How to review a book

By Phil Plait | November 17, 2008 8:00 am

If anyone out there is curious on how to review a book online, then you should read this totally random review of a totally random book I happened to stumble on totally randomly.

In fact, it’s such an icon, such a template of reviews that I urge everyone to cut and paste it everywhere they go.

Tip o’ the non-poisoned pen to Arachne Jericho.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: DeathfromtheSkies!, Humor

Comments (23)

  1. cid kilroy

    phil doesn’t mean to toot his own horn, but…’beep beep’

  2. Todd W.

    I am totally randomly skeptical of just how totally random the review and your stumbling was onto it. :)

    Actually, I would not cut and paste it wherever one goes. I mean, the grammatical errors! Dropped articles! For shame.

  3. The reviewer hits on one of the secrets of good writing of ANY kind — tell a good story! It’s amazing how many other writers forget that. When I was working on MY first science book, I remember getting a referee’s comment (yes, my publisher sent proposals and first chapters out for referee comments) that suggested that letting scientists talk about their work (as I did) and telling a story would be a disaster. I suppose from a science paper point of view the referee was correct. But, I wasn’t writing for ApJ. I was writing (along with a co-author) for the public about HST. We wanted to tell a story, and we did. And the reviews (like Phil’s that he referenced about his totally cool book) noted that we told a story and praised that approach.

    So, there may be a clue there that good writing means good storytelling, neh?


    Good work, Phil! I wholeheartedly concur with your reviewer. And, when I finish your book, I’ll write a review, but it’s gonna be hard to top this one!



  4. Is there an audiobook of Death From the Skies yet? I like to load up audiobooks on my iPod when traveling, which I have to do frequently.

  5. !astralProjectile

    The money quotemine:

    “Death from the Skies! is like Bad Astronomy crossed with … Armageddon.”

  6. Mark G

    I look forward to reading the book. Did you know it had a precedent?

    In the mid seventies Douglas Adams pitched an idea to BBC Radio 4 called “The Ends of the Earth”? This was to be a science fiction comedy about various ways the world could be destroyed. He came up with one idea of the Earth being demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. He needed a character who knew what was going on to give the story some perspective and so created a friend for the main character who was a roving researcher for an intergalactic travel book. The space travel book idea intrugued him so much that it became the main focus for the series…and the rest is history.

    Apologies if this is old news!

  7. Hmmm, Douglas Adams should have followed up on that idea. I bet it would have sold fairly well.

  8. The reviewer, Arachne, says that gets tens of thousands of viewers each day. Is that true?

  9. Christine P.

    My favorite quote from that review (and a darn good suggestion to boot):
    “Truly Plait should look into writing fiction, since a certain cruel streak is required, and he has the chops to do it.”

  10. Tom

    You wrote a book? I had no idea.

  11. I also liked the first comment: “My husband kept pointing out that it was probably not appropriate (or you know, normal) to be laughing out loud at a non-fiction book about science.”

    I know that laugh. It’d the mad genuis laugh. The Bond villain laugh. I have “Death from the Skys” on my “must buy soon” list and look forward to Buwahahahahaha-ing way way through it.

  12. Nigel Depledge

    Geis, did you not know you have to demonstrate a maniacal laugh as part of getting a PhD…?

  13. Quiet Desperation

    I found that the book obeys all laws of physics and is an interesting color. There’s some words inside in a nice font.

    Is there an audiobook of Death From the Skies yet?

    Yes, as read by Richard Hoagland.

    Bah ha ha ha! Can you imagine? ūüėÄ

    Actually, on second thought, I’d totally buy that. :-)

  14. Malachi Constant

    I’ve said it before, but you should get on The Adam Carolla Show to pimp your book. He’s an atheist and a skeptic even if he hasn’t heard of the term.

    You could plug the book and promote the JREF to a friendly audience who might not have heard of it.

  15. “I found that the book obeys all laws of physics”

    Indeed, my copy of A Brief History of Time keeps creating and destroying energy.

  16. I can’t believe no-one has Dugg that yet.

  17. Ricky

    WOW you wrote a book?!?! haha I kid I kid. I just received your book as a gift yesterday and I’ll start reading tonight. Look forward to it

  18. Nothing wrong with a bit of blatant self-promotion. We all need a hand, and your own is always closest!

    Good luck with the book.


  19. Nigel Depledge

    The Chemist said:

    Indeed, my copy of A Brief History of Time keeps creating and destroying energy.

    Um, either this is some obscure thermo joke that I have too little background knowledge to understand, or you are violating the first law of thermodynamics.

  20. Nigel Depledge

    QD said:

    Is there an audiobook of Death From the Skies yet?

    Yes, as read by Richard Hoagland.

    Nah, he’d put everything under one chapter – Aliens.

    Comet impact? Aliens did it.
    Solar flares / Coronal mass ejection? Aliens did it.
    Gamma ray burst? Aliens did it.
    Nearby supernova? Aliens did it.
    Alien invasion? Hmm … tricky.

  21. kuhnigget

    “So, there may be a clue there that good writing means good storytelling, neh?”

    In the work I’ve done designing exhibits for science museums, that’s probably the most difficult concept to get across. Delivering a message to a lay audience requires something other than the type of writing that goes into a science journal. “Storytelling” grabs your attention, piques your interest, and gets you involved.

    Honestly, I once had a development person at a very well known science museum in Chicago (rhymes with “pie, ants and in dust tree”) tell me outright that the exhibit I was presenting was “a lie” because I proposed using a simulated microscope to show kids close-up video of cells at work.

    As smart as they can be, scientists can be real boneheads when it comes to popularizing their work. Kudos to the Sagans, Goulds, and…of course, BAD astronomers of the world.

  22. I notice the book being available in several eBook formats, but have you considered publishing it in ePub format (non-DRM) as well? Amazon has a better price on the print book than the eBook retailers have for the DRMed eBooks, which means buying the eBook is nonsensical for the time being.



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