Hard Choices – Reviewing Without Reading

by maxcharge

A few hours ago, I went on Amazon to take a quick look at Hillary Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices.” As usual, the first thing I checked out was the ranking, which surprised me as a meagerly 2.5/5 stars. For comparison, George W Bush’s recent book, “Decision Points,” has garnered 4.5/5 stars, and he was a wildly unpopular president. Nevertheless, I assumed controversial politicians still can write good books, so, my first thought was: “Hillary must have written a very poor biography.”

However, a quick glance at the ranking distribution told me otherwise. Take a look:

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I’ve always been interested in review distributions, and am normally vary of 1-star reviews, because from experience, few of them address the quality of the book. In most cases, I”ve noticed that these reviews complain about shipping, processing, Amazon’s customer service, or the author. Continuing to actually read the public response, I found that this is exactly the case here. The majority of 1-star-ers are not not fans of Ms. Clinton, to say the least. Their reviews indicate their opinions of her, not her writing. Here are some examples from the top responses:

  • “How out of touch is Hillary? If she really thinks making $12 million in one year is flat broke do we really want her leading America or having any part of our government? No wonder we are so far in debt with leadership like this.”
  • “Hillary is as corrupt as a rubber crutch in a maternity ward. I think the only hard choice for me was deciding how to divide this book up into even sections so I could effectively use it for target practice, a bonfire starter, and a flatulence deflector.”
  • “If you don’t like her as a person or public figure, don’t waste your time.”
  • “I want to mourn the loss…of all…the old growth…trees.”

We can certainly argue the objectivity of book reviews, and whether the readers’ opinion of the author always impacts their opinion of the book, but I believe this point to be true: you should read the book before reviewing it. On the flip-side, for all my Republican readers (I’m looking at you, Theodore,) the 5-star reviews aren’t much more informed. A lot of people wanted to bash the “right-wing trolls,” but did so while adding 5-star reviews to, I can only assume, bring some balance:

  • “Derp! Can’t even give a bogus bad review. Hint: an appropriate period of time for anyone to believe you actually read the book first, then try to sound as if you are even capable of reading when you give your review.”
  • “This is actually a review of the reviews. I love the unintentional irony of all those people who claim to have read all 650 pages the morning it was released and give it one star because they felt it was full of her “lies”
  • “Call me crazy, but it doesn’t sound like any of the one stars even read the book. Just like I, who have not, I’m willing to bet a good sum of money that a lot of them haven’t read the book either. Which I don’t care, but being childish and rating the book with low stars out of nowhere is plenty pathetic. What’s so wrong with Hillary? You guys act as if she peed in your cereal.”

These seemingly-righteous defenders of reading are promoting the same problem: their reviews aren’t based  on the writing. The end result? I, a typical consumer, have no idea whether I should read “Hard Choices.” I don’t know if it’s a good book at all. So, what’s the solution – should Amazon be policing reviews? Would it be cost effective to hire people to sift through reviews to see references to the books? Amazon already has a moderation process in place, and each review gets scanned for profanity (I think.) How much more would it cost to find at least one reference to the writing? I know we’re in gray territory here, but these outcries of either disdain or blind support are a problem, because they derail what these reviews should be doing: helping us decide whether to buy the book.