Accessible History

Why I Review History Books and Why You Should Too

BooksHow many books do you read each year? How many books do you read because a friend, family member, or colleague recommended them to you?

How many do you read and purchase because you read a favorable review online?

Book reviews serve as important guides for potential book readers and buyers.

In this post you will discover why leaving book reviews on retail and review websites such as Goodreads helps both your fellow readers and historians.


The Power of a Review

Book reviews sway our decisions about whether we should read, and/or buy, a book because they offer us social proof of its quality and content.

Our time is precious and none of us want to waste our time reading a book that has a poorly written or told story or that does not contain the information we seek. Therefore, we rely on reviews to help us figure out which books are worth investing time in.

We also use reviews to help us determine whether we should purchase a book or borrow it from our local library. If a lot of people loved a book, you may be more inclined to purchase it whereas you may opt to place a book on your library borrow list if it has a mix of positive and negative reviews.


2 Types of Reviews: Ratings and Scholarly Reviews

There are 2 types of reviews that effect our decision-making process: Ratings and Scholarly, or Literary, Reviews.

Amazon1. Ratings: Websites often allow customers to review a book by rating it.

Amazon uses a 5 star scale: 1 star means the book is bad and 5 stars denote a MUST read.

If a book carries a lot of positive ratings, you are more likely to decide to read it because a group of people have vetted the book as good and therefore worth your time.

If you are undecided about whether to read a particular book, negative ratings, or a lack of ratings, may sway you against reading it.


2. Scholarly or Literary Reviews: As historians, many of us want to know about the specific contents of a book before we determine whether to read it.

We rely on scholarly reviews to help us keep up on current historiography. We also turn to them when we question whether a book contains the information we need for our research projects.

A good scholarly review tells us about the content of a book, the author’s argument, the evidence they used, and about the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s analysis and their presentation of said evidence.

Based on our colleagues' insight we determine whether we should spend time with a given book.


Why You Should Leave a Review

Book ReviewThree years ago, Karin Wulf made an excellent case for why historians should look upon scholarly book reviews as opportunities rather than as obligations.

Therefore, I will focus on why you should review and rate books on online retail websites such as Amazon and review sites such as Goodreads.

You should leave reviews and ratings for the history books you read for 2 reasons:

1. Help Your Fellow Historians.

As noted above, positive ratings and reviews offer social proof that a book is worth people’s time.

If people think a book is worth reading then they are more likely to purchase a book and/or borrow it from a library. When you leave a positive review you are helping to spread your fellow historians' ideas and drive their book sales.

This is not to say that you should leave overly positive reviews for books you are lukewarm about.

If you think a book is only a 3 star book, rate it as such, but then offer a fair review of why you gave it 3 stars. Just as with a scholarly review, tell your fellow readers a bit about the book, why you liked it, and where you found fault with it. This type of constructive feedback will also help your colleagues improve their craft.

Remember that you should aim to be objective with all of your reviews.


Reviews2. Help bring attention to good history books.

Each time you rate and review a good history book as a good history book you will help bring it to the attention of others. You will help make history accessible to those who do not know the book exists.

Retail sites and search engines use positive and negative ratings to help inform their search algorithms.

Books with positive reviews have a higher percentage of turning up in the search results when others search for the topic of a book.

Books with positive reviews and ratings are also more likely to appear in a retailer's recommended reading section or on their “New and Noteworthy” pages. Placement on these pages will help bring good history books to the attention of others who want to read a good history book.



Goodreads is a social networking site for and about readers. It has more than 20 million users and it is a property of

Goodreads influences book readers’ decisions about what to read. Its integration with Amazon’s Kindle eReader also means that ratings and reviews made in Goodreads figure into the algorithm of the world’s largest online book retailer.

The influence of Goodreads extends beyond its internal network and that of Amazon too. Users have the option to post their Goodreads ratings and reviews on Facebook, the largest social network with over 1.23 billion users.

Ratings left in Goodreads may also influence search results for engines like Google Search and Bing.



Leaving ratings and reviews helps make good history books more accessible.

They help bring the books you like to the attention of other history lovers because sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and use them to recommend the books you like to like-minded readers.


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Why I Want to Start a Podcast

Podcast-MicOver the last 9 months or so my brain has been stuck on the idea that I want to start a podcast. The podcast provides a perfect medium to convey historical knowledge to a wide audience and for research-driven historians to interact with the larger public.

In this post you will learn why I think starting a podcast is a good idea and about the work I need to do before I launch one.

I hope you will read this post to the end as my idea still needs refining and I could really use your feedback on it.


Why A Podcast?

smartphoneSocial media authorities such as Michael Stelzner have declared 2014 to be the “Year of the Podcast.”


In 2014, smartphone ownership by adults will increase to over 50%. Additionally, smartphone manufacturers and app providers such as Apple and Google are making it easier for smartphone owners to find, subscribe to, and download podcasts.*

Podcasts allow listeners to create a customized radio station that will always play topics they find interesting on a schedule that conforms to their needs.


There’s An Interest in History

People are interested in history.

As History Camp, C-Span’s American History TV, and the many television shows based in historical periods (Downtown Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, Turn, Outlander, and Sleepy Hollow, to name but a few) demonstrate, people want to interact with and learn more about their history.

History Camp and American History TV, in particular, also show that history lovers want to interact and connect with historians.

The podcast market underserves these history-minded people.


PodcastA Problem with Format

Over the last 9 months, I have been thinking about how I can start a podcast that showcases well-researched, historical narratives about early American history.

Initially, I toyed with the idea of presenting 15-20 minute narratives. I have a stack of ideas about mining my American History survey lecture notes, dissertation chapters, and freelance article research for stories and information.

However, I know that 15-20 minutes of speaking equals about 10-12 pages of text.

The most successful podcasts release a minimum of 26 shows a year; a new show every 2 weeks.

This production schedule makes my initial format unsustainable. I want to produce a podcast, but I also want time to work on my other projects, such as my book.

Additionally, my research is narrower than most people’s interests.

Many of my shows would focus on the history of upstate New York or Boston, the areas I have researched over the last 14 years. In the future, they would become Connecticut and Revolutionary War centric as my next project will take me into both of those areas.

My podcast has to be more expansive than my own research to attract a wide audience.


SuccessEureka! My Plan

After wrestling with these thoughts, the solution finally came to me last week: An interview-focused podcast with occasional historical narratives written by me.

As you know, I am passionate about making well-researched history accessible for everyone. It frustrates me that too many of our colleagues do not make enough attempts or time to share their wonderful and important research with non-academics.

My solution of an interview-based podcast will allow me to help historians engage with the public.

My interviews will focus on their research and new books. It will allow interviewed historians to advertise their work and explain to non-academics why their work matters and why it is worthy of their attention.

As the interviewer, I can can ask my guests questions that will encourage them to share their information through the engaging examples and characters they use in their books, articles, and dissertations.

I also hope my podcast will expand our discussions of history.

I plan to interview academic historians, librarians and archivists, museum professionals, historians at historical societies, and independent historians.


Work to Do

BenFranklinDuplessisNow that I have found a solution to my format problem, I am motivated to work on launching my podcast, which I have tentatively titled: “Ben Franklin’s World.”

I plan to interpret “Ben Franklin’s World” broadly.

Born in 1706, Franklin was a world traveler and consummate learner. Franklin helped found the United States and influenced technological developments after his death.

The podcast will center on early American history. I believe that the spirit of Ben Franklin will allow me to cover important issues in Atlantic History, European History, and North American History between the 17th and early 19th centuries.

I have a lot of work before I release my first episode.

First, I must take the video course I purchased on how to edit, tag, and publish podcast files using GarageBand.

Second, I need to brainstorm a list of interviewees.

Third, I need to schedule and conduct Interviews.

Fourth, I need to create 3-6 months worth of episodes before I release the first 5 episodes.

There are also a lot of other smaller tasks that I must research and do before I launch.

I would like to release my podcast before the end of the year.


What Do You Think?

What do you think about my podcast idea?

Do you like my title “Ben Franklin’s World?” Do you have a suggestion for a different title?

Would you like to help or be on the show?  

Send me an e-mail, tweet, or leave a comment.


*Links to podcasts about podcasts where you will find some fascinating statistics: "Interview with Michael Wolf of NextMarket Podcast" and "Interview with Podcasters Michael Hyatt and Chris Brogan."