Worst Book Reviews

I have not been much troubled by bad reviews of my publications. They have been few, thankfully, and they have generally not surprised me. I knew that Beyond Good Intentions would disgruntle some readers, because it takes up matters already controversial among adoptive parents. No book review has yet left me feeling personally aggrieved.  Errors frustrate me–misquotes, for example, or when my hometown, Albert Lea, MN, is confused with its near neighbor and meatpacking sister, Austin. But to hurt me, a reviewer would have to catch me falling far short of some literary or moral standard I have set for myself.

Yet a certain type of bad review arouses my pity and makes me worry for the condition of reading in the United States. These are written by readers who read every bit of a book on the same level plane, with no eye or ear–or dare I say brain?–for alterations in tone, the use of irony, word play, shifts in perspective or any of the tools a writer uses to enrich and deepen a book’s meaning. Any single string of words is to be read literally, regardless of tone or context. Oh, what these poor readers are missing, and not just in my book. This review of Packinghouse Daughter, posted on the website Goodreads, may be the worst I’ve ever received:


Nov 21, 2012

Karl rated it one star

This book was required reading in a college level introductory creative nonfiction English class. People are selling this book as a look into union life and the “working class” family. What is left for the reader to figure out is the author is a communist. I attribute the 1959 violent strike to union leader Ralph Helstein who was influenced by Saul Alinsky (a Machiavellian style of community organizing), See page 359. [Author: The book is 280 pages long.]

This book is being used as a tool for indoctrination on college campuses to promote the conflict between the proletariat and bourgeoisie – class envy.

The author first hints at being a communist on p.5 with her “boyfriend Len” short for Lenin and then goes into discussing her years of protesting while at the University of Chicago. A second reference to her communist ideology is on p.203,”If ever anyone was ripe for communist influence, at least Marx’s theory of class conflict, it was fourteen-year-old me.”

This type of thinking deposits lifelong class hatred in its practitioners. An entire chapter is devoted to this hatred in, “My Vengeance On The Wienie Moguls.” This should be a warning to people not to embrace the class envy promoted in this book.


 The poor guy just doesn’t get self-irony. Does he even see the irony in the name with which he has signed his review?

Give me the readers who, although they may read on that same flat plane, at least own up to their tastes.  This post also appeared on Goodreads:

Apr 13, 2009

Dmitri rated it one star

This book was the first assigned for a class on the history of labor. I dropped the class after having to read this. It confirmed my preference of military history to social history.




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