The American radio industry’s top liberal talk show host has had some nice things to say about my book on China. That’s flattering. What’s even more flattering is that he has read the book. Really read it, that is.
One of the more discouraging things I have learned in a writing career that now stretches back nearly 40 years is that few people read books. They buy books; they talk about books; they deck out their living room shelves with books; they like to be photographed with books. But that does not mean they actually read books. In my experience, even book reviewers rarely get much beyond the first chapter. They then move straight to the last few pages of the final chapter before writing a review. This will consist mainly of a statement of the reviewer’s opinions not on the book but rather on the underlying topic that the book addresses. If the reviewer agrees with the author’s opinions on this topic (which the author will probably, if he is doing his job, have withheld until the last few pages), this will come through loud and clear. Equally if the reviewer disagrees, this too will be evident. But the basic point is that the review will be about opinions, those of the author and those of the reviewer, with the latter’s holding center-stage.
I am of course happy if a reviewer agrees with my opinions but my objective in writing books is not primarily to express opinions or enter into a debate. Rather it is to convey facts. In the nature of things, the factual meat in a book is not in the first or last chapters but in those in between. It is there that the author has to work hardest and it is there that a book stands or falls in its basic function of advancing knowledge. These points are well understood by Thom Hartmann, the top liberal talk show show and Air America’s riposte to Rush Limbaugh. Hartmann recently reviewed In the Jaws of the Dragon and gave it a good grade. What matters particularly to me is that he has evidently read the book cover to cover. That’s a rare compliment in an increasingly busy world. This is his assessment:
For the full review, click here.