2015-11-10

Why I Don't Pay Attention To Tyler Cowen's Book Reviews

This morning (November 10th), Tyler Cowen published yet another post about "what he's been reading." Cowen posts many such blog posts. The second most-recent one was published on October 29th. The one before that was published on October 18th. October 5th. September 22nd. A day earlier, on September 21st (that's eight books in two days, plus a few he didn't finish). And so on. And so forth.

Since August, Cowen has claimed to have been reading about forty books - more than that, if I count all the books he admits to not having finished. Forty books in 15 weeks, or about 2.7 books per week. Assuming a modest 300 pages per book, we're looking at about 115 pages per day, and that is in addition to Cowen's typical day teaching courses, writing newspaper articles, reading countless blog posts and popular articles, commenting on them, and acting as the general director of the Mercatus Center. Cowen also watches a lot of movies and television programs, and frequently blogs about them.

By contrast, professional book reviewer Dwight Garner of The New York Times has read and reviewed only twenty books over the same time period, August to today. Cowen reads and reviews twice as many books as a professional book reviewer, in addition to serving as a full-time professor, author, op-ed article writer, and general director of a think-tank.

The average rate at which Cowen reads (books alone) is about 115 pages per day. Yes, this is possible for an avid reader.

But would such a busy person who reads so fast be able to dedicate enough mental bandwidth to write thoughtful and credible book reviews? Personally, I don't think so. I'd prefer a book reviewer read fewer books, but read them more carefully, and it at least appears that The New York Times agrees with me.

Please don't mistake this as a criticism of Cowen.