How not to review a book



There “reviews” of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s American Vertigo are easily amongst the worst reviews I’ve ever come across. A foreigner (a Frenchman and intellectual - oh the horror!) comes to the US, travels around, and writes about it - following an invitation from a US magazine. I read the whole series in that magazine, and I’ve rarely come across a more refreshing view of the US: Instead of going over the same old clichés, which are so popular either in the US itself or in Europe, Bernard-Henri Lévy proves his fierce independence. The problem for our reviewers, however, is that he is not writing what they want to read (he does get some praise, though, for saying the right things, as in “I especially appreciated his debunking of the myth that Americans are fatter than Europeans.”). This kind of reviewing is really just a slightly (but only very slightly) more sophisticated version of what I call the American-Idol effect: Boo whenever anybody dares to say something that doesn’t agree with what you yourself think about yourself. After all you cannot be wrong, because you know yourself best; and if anybody dares to disagree with you, that person simply doesn’t know what s/he is talking about.

PS: Oh, and the vanity, because Bernard-Henri Lévy did not spin meeting one of the authors (or is it both?) into something bigger in the book! How dare he!