JAPA needs to change its book review format

There, I said it.

750 words is not enough to engage in an intelligent discussion of a book-length work. Either planners read and take books seriously, or they don’t, and 750 words suggests no, we don’t take books seriously. As a result, most book reviews wind up sound churlish, amateurish, or like the reviewer didn’t bother to read the book. And I strongly suspect that many reviewers do not read carefully as they know they can slough through 750 words of careless skimming.

Just for two instances:

I have a great deal of respect for Emily Talen, but the limited scope of her book review of Paul Knox’s makes it sound like she’s on some ideological rant instead of reviewing. I *know* Talen has intellectual reasons for calling out Knox here, and I would actually like to read her reasoned argument, instead of what she can cram into 750 words. I know in general her normative positions on planning models and cities; I’d like to see her take on the particulars of that book. You can only really do that in a review essay and higher expectations.

BTW, my own reviews for JAPA are pretty lame, too, given the 750 word format.

There is a a market for serious, long-form reviews on urban ideas, and that gap currently gets addressed in the major book review publications–London Review of Books, New York, Los Angeles, etc. While those are wonderful, it means that few planners are famous enough to get to the nod. Instead, it’s the same people: Mike Davis, David Harvey, Witold Rybczynski, Richard Florida. And the world hears enough from those guys.