Given that I don’t much like being lectured to by perfect strangers on issues such as Brexit, Trump, etc etc ad nauseum, I tend to assume that nobody wishes to be lectured by me. For this reason, I try to keep my political views to myself.
However, I do wonder how far this is actually possible, even in an article as seemingly innocuous as a book review. I’m aware, for example, of the political bias of some publications, and their reviews tend to reflect that. But it seems to me that on some level and in some way, even reviewing a book about how we learn is bound to contain some bias, despite all attempts to avoid it or at least prevent it from being intrusive.
This was brought home forcefully to me a few years ago when I came across David Foster Wallace’s “review” of a dictionary of American Usage. His article proper begins as follows:
Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervour on a near-Lewinskian scale? For instance, did you know that some modem dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived' and designed as corrective responses to the "corruption"and "permissiveness" of certain liberal dictionaries?
I have a number of questions to which I have, as yet, no answers:
Is there any such thing as a neutral review of a book concerned with learning or technology? I’m not referring to the book itself, but to the way it’s reviewed.
Does it matter?
Should the writer declare his or her bias upfront?
Would the absence of neutrality, or any attempt to disguise that fact, actually serve to enhance the review in some way?