Biased Book Review?

I subscribe to an online service that sends out reviews of books that deal with history.  Most of them I give a casual glance and save the ones I think I might want to buy in the future.  I just received one today.  The book was written by Albrecht Diem titled "Das monastische Experiment:  Die rolle der Keuschheit bei der Entstehung des westlichen Klosterwesens."  The first paragraph really rang alarm bells (at least the part that I underlined):
"Chastity seems so self-evidently a part of medieval monasticism that
scholars have been slow to examine exactly how and when it became a
central aspect of the religious life.  In this book, a revision of his
2000 dissertation at the University of Utrecht, Albrecht Diem sets out
to discuss the ways that sexuality and chastity were considered in the
Latin West, primarily in the fifth and sixth centuries, and how
monasticism came to embrace chastity.  That he personally does not
consider this a valid development is indicated by his dedication of the
book to the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," which he characterizes as
a group of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals who live communally,
following something like the Benedictine Rule, but without imposing
chastity, and who have dedicated themselves to overcoming religious
fanaticism and sexual intolerance

I was furious when I read this.  This ‘reviewer’ obviously has problems with gay people and this never should have been sent out as a review.  It is hard to believe that she read his dedication and then made a decision on the book as a whole.  Needless to say she did not think very highly of the book.  I have to say I haven’t read the book, but I don’t need to read it to comment on her review.  I sent an email to the the review service:

I read with astonishment the first paragraph of Bouchard’s review of Albrecht’s Das monastische Experiment:  Die rolle der Keuschheit bei der Entstehung des westlichen Klosterwesens.  Her inference that Albrecht did not believe that chastity was a ‘valid development’ because he dedicates his book to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is unacceptable and inappropriate.  Did Bouchard contact Albrecht on why he dedicated his book to the Sisters?  My first thought was why is his dedication the topic of her first paragraph in a review of his book?  My second thought was what impact this had on her and her review. If anything, it may show bias that ultimately affects not only the review but more importantly, in the current heated atmosphere of religious politics, book sales.  I do not think that a dedication should in any way direct how a book should be read or interpreted.  I dedicated my dissertation to my partner Doug because he was there every step of the way and supported me and our trans-Pacific move so I could do my dissertation in Australia—it had absolutely nothing to do with the topic of my dissertation at all (Augustine and the Manichaeans).  I hope that in the future the editors of BMR would weed out comments like that since they have absolutely nothing to do with the review of a book.  If the author of a review thinks that they do, then BMR should find someone else to review the book. 


I’ll let you know if I hear back from them.

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6 Responses to Biased Book Review?

  1. Unknown says:

    Dear Kevin,
    I was very touched about your reaction on this stupid review. I have the impression that the author based the information she gave and her verdict mainly on a (not very thorough) reading of the table on content. Since we are both working on the same field, I would be happy to get into contact and to tell you a little bit more about my workk, and – of course – I am curious what you are doing.
    I\’d be happy to hear from you (please google my office e-mail address in Vienna if you want to write me).
    Best wishes,

  2. Kevin says:

    Dear Albrecht!
    What a nice surprise to see you on here!  I\’m glad you didn\’t mind me commenting on that review.  I was going to look for your email, but thought I would just put it out there anyway.  I\’m glad you found the review \’stupid\’ as well.   I did get an email from the editor in charge to your review and she tried to explain the rational for that particular review.  I hope you are planning on writing a response to that!  I don\’t think they are planning on publishing my review of her review!
    Take care,

  3. Unknown says:

    Dear Kevin,
    Actually I am not planing to write a response. I discussed it with a couple of wise people who gave me the advice not to give it more attention than it deserves. But I might send the author an e-mail. Moreover at the moment I simply have no time for this sort of childish debates. I thought the rule was: if you don\’t want to read the book you have to review, praise it…
    Anyway, since I am still floating aroind in the field between patristics, early middle ages, monasticism, gender, chastity, queer studies, I am curious what you are doing. Maybe we should continue that on the e-mail. I am hopelessly old fashioned, not used to blogs, a total chat virigin, and hysterically prudish with my e-mail address… (albrecht dot diem -a- oeaw dot ac dot at)
    Will you, by any chance be, at Kalamazoo?
    All the best,

  4. Kevin says:

    Dear Albrecht,
    I tried sending you an email the other day–I think I had the wrong email address.  I\’ll try again now.

  5. Unknown says:

    So what was the editor\’s rational for the review? I too found the logic of the review extremely troubling. Basically, the argument procedes as such:
    The preface of the book indicates that the author is! a! homosexual!
    This makes anything he might say on the subject dubious.
    Therefore, the short-comings in the book are because of this. You should ignore the fact that most of my criticism could be generically applied to 90% of all books that were based on dissertations.

  6. Kevin says:

    Hey Paris–this is what the editor had to say:

    "Thank you for your letter regarding Constance Bouchard\’s review of Albrecht Diem\’s _Das monastische Experiment_.  As the editor of that review, I approached Constance Bouchard\’s evaluation of the book with the attitude that acknowledgments, as part of the author\’s written text, can form a part of the reviewed content of the book.  In many cases, acknowledgments, like a book\’s introduction, can provide important signposts as to the author\’s scholarly heritage and outlook.  Acknowledgments of professional mentors and colleagues frame the scholarly interpretation of a book, often intentionally so on the part of the author.  Likewise, in this case the author ended his series of professional acknowledgments with a dedication to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (pp. ix-x), including an explanation of their goals and beliefs, and how they contrast with the traditional Christian model he explores in his study.  He ends by saying "Ich sehe sie zugleich aus wuerdige Umsetzer und Ueberwinder jener monastischen Ideale, deren Urspruenge in diesem Buch beschrieben werden."  If he didn\’t intend this to help frame his interpretation, he surely would have said so.  This type of dedication is very different from a dedication to a close friend of family member.  I hope this helps to explain our approach to this review."
    I still think that review is too biased to be worth anything and should not have been published.  I always read the reviews sent out by them and I have never seen anything like it.  And the reviewer and the editor seems to think that Albrecht thought of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence all throughout his dissertation writing.  This is just ridiculous. 

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