Reformed Articles

Really Bad Reviews of Really Good Books

https://www.challies.com/articles/really-bad-reviews-of-really-good-books/

One of the great benefits of the internet is the way it can give everyone an equal voice. Of course one of the great drawbacks of the internet (for there is no great technological advancement that doesn’t come with both benefits and drawbacks) is the way it can give everyone an equal voice. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the realm of reviews. Whether you an expert or an amateur, a friend or a foe, a teacher or a student, your review counts equally in the great ratings machine that determines so much of what we buy. The overall rating of that book you’re looking at could have come through reviews written by people knowledgeable in the field, by people completely ignorant in the field, or any combination of the two.

I sometimes force myself to read some of the really bad reviews of some of the really good books. I do this in part for the amusement factor but also to remind myself of the nature of Amazon reviews, for I often use Amazon as a research tool. Reading really bad reviews of really good books reminds me that I cannot put too much stock in a crowd-sourced ratings system like Amazon’s.

Here are some 1-star reviews of books that I would deem very good. In their own way they showcase why we should be careful when allowing Amazon’s star ratings to unduly influence our purchases. In most cases I present these reviews without editing and without comment. Remember, that in each case these reviews are dragging down the overall rating of the book, perhaps to the point where you’d no longer purchase it.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

“I bought this book based on the great reviews here. I made the mistake of buying a digital audio book and the soft cover book here on amazon. If I was not a christian I would never become one after listening to this book. First of all I think this guy is nuts. The book is way tooo complicated and full of negative crap. I have no idea what he is talking about and neither does he. All he keeps talking about is how god is vengeful and an angry god. The soft cover book when it comes tomorrow will be going back to Amazon. I do not want this crap in my house.”

***

“Over 1 million copies sold & highly recommended, yes, but I choose to make this evaluation for the benefit of the average person who might be directed to choose another book. I think it is written for R C Sproul & Wesley & Luther and PH D Theology Doctorates. It is mind-numbingly dull and mostly incomprehensable besides. I could only read 10 pages in one sitting and with God as my witness, I did read every page of the entire book. About 3 times on every page, I said to myself “Come on now, concentrate and think hard about what the author is trying to say”. But then within 10 seconds my mind would be wandering and wandering again. Lest anyone think religion is just not up my alley, I can cite about 200 books on the topic I’ve read over the last 15 years & I’d recommend about 150 of them. I like Timothy Keller and Philip Yancey and revere C S Lewis. Most of my reading is on apologetics & includes authors Norman Geisler, Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer and Philip Johnson on this rather deep subject. So maybe I am way off-base here but my recommendation is that one should just read the last 2 pages of this book & skip the 1st 280 pages and read Mere Christianity by Lewis instead.”

The Autobiography of George Muller

“This guy although talking of God surely doesn’t believe who God really is. I was very disappointed with how he believes and what he wants to happen in George Muller’s strengh, he is not born again.”

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

“This is not a review of the book but of the title. Am I the only one that notices that this title is synonymous with ‘The Godliness of God’? I’m inspired to write a book called the ‘Catiness of Cats’.”

***

“A friend recommended this book to me a while back, and I must say its one of the most depressing and mean spirited books I’ve ever read. If you watch a movie like Jesus of Nazareth, or even Chronicles of Narnia, you will come out happy and with a feeling that God loves you. If you read this book, you’ll come to the conclusion that God hates you.”

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

“I had such high hopes for this title, but the author goes on to explain roman 7 as being the experience of a mature saint, which means continuing in sin to the day you die. This is a false doctrine guaranteed to send you to hell. The only way to get to heaven is to obey Jesus.He said, if you love me keep my commandments. The word perfect is very misunderstood by the author. We are all imperfect in knowledge and understanding, but we must obey the light we have received and so have a perfect conscience towards God.”

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“Martyn Jones takes 10,000 words to explain what Christ ‘really’ meant when he related the Beatitudes. Imagine how confused those present at that sermon must have been deprived of Jones verbose rendering and how lucky we are to have Jones that wonderfully knows Christ’s mind.”

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

“There is a big difference between the old covenant (testament) and the New Testament (blood covenant). Christian did not know this, follow Jesus Christ and read the New Testament instead. Forget this book!”

***

“I never thought that I would leave a one star ‘ever’ because I think that just the effort of writing a book is worth at least three. But reading this book I start to understand the extreme deception in this world and that is worth at least one star. In this book, Evangelist tells Christian that when he approached Mount Sinai, he approached a direction which leads to death. The Bible tells us the opposite, ///See, today I am setting before you a blessing and a curse: There will be blessing if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am giving you today, but a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God and turn aside from the path I command you today/// Deuteronomy 11:27. This book teaches and perpetuates the myth that ‘just faith’ will get you there. I wish you all good luck!”

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel

“As the title states…it is inconsistent with the WORD. I did not read it to the end as the inconsistency was obvious.”

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

“This is the first book I have read by Jerry Bridges, having done it as part of the study my church small group has recently finished. Simply put, while there were some insightful and thoughtful segments/chapters in this book (the one one ungodliness, i.e. not involving God in our day to day living, was especially so) the majority of it falls short. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for this book because if I did, I’d either throw it away or not finish it. Overall, his examples are forgettable or even irrelevant, and the overall tone of the book, to me at least, seemed whiny and self-righteous. That said, the one chapter really made me realize that involving God in your life should be a higher priority for me, but if we weren’t doing this as part of a study, I never would have gotten that far. Overall, if you’re going to read it, do it with a friend or small group to help move you along, since the conversations we had at small group were way better and insightful than this book.”

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray

“The language is out of date and unnecessarily academic (as was the style back in the day). Skip this text and go somewhere else. There are lots of better options out there.”

How Then Shall We Live? By Francis Schaeffer.

“I regret ordering this book. Every other sentence is about god or Christianity and how everything relates to the two. This books is for religious people that want to feel good about their religion and feel like the world revolves around them. This kind of misinformation and twisting of the facts belongs in the trash can, not in people’s hands. I should have know better than to order a books based solely on the title and outline. It looked interesting. O well. I’ll sniff those religious fools better next time.”

***

“Schaeffer, a Christian evangelist, goes through the decadence of the West. Needless to say he remains quite close-minded, presenting only things that fit in the calvinist branch of Christianity. What is terrible is that he is kind of saying that there can’t be no civilization without Christianity!! What about Greece and Rome then? This is not only stupid, but also dangerous : does he want to run another Holocaust to fix the problem of the majority of the people, who are not Christian but disdain Christianity??”

The Cross of Christ by John Stott

“This book is bad stuff because it doesn’t emphasize eternal damnation in Hell. Without Hell and eternal damnation, God did not have to take on human flesh to die in a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. John Stott really needs to read his Bible carefully. How could someone who doesn’t understand this be saved?”

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson

“This was an excellent commentary and in it, you will find many parallels found in the Old Testament, similar to phrases in the New Testament that Jesus used. The book is thick and it is packed with useful information, but I have not read it through entirely to date. It is a superior resource for further insights into the scriptures. I highly recommend the book.”

[Tim’s note: It’s not unusual to find positive reviews mistakenly marked with 1 star.]

Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer

“I bought, the knowledge of the Holy, because of the title which is just beautiful. The book however is in its brainstorming stage and a chaos, which reflects the lack of knowledge of the Holy. Very disappointing.”

***

“No one can teach us about God or the Word of God, except the Holy Spirit. He does not seem to be teaching on the Holy Spirit but just his opinions about such God and Heaven. This is the Holy Spirits job, only he can teach us, just like the bible says, read that and forget theology!”

***

“I find it amazing that 117 readers gave this book 5 stars (yes, he has sweet words, but so did the executioner, theocracy dictator John Calvin); nevertheless, you must be uneducated (no eucation in the history of the Church) Catholics! Please people, don’t you find it odd that the author of this book quotes Michael de Molinos (convicted for heresy); then the author defends the doctrine (Holy Trinity) of that same Catholic Church that condemn Molinos. Get with it people, does it take a Jim Jones to make you more suspicous. God is ALL; God is One, Tozer. We don’t need your opinions or your prejudices … to many innocent scholars and innocent people were murdered because of this political devise/ Church Orthodoxy (Re: Michael Servetus).”

And just for fun, here are a few classics that fall outside the Christian genre.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

“i love tolstoy, long books and some of the classics, so finally decided to try war and peace. irritatingly boring. i could not care any less about any of the characters, their idiotic problems, their foolish interior thoughts, or a war from long ago between countries i will never see. i have actual problems and a life so no time to waste on senseless russian aristocratic blathering. it may have been important at one point but is pointless to me in 2019. i just finished infinite jest so maybe after such brilliance tolstoy is like a stale biscuit with neverending tea…with mary and anna; every woman is interchangeable and named one or the other.”

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

“I can’t imagine why it is a classic. Some reviewers have said the writing is ‘old English, ‘ which was spoken from 440 AD until the Norman Conquest in 1066 . Middle English ended in the 1400’s. Shakespeare and the King James Bible are in early modern English. This book is written in a stilted Victorian English. It is the story of the useless aristocracy, who do nothing but converse about the wealth or lack of wealth of all the people they know because their own well being depends on marrying someone with adequate money. Very dull reading. I know it’s a stage play and I can’t imagine any action. Let’s face it, Jane Austen is no. Bronte.”

***

Seeing how the there was no purpose to the plot, I was left bored from the first word to the very last. I really did not see the point of writing a story about two well-off, high society women court other men. There was absolutely nothing interesting about that in the story. No one really cares if the ladies must suffer through heartbreak because in actuality, everyone does. Jane Austen could have done a much better job in piecing a more attractive and purposeful novel together. As I read, the more I learned about the characters, the angrier I got. Why does every character have to be a member of a high social status? To me, everyone was snobby, everyone was self-indulged, and everyone was too one-dimensional. The characters were too well-off to even sympathize with. I did not care or feel emotionally attached to any character whatsoever. Each individual was not self-motivated, and they came off as stuck-up characters. I was just waiting for someone to do something, but no, each character has to wallow in his or her own self-pity. People have worse problems to worry about than worrying about the problems the character has. I kept going through the story and saying, “So what? Who cares? Fix your own problems.” The characters were too detached to make me feel interested. All in all, the story was just bad. It lacked purpose and meaning. Although you have to admit Jane Austen constructs beautifully crafted sentences, sentence style could only take the story so far. If you have time to actually read this book, I suggest you spend your time doing something worthwhile instead of wasting your life on Sense and Sensibility.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Without question one of the worst books I have ever read and I am dumbfounded that this mess is considered a classic and as highly regarded as it apparently is. I gave the novel 300 pages to convince me that it would be worth continuing. Those pages contained no plot, a series of random conversations and scenery switches that go absolutely nowhere. There are occasional superficial philosophical musings that are far from profound. Several of the five star reviews describe this book as life-changing. I can’t see how because it has no substance. I have read his other works and this is clearly his worst. I am disappointed that I spent $5.00 for the paperback. Spend your time elsewhere…”

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