Reviews of my book, Empire and the Sun, are starting to trickle in. I saw a short notice by Jay Pasachoff a few months ago, but as a blurb by Jay actually appears on the back of the book, that one didn’t really count. Now I’ve got reviews from International History Review and some English literature journal (?).
Both the reviews are in the “An interesting but flawed, but hey, nobody’s perfect” mold. They complain about some things (not the same things, so far), say some nice things, and that’s about it. I suppose that these might be damning with faint praise, but my sense of book reviews is that this is a pretty standard kind of review. I’ve written my share of reviews for academic journals organized into sections that could be titled, “What this book tries to do,” “What’s good,” What’s not good,” and “Whether it matters.”
I’ve not yet heard from the crowd that the book was actually aimed at, historians of science. Neither of the reviews discusses the more technical aspects of the book, or talks about it in terms of its place in the historiography of science.
Still, it’s interesting that it’s even showing up in these other places. Good job, Stanford Press.
It’s interesting watching my own reaction to these, because 1) I write a pretty fair number of reviews myself, and 2) I’m so far removed from the book, both personally and professionally, I can read the reviews with a certain degree of dispassion that I couldn’t if I were an assistant professor coming up for tenure. They’ve got me thinking a little about how to approach the next book– not so much in historiographic or thematic terms, but in terms of the project. Since I finished it, I’ve seen all kinds of what I could have made it broader and more interesting. While I was on the academic market, I was hell-bent on getting it into shape to be accepted by a press. Once I had started my post-academic life, finishing it became something of a hobby, or a point that I wanted to make to myself: I wasn’t going to get any direct financial reward for it, and little in terms of social or cultural capital other than bragging rights or a bit of exotic flavor. Maybe with the next book, the incentive structure I work under will more effectively link the actual completion of the project to its improvement.