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Book Reviews - Worthwhile?

Lately I've been thinking (again) about books and book reviews, mostly because I'm looking to see if it makes sense for PASS to continue doing them. I hope you'll drop me a comment or two at the end.

I think Amazon has a pretty good system of reviews in that they get enough of them per book that you can get past the one guy who loves/hates the book for whatever reason. I typically read a few reviews before buying unless I know Im going to buy the book anyway. Mostly the reviews are right, but there are still times when I liked a book more or less than I thought I would based on the review. Not perfect, but useful.

For the most part those views only help me once I'm looking for a book based on a few keywords - do I buy this one or that one? But what about the book I didn't know about? Big Brown for example. The harder part is discovery, and that's where I think reviews can highlight something I wouldn't know about otherwise.

I used Big Brown as a recent example, and I also recently reviewed a book from Michael Coles on Full Text Search. Maybe a few of you discovered those books here? Even if you didn't decide to buy, maybe those are topics you hadn't thought about yet? I bet even if you read my notes you were at least tempted to read the Amazon reviews? Nothing wrong with that.

Would it be just as interesting to just feature a new SQL book each week with the standard ad copy to with it? Kind of like the word of the day? Or how about a running list of books I own? Or no longer own!

Why do I care? No, I'm not writing a book! I think that Books Online is a useful resource, as are sites like SSC and MSSQLTips.com, but sometimes you need the deeper/longer learning that comes from a book (or a class, but often that's a different focus). I want book authors to keep writing (not a huge profit margin for most) and I want to spot books that I might not yet know I want to read.

Do you like book reviews? Do you often buy based on them? What makes a good review? Are there other approaches that make more sense?


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Cory Ellingson on 19 January 2009

Good Questions...

For me, I struggle to read anything much longer than a blog.  That said, I am trying to chagne that.  Currently, I am in the middle of three (3) books that I am trying to read (not at the same time, just that I have three that co-workers suggested).  When I am done with these, I know I will look for reviews on books so that I do not spend time reading something that may not have value.  I do not know if this helps or not, but my thoughts.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 19 January 2009

I'm not entirely convinced that book reviews, especially extensive ones will be of much use. I wrote six for PASS and they were very lightly read and no one commented on them at all. Now that could be a reflection of the poor viewing of the old PASS web site or it could be a reflection on peoples interest in book reviews.

Speaking of which, they don't seem to be up on the site any more. If you need some to get started, I still have all six and the one I wrote on SQL Compact was never even published.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 19 January 2009

And, by the way, I like book reviews. I enjoy reading them and writing them. My favorites are negative reviews. I like to know why people dislike a book as much or more than why they like it.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 19 January 2009

I definitely like and use reviews.  For technical books I like reviews that address specifics, like, "The chapter on performance tuning using query plans helped me better understand the query plan operators and improve performance on several queries".  This is because when I am looking at buying a book I have specific reason I want to buy a book.

Posted by Brian Knight on 19 January 2009

I generally like book reviews because they help me keep track of what's new in the book world.  A lot of times, a book review is the first time I encounter a particular book at all.  Book reviews, especially on new books, are a good way to know what's been published recently.  Featuring a book as a "book of the week" with standard ad copy would also serve that purpose.

Posted by Steve Jones on 19 January 2009

I like the short ones, they give me some idea and perspective of whether or not I will like the book, especially since I know you.

It's kind of like reading movie reviews. If you do it often enough from the same person, and then read those books yourself, you get an idea of how closely (or far) the person reviewing is from your taste and then use that as a reference for judging.

A week might be a bit much, but 3-4 days a month spread out isn't bad.

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 January 2009

Grant, I'll follow up with you to hear more about your experiences. Maybe it's how we define success?

Thanks to the rest for comments, I'll be considering them!

Posted by Brad M. McGehee on 22 January 2009

I enjoy book reviews, but I don't know if adding them to the PASS website will be useful, as you generally get a much better perspective from the reviews on Amazon.com.

Posted by Robert Davis on 3 March 2009

I just joined on the PASS site yesterday. During the signup process, I was able to select that I wanted to be in the book review SIG, but when I got logged in and went to the SIG section, there was no book review SIG listed.

Has the book review SIG been dumped?

Obviously, I like book reviews or I wouldn't have tried to join the SIG.

Posted by Andy Warren on 7 March 2009

Robert, we definitely have some SIG confusion that we hope to clean up soon. As far as books, we're looking at what hasn't worked in the past and trying to see if there is a strategy that will work for books. Expect to see more on that over the next 4-6 weeks.

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