The spite stuff

August 11, 2011

Richard J. Evans is right that reviewers have an obligation to be honest ("Critical path: how did a book reviewer and an author end up in court?", 4 August).

As a reviews editor for Archives, the journal of the British Records Association, I see many book reviews and have had both positive and occasionally negative critiques of my own work.

Negative opinions where reviewers declare and justify their differences of opinion with authors are wholesome. Much less so are book reviews that reflect two insecurities: unhealthy proprietorialism over the field, and reviewers' resentment that someone else has published when they have not.

The latter is especially common among academics who have often not written books themselves. More often than not, a spiteful review is an expression of one of these attitudes.

William Gibson, Professor of ecclesiastical history, Oxford Brookes University

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