A Book Review Policy

Although I have written previously of Daylight Atheism’s rapid growth (and let me add that the total hit count for August shattered the previous record from July), this weblog appears to be attracting attention in a way that I did not at all expect. Several days ago, I was contacted by Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, who thanked me for my previous positive review of his book and asked if I would mention that it was now out in paperback with new and revised chapters. I agreed to this. Several days later, to my even greater surprise, a publicist from Houghton Mifflin contacted me through e-mail, promoting Richard Dawkins’ forthcoming book The God Delusion and offering to send me a free copy if I would review it on my site.

I did not think Daylight Atheism had acquired the prominence for me to be solicited in this way. I am thrilled to be wrong, but it raises a moral dilemma for me. On one hand, it has not escaped me that the primary purpose of a publicist in contacting me is not to spread the message of freethought or support the atheist community; it is to sell more books. I am strongly averse to commercialism, and I object to being used as advertising. I believe it would greatly undermine my credibility if I were to give the impression that I maintain this site or my other primarily to secure material benefit. On the other hand, I feel it is entirely consistent with this site’s mission to call my readers’ attention to books which they may be interested in, and I do desire to promote and support authors whose opinions I agree with. After all, the success of these books undeniably does assist the freethought movement, and that is a goal I want to help bring about. Publicists, after all, are agents acting on behalf of authors who do have this aim, and their success translates to greater success for these voices of freethought.

With this in mind, I have created a new policy for book reviews that clearly lays out under what circumstances I will or will not agree to write them. In the event that I am ever contacted again in this way, I offer it here, so that my readers will know what the appearance of a new book review signifies.

  • I will not review books that are not in some way relevant to the purpose of this site. You will never see reviews of cookbooks (unless it is the FFRF’s World Famous Atheist Cookbook), gardening books, detective thrillers, or economic texts. On the other hand, you will see reviews of religious scripture, of books on science and history, of books on skepticism and critical thought, and of books that review, discuss, and critique religion in all its many guises and incarnations.
  • I will consider, but will not necessarily accept, requests to review books that are relevant. I could do nothing but review books, but that is not what this weblog was created for; my readers deserve to hear about other topics and I will give them that. I pledge that I will limit my reviews to books about which I feel I have something relevant to say, one way or the other.
  • I will never accept money or any other kind of compensation in exchange for writing a review that reaches a predetermined conclusion. I pledge that in writing a review I will always render my honest verdict; in any book review I post, the words will all be my own and so will the opinions. I will not accept any compensation from a book’s author or representative to review that book, other than a copy of the book itself. I leave open the possibility of agreeing to review a book, at some future date, in exchange for a charitable donation to some appropriate non-profit group.
  • I will clearly distinguish reviews which I was asked to write from reviews of books I sought out on my own. Until now, every book which I have reviewed was a book which I took the initiative to seek out and read, and readers can assume that to be the default. If this is not the case for a given book, I will clearly label the review of that book as originating from a solicitation.
  • I will not repost a review or otherwise give additional publicity to a new edition or rerelease of a book which I have previously reviewed, unless that new edition contains substantial new content or is otherwise independently noteworthy.
  • I will not open a store on this site to sell books I review, nor will I set up an affiliate account or link directly to a merchant site for a mass-market book. I will assume that readers who are sufficiently intrigued by any of my reviews to purchase and read the book can find it on their own initiative. I may make exceptions, however, for obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-find books.

I hope this policy addresses any concerns my readers may have. I did accept the offer to review The God Delusion, and the book is in my hands now. I expect to post a review within a week or two.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Andreas

    I’m really glad you’re not a sellout.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Congrats on the growth. You deserve it.

  • Christopher

    Why not? You have a chance for considerable financial gain. If I were in your place, I would jump at this opportunity!

  • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar ( India )

    Dear Adam — I have myself placed a pre-publication order (because of the discount offered) for a copy of “The God Delusion”. But nevertheless, I am eagerly looking forward to reading your review, since I value your perspective on such issues very much. You need not have any anxieties about people mistaking your intentions in reviewing books. I feel stongly that if a person has read your several posts, he cannot have any doubts about your integrity. Ofcourse there will always be the case of everything looking yellow to the jaundiced eye. You are an authentic human being, Adam. So go ahead and give us that review.

  • Interested Atheist

    Excellent news! I always enjoy your book reviews Adam.
    My favourites were Mere Christianity and Lee Strobel.
    I think the Pilgrim’s Progress was a bit brief, though. You don’t think you could add a little to that, do you? It seemed more narrative than analytic.
    Looking forward to more!

  • Alex Weaver

    Christopher:

    Can financial gain buy happiness? I believe I would make the same choice Adam has, and the reasons are similar to his reasons in another post for why murdering one person for organs to save five others is wrong under universal utilitarianism (they’re also similar to the reasons that I would never advocate the position that global warming is not an issue or not human-caused, no matter how much the industrial sector paid me). The negative effects of sacrificing intellectual integrity for financial gain on myself (erosion of self-respect and an unfortunate precedent of disingenuity–I see this sort of compromise as equivalent to prostitution) and others (robbing the world of one more honest and upright advocate of reason and common decency) would by themselves greatly outweigh the financial gain, but the deleterious effects of being known as a “sell-out” on my long-term commercial and popular viability, and my literary and academic credibility, would more than undo even those gains in the long run.

  • tminuspi

    Holy Mother of Pearl! An individual with integrity!! I think I’d best alert MY publicist!!!

  • Christopher

    Response to Alex Weaver:

    “Can financial gain buy happiness?”

    Maybe not by itself, but it sure helps!

    “I believe I would make the same choice Adam has, and the reasons are similar to his reasons in another post for why murdering one person for organs to save five others is wrong under universal utilitarianism (they’re also similar to the reasons that I would never advocate the position that global warming is not an issue or not human-caused, no matter how much the industrial sector paid me).”

    I replied the opposite (you can go read my reply in that thread) because, unlike the universal utilitarian, I don’t have morals to restrain me from getting what pleases me.

    P.S. Global warming has actually been around for almost as long as planet earth itself: the earth will warm/cool regardless of what we as a species do (even if we were contributing to it, all we’d be doing is hastening an already existent proccess). If we as a species want to escape it, we have to find a new planet; end discussion.

    “The negative effects of sacrificing intellectual integrity for financial gain on myself (erosion of self-respect and an unfortunate precedent of disingenuity–I see this sort of compromise as equivalent to prostitution) and others (robbing the world of one more honest and upright advocate of reason and common decency) would by themselves greatly outweigh the financial gain, but the deleterious effects of being known as a “sell-out” on my long-term commercial and popular viability, and my literary and academic credibility, would more than undo even those gains in the long run.”

    Maybe the avid fans of your work would be disappointed and abandon you, but you still have the gulible masses (hey, if they can find O.J. innocent of murder, they will happily excuse you of “selling out” a particular worldview). In time, this “sell-out” status will disappear in the tumultuous currents of society.

    Besides, even if you don’t like who you stump for at the moment, you can betray them in a moment of weakness and “sell them out” too. Then go find another movement to stump for and continue the cycle…

  • stillwaters

    Glad to hear you’re going to do the review. And, by not accepting any monetary compensation for it, it makes the review that much more honest. We will be looking forward to reading what you say about The God Delusion. And it should be just in time for Dawkins’ visit to Kansas U to promote said book.

  • Alex Weaver

    Maybe not by itself, but it sure helps!

    Financial security helps, granted, but if it doesn’t buy happiness by itself, then sacrificing more important things like self-respect for financial gain is a bit like selling your car’s engine to buy a bigger, more powerful stereo system.

    I replied the opposite (you can go read my reply in that thread) because, unlike the universal utilitarian, I don’t have morals to restrain me from getting what pleases me.

    That much is apparent. It also appears that you, for whatever reason, are unable to understand that “what pleases” Adam and I extends beyond “stuff.”

    P.S. Global warming has actually been around for almost as long as planet earth itself: the earth will warm/cool regardless of what we as a species do (even if we were contributing to it, all we’d be doing is hastening an already existent proccess). If we as a species want to escape it, we have to find a new planet; end discussion.

    I’ll ignore the craven cowardice of declaring the argument over as soon as one has made one’s point, giving no opportunity for rebuttal. I would be very interested to see the sources behind your opinion here. Mine is that I work for a company specializing in air pollution research and control policies and I find myself dealing with some of the data for this on a fairly frequent basis, in addition to reading on the subject and conversations with my boss, who is among the world’s foremost experts on vehicle emissions. The view that we are contributing to a severe acceleration of the rate of long-term climate change is extremely well-supported; those taking the opposite position I have found to be invariably either thoroughly ignorant or in thrall to industrial and political interests opposed to responsible environmental policy for purely selfish reasons. But even assuming you’re right, let’s try a thought experiment:

    Suppose we were physically in the same room, having this argument, and I were to pull out a pistol and put a bullet between your eyes. By your apparent reasoning here, that would be “all right”, meaning that, if not necessarily moral or desirable, it’s not a cause for concern or something that should be opposed. After all, you’re going to die anyway, someday. By shooting you, I would just be hastening an already existing process. Yet somehow, I imagine you’d find this to be a very unappealing and undesirable prospect. I invite you to consider the implications of this.

    Maybe the avid fans of your work would be disappointed and abandon you, but you still have the gulible masses (hey, if they can find O.J. innocent of murder, they will happily excuse you of “selling out” a particular worldview). In time, this “sell-out” status will disappear in the tumultuous currents of society.

    O.J. is a bad example; while he was found legally innocent has been convicted quite thoroughly in the court of public opinion, which is who would be deciding whether or not one was a sell-out. But that’s beside the point; *I* would be disappointed and abandon me, or the closest equivalent.

    Besides, even if you don’t like who you stump for at the moment, you can betray them in a moment of weakness and “sell them out” too. Then go find another movement to stump for and continue the cycle…

    Leaving the immorality of this strategy aside, somehow, I think people would start to notice a pattern with the backstabbing sooner or later.

  • Padishah

    a company specializing in air pollution research and control policies

    Aha, a vested interest! With no global warming this company is superfluous and lacks any reason to gather funding, therefore its research is inherently suspect. (It should perhaps be noted that this position leads us to dismiss most medical research.)

    Suppose we were physically in the same room…

    Well, it disadvantages him. However looked at objectively, if one lacks empathy the only concern is that you may later do the same to the observer…

  • Alex Weaver

    Aha, a vested interest! With no global warming this company is superfluous and lacks any reason to gather funding, therefore its research is inherently suspect. (It should perhaps be noted that this position leads us to dismiss most medical research.)

    While it’s a bit off-topic, EF&EE’s connection with the research establishing that global warming is a problem and is due to human activity is minimal. Our focus is and has always been determining contributions–that is, how much of a given pollutant is being emitted from a given subset of (usually mobile) sources–and devising strategies to reduce emissions from those sources in a cost-effective manner. Our research typically consists of evaluating the effectiveness of prospective emission control technologies and determining whether a given set of emissions sources (a truck fleet, for instance) are in compliance with applicable emission laws. So, this really isn’t a case of a vested interest–we have a vested interest, now that a problem has been identified, in determining where it’s coming from, how much a given source is contributing, and what can be done about it.

    Well, it disadvantages him. However looked at objectively, if one lacks empathy the only concern is that you may later do the same to the observer…

    My point is that this hypothetical action is justified under the same reasoning he uses to dismiss global warming as a concern, and yet I doubt he would be as cavalier about the prospect of being shot as the prospect of the ice caps melting.

  • Christopher

    Response to Alex Weaver:

    “Financial security helps, granted, but if it doesn’t buy happiness by itself, then sacrificing more important things like self-respect for financial gain is a bit like selling your car’s engine to buy a bigger, more powerful stereo system.”

    If you have financial security, one will have the time to do whatever he desires to find happiness. Self-respect is only lost when one holds himself to standards he knows he can’t meet: so just don’t hold ypurself to standards and you will have no trouble at all securing self-respect.

    “I’ll ignore the craven cowardice of declaring the argument over as soon as one has made one’s point, giving no opportunity for rebuttal. I would be very interested to see the sources behind your opinion here. Mine is that I work for a company specializing in air pollution research and control policies and I find myself dealing with some of the data for this on a fairly frequent basis, in addition to reading on the subject and conversations with my boss, who is among the world’s foremost experts on vehicle emissions. The view that we are contributing to a severe acceleration of the rate of long-term climate change is extremely well-supported; those taking the opposite position I have found to be invariably either thoroughly ignorant or in thrall to industrial and political interests opposed to responsible environmental policy for purely selfish reasons.”

    Cowardly? I attempted to end a circular discussion before one began! But if you insist on it, I’ll go with it.

    Firstly, just take a geology course. You might hear of periods in earth’s history known as “ice ages” (yes, there were more than just one). These were brought on by fluctuating temperatures on the earth: sometimes due to natural greenhouse gas emisions, other times through impact with a celestial object. But the result was the same- earth freezes, most lifeforms die, earth warms again, and the survivors replentish the earth and evolve. Shit like this has been going on before mankind even evolved, so there is no reason to assume that we (as a species) are responsible for it.

    Secondly, despite what you wrote to Padishah, you DO have an interest in this matter: your polution company must paint up polution to be as dangerous as posible so other firms would be motivated to hire companies like yours to control pollution (I know how marketing works). I admit that pollution is hazardous (it can cause smog, TB, various cancers, etc…), but to suggest that it’s responsible for the phenomenea of global warming (a natural proccess) is scare-mongering. The unsuspecting public might buy into it, but I don’t.

    “But even assuming you’re right, let’s try a thought experiment:

    Suppose we were physically in the same room, having this argument, and I were to pull out a pistol and put a bullet between your eyes. By your apparent reasoning here, that would be “all right”, meaning that, if not necessarily moral or desirable, it’s not a cause for concern or something that should be opposed. After all, you’re going to die anyway, someday. By shooting you, I would just be hastening an already existing process. Yet somehow, I imagine you’d find this to be a very unappealing and undesirable prospect. I invite you to consider the implications of this.”

    It’s funny you should use such an example: some time back, an arrogant young man did threaten me with a weapon. He surprised me from behind and attempted to put a knife at my throat (he used a pitiful hold: he didn’t even go under my arm) and demanded my wallet. I grabbed his knife hand with my right hand and plunged my left elbow into his ribs, then spun around (still holding his knife hand) and thrust his own knife into his chest. He staggered away clutching his wound; whether or not he survived that injury I neither know nor care.

    If (hypothetically) you attempted to pull a gun on me and aim for my forehead, I’d nail you first with my trusty 9mm. I don’t fool around with armed maniacs…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    This is getting far off topic.