Category Archives: FAQs

You’re going to love my new website

OK, well maybe not love. But like? I hope so.

What you’ll see

After several months of effort — most of it by Wayne Marshall of Kaizen Marketing — I’m transitioning “Mal Warwick on Books” to a new site on WordPress with lots of great new features.

Soon, when you visit the new site, you’ll find not just the latest post but the most recent posts in each of the four categories I’ve established (Nonfiction, Trade Fiction, Mysteries & Thrillers, and FAQs & Commentaries).

You’ll also see that I’ve set up subcategories under each of the categories. That way, for example, you can find Historical Novels under Trade Fiction, or reviews of Science books under Nonfiction.

The new site will make it possible for you to gain easier and faster access to the information you want. 

You signed up to receive my posts by email, and that won’t change. But I hope you’ll also check into the new site from time to time. You may find something there that will hit the spot. Whatever that spot may be . . .

There’s a catch: no posts for a week or so

But here’s the price to pay: to complete the work of building the new site, I’ll be offline for a time. I do hope I can resume my twice-weekly posts beginning a week from today. If not then, then soon after. Either way, you’ll get an email announcing the next post.

BTW, if you subscribe to this blog through WordPress and don’t receive email notices, you’ll need to send me your email address so you can continue to follow my reviews. The new site works differently, I’m told.



Leave a comment

Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries

My most-visited reviews

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than week or two, you’ve seen the pattern — that I typically post twice a week, including one nonfiction book and one novel. All told, in the three years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve produced a total of more than 250 book reviews out of 308 posts. Below, I’m listing the 10 most popular reviews in descending order of the number of visits. Six are nonfiction books and four are novels (including, uncharacteristically, one collection of short stories, which I tend to shun). 


1. A review of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It, by Chuck Collins. A lucid analysis of how the 1% got to be that way, and how the 99% can fight back. Written by the founder and former executive Director of United for a Fair Economy, who made a study of this topic for many years before the Occupy Wall Street movement came to the fore.

2. A review of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson. In telling the story of the U.S. ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and of the anti-semitic officials who headed the State Department, makes clear why the U.S. failed to speak out against the rise of Hitler.

3. A review of The Pyramid and Four Other Kurt Wallender Mysteries, by Henning Mankell. A collection of five stories that span the time from Swedish detective Kurt Wallender’s rookie year on the police force to his retirement decades later. The Pyramid lays bare the roots of his many, complex psychological problems. For any Kurt Wallender fan, it’s well worth reading.

4. A review of The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley. Explores the racism rampant in America, and in Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, that dominated U.S. imperial policy in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Focuses on the cruise of a U.S. battleship in 1905 carrying Secretary of War and Roosevelt’s “assistant president” William Howard Taft and a passel of Congressmen and Senators to extend the U.S. empire beyond the Philippines and onto the Asian mainland. 

5. A review of The Litigators, by John Grisham. If you’re a John Griisham fan, as I am, you’ll probably be surprised at how many chuckles and guffaws his latest novel forces out of you. The Litigators, on one level a legal procedural like so many other Grisham works, is also a comedy. Even the title is a joke, as you’ll learn once you’ve made your way into the meat of this book.

6. A review of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. One of the most important books in English published so far in the 21st Century. Lays bare the ugly reality of the “War on Drugs” and the mass incarceration it brought about, exploring both how they came about and how deeply they wound communities of color in the United States.

7. A review of The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham. A timely and brilliant contribution to the public debate about politics and the economy. Dissects the mythology that lies at the heart of Right-Wing economic ideology in America today, making it unmistakably clear that the so-called “job creators” lionized by Republicans achieved their success not through rugged individualism but within a society in which government lent them support in dozens of crucial ways.

8. A review of Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith. A superb suspense novel set in the USSR, the U.S., and Afghanistan. The compelling conclusion of a trilogy that tells the story of Leo Demidov, a member of Stalin’s secret police as a young man. Involves a central character who closely resembles the legendary African-American Communist singer and activist Paul Robeson.

9. A review of Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, & Quiet Lovers of Justice, by Si Kahn. In this delightful and illuminating memoir, the celebrated singer-organizer provides the reader with a front-row seat on history from the vantage-point of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most militant elements in the civil rights struggle) to the UMWA (the Mineworkers Union) to the recent nationwide campaign to end immigrant family detention.

10. A review of Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George. The latest installment in the running saga of hereditary earl and Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, picking up the tale after a long hiatus following the murder of his wife.

Leave a comment

Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries

Which reviews do you read?

It’s a puzzle.

When I review a book I’m convinced is both important and unusually well written. what happens? Few people read the review.

Then I post a review of something fun but trivial, and — voila! — lots of readers take it in. Or not. It’s entirely unpredictable.

Here, in descending order of the number of reads, are the ten most popular reviews I’ve posted in the two-and-a-half years since I began this blog:

  1. 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It, by Chuck Collins
  2. The Pyramid and Four Other Kurt Wallender Mysteries, by Henning Mankell. 
  3. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson
  4. Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice, by Si Kahn
  5. The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham
  6. The Litigators, by John Grisham
  7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  8. The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley
  9. Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, by David Bornstein and Susan Davis
  10. Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World, by Maria Armoudian

Admittedly, only two works of fiction appear on this list of ten books, despite the fact that I read and review about equal numbers of nonfiction and fiction.

As you’re probably aware, from time to time I also construct lists of books by topic or for some other reason. Here are the most-read of those posts, in descending order again:

  1. Social Enterprise: A Resource List
  2. Third World development: A reading list
  3. The 30 best books of 2010-2011
  4. The best books I’ve read so far this year (2012)
  5. Books that helped me understand the world
  6. My 20 all-time favorite science fiction novels
  7. Eight recent books that illuminate the state of affairs in America today

As one of my all-time favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, frequently wrote, So it goes.


Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries

What does @@@ mean?

True enough — nobody asked. Somehow, though, I feel obliged to explain the meaning of the ratings I feature on the book reviews in this blog.

First of all, I don’t recall ever awarding anything lower than @@@, or 3 out of 5. Not that I haven’t encountered books that would deserve it — it’s just that I don’t finish reading those books. I only review books I’ve read from start to finish.

Here, then, is what I mean by the ratings:

@ = Fuhgedaboudit! This book should never have been published.

@@ = Not the worst book in the the world, but I couldn’t get through it.

@@@ = Reasonably well written, enjoyable in some ways, but not a candidate for a National Book Award.

@@@@ = I really liked this book. It may have fallen short of greatness, but it’s a great read. Definitely worth checking out.

@@@@@ = This book is either extraordinarily well conceived and well executed, or it makes an important contribution to our understanding of ourselves or the world we live in, or both. A must read.

Now you can’t say you didn’t know.

Leave a comment

Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries

Wondering why almost all my reviews are so positive?

You’ve probably noticed that I rate every book I’ve on a five-@ system, and that I usually rate books @@@@@, @@@@, or at least @@@. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever rated a book at less than @@@.

This is no accident, and it’s not because I’ve never met a book I didn’t like. There are hundreds of thousands of books published in English every year, and, not to put a fine edge on it, most of them are crap.

My ratings run very high because:

  • I choose only books I really want to read — because I follow the author or am interested in the theme or setting.
  • If I find when I’ve read some of the book that I don’t think it’s worth reading after all, I simply stop reading and turn to another book.. And I only review books I’ve finished.
  • Though authors now sometimes send me their books to read, I rarely accept one for review. It has to meet my standard criteria, or I won’t read it.

So, there you have it.


Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries

More FAQs you didn’t ask

“Why do practically all your  reviews carry 4- or 5-star ratings?”

I was afraid you’d ask that. But here’s the deal. I read books very selectively, picking out only those I think I’ll find rewarding. For example, in today’s New York Times Book Review, there is a total of 110 titles listed in the paper’s several categories. Of those, I’ve read 14 (and reviewed most of them in this blog). I have three or four other listed titles on tap to read soon. If I don’t enjoy reading a book, I tend to figure that out once I’ve read a few chapters. I put it down and forget it as quickly as possible. So you can bet that I judge a book worthwhile if I’ve reviewed it at all, and outstanding if I give it five stars. (OK, so they’re not stars. They’re @-signs. But isn’t that symbol more appropriate in this age of the Internet?)

“OK, so what don’t you read?”

Hold your breath. Here goes. I don’t read books on cooking, diet, health, fitness, or sports — anything that reminds me of my deplorable physical condition. I don’t read self-help books of any description, convinced as I am that I’m beyond help. I won’t touch literary memoirs, criticism, collections of essays, or biographies of obscure literary figures. In fact, I won’t read biographies about anybody except people who are historically significant, unless I happen to know them. I avoid romance novels, chick-lit, or just about anything by women with three names. And I won’t even think about reading any book written (or more likely “authored”) by one of those Right-Wing imbeciles who is polluting the airwaves and distorting political debate in this country. Don’t get me started.

“But I thought you read just about everything!”

Guess again. In fact, guess how many books were published last year. Give up? The best number I can find is 550,000, about 290,000 of them in the United States. And even those huge numbers don’t include the fast-growing output of short-run and on-demand books, often self-published, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands. (Check it out here:

Leave a comment

Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries

“Do you really read all those books?” and other FAQs

OK, so nobody asked. But I’ll bet you were thinking that, right? I’m going to answer, anyway.

“Do you really read all those books?”

Yes, Virginia, I do. I review only books I’ve read. I may sometime be tempted to review some awful book I’ve thrown down in disgust after reading only a chapter or two, but that hasn’t happened yet. (Well, it did once, but my review was so intemperate that I deleted it.)

“So, how can you post a review almost every day? Don’t you work, too?”

Well, the question of whether I work is a matter of opinion. There are those who aren’t so sure, and I’m sometimes among their number. However, it is true that I read a lot — not a book every day, for sure, but an average of two or so per week.

“So, if you only read two books per week, how can you review one a day?”

There are mysteries in the universe, but this isn’t one of them. When I bought my first Kindle a couple of years ago, I found myself reading more and more, because for me reading on the Kindle is faster and easier than reading hardcopy (believe it or not). So, in about two years, I’ve accumulated nearly 200 books in e-book format and read nearly all of them. When I haven’t just finished a book, I review another one I recently read.

“Why are your  book choices all over the map? Why isn’t there any pattern?”

Didn’t someone say once upon a time something disparaging about consistency? I think so. In any case, a disregard for consistency has been one of the guiding principles of my life. However, once I’ve reviewed a whole lot more books, you may detect a pattern after all. I read both fiction and nonfiction, with a slight preference for fiction. The nonfiction is largely of recent origin and pertains to politics, history, world affairs, or, occasionally, science. The fiction tends to be recent popular but respectable fiction, historical novels, murder mysteries and other crime stories, and sometimes science fiction.

“Are you one of those self-righteous people who failed as a writer and turned to reviewing books to get even?”

Well, my success or failure is in the eye of the beholder (me), but I have written — and, yes, published — a slew of books. If you don’t believe me, go to Just don’t expect to find the Great American Novel there.

“So, what gives you the right to review all these books?”

Hey, it’s a free country, isn’t it?

Leave a comment

Filed under FAQs, FAQs & Commentaries