of Faith (Sam Harris).

Flemming throws I Sold My Soul on eBay in the mix as well.

Austin Cline adds, though, that Nica Lalli‘s new book Nothing: Something to Believe In did get some positive attention from PW, but even that review wasn’t void of anti-atheist bias.

I hadn’t noticed this trend before, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for in the future.

(via About Agnosticism/Atheism)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Brian Flemming, Publishers Weekly, Amazon, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith, Sam Harris, I Sold My Soul on eBay, Austin Cline, Nica Lalli, Nothing: Something to Believe In[/tags]

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  • The could be bias at work. But it might also be that Dawkins’, Harris’, and Hitchens’ books just aren’t very good. All three of them tend to be screechy and polemical, with Hitchens’ the shrillest, followed by Dawkins’ and Harris’, and not so long on argument. If you tally up all the positive and negative reviews of the books everywhere, I wonder if Publishers Weekly’s estimation would be a majority or a minority report.

    It would be instructive to comb back through past issues of Publishers Weekly to see how earlier books on atheism have fared.

  • Thanks for pointing this out. It’s ridiculous for PW to review atheist books from a Christian perspective.

  • writerdd–

    It is ridiculous IF PW has a Christian slant. But there’s too little evidence to make that case yet. Giving a bad book a bad review doesn’t suggest bias.

  • “Flemming throws I Sold My Soul on eBay in the mix as well.”

    But that review was hardly negative, and the bit about, “Mehta’s musings will interest Christians who seek to proselytize others and who want to identify their evangelistic mistakes,” isn’t much different from mojoey’s comment in his review, “His focus is to provide a tool which will help Christians appeal to the unchurched.”

  • Brett

    I agree with Kerry- maybe those books get bad reviews because they aren’t great books. That doesn’t mean they don’t contain great ideas, but most of those ideas are anything but original, and the presentation could be better. And anyway, most books about atheism suffer from an inherent flaw- they’re really written against the ideas of religion and theism. An analogy: a book about evolutionary biology (like Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale) or human nature (E.O. Wilson’s On Human Nature) is going to have an inherent advantage in being a good book in and of itself because those books are for something, rather than against it.

    For those of us who tend to agree with them, they’re refreshing, but appealing to a subset of the population that already agrees with the conclusion is not necessarily synonymous with writing a “good” book, or deserving a good review. (*dons abestos pants).

  • QrazyQat

    Have you even heard of the “Language of God” , Frances Collins’ outrageously naive account of how he realised Christianity was the one true religion because he saw a frozen waterfall which had three streams? That piece of nonsense got a great review from PW, as the blog entry points out. And it beggars belief to claim that not one single atheist-oriented book has been decently written.

  • Brett

    Yes, I’ve heard of it. While Collins’ book doesn’t do what its subtitle claims (present evidence for belief) and obviously won’t appeal to you, it has redeeming qualities. Have you read Collins’ explanation of the evidence for evolution? It is one of the most clear, concise renderings of the subject for laymen I’ve come across, and I’ve recommended it to several friends who are otherwise skeptical of evolution. He also completely trashes creationism and intelligent design.

    Again, Collins’ work makes for a better book (not a true-er book, mind you!), in one sense because it is arguing a simple, affirmative theme (“Science, the language of God, is good”) rather than arguing a complex, negative theme (“All of the incredibly diverse religions are equally false, and bad for society”). That doesn’t change the fact that Collins is wrong. Of course, this definition of what makes a book “good” could be misrepresented to imply that The Secret is a good book, which I can say is tripe without even having read it..

    Calling every book that you disagree with “nonsense” and assuming that every book whose conclusions you like deserves unfettered praise for writing style can make one seem rather partisan. One can write an excellent book in support of something that’s false, or a so-so book in support of something that’s true. A neutral observer may prefer the former, but personally, I’d like to see an excellent book on truth–I just have high standards.

  • Jill Maxick

    Over the years Prometheus Books has received several mostly positive reviews for atheist books including for Atheism: A Reader, Why Atheism and Nothing: Something to Believe In. What’s interesting to note is that Nothing by Nica Lalli was reviewed as a “religion” book, in the Religion BookLine e-newsetter. ALL of our previous atheist books have been reviewed as philosophy, and sometimes science when they are God and science books like Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis (which wasn’t actually reviewed in PW–not all books are–and went on to make the NYT bestseller list regardless.) This categorization of atheism as a subcategory or religion–both for review and for retailer categorization–is a new phenomenon, since probably Sam Harris’s first book. Dawkins’ The God Delusion appears to have been sold to stores, reported to bestseller lists and probably reviewed too, as a religion book. In the past it might have been considered science and/or philosophy. In fact, Nica Lalli, Victor Stenger and Christopher Hitchens will all be appearing on a PW sponsored panel at Book Expo America this Saturday June 2nd from 4-5 pm ET called “Atheism: The Rise of a New Subcategory in Religion.”

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