As a time-pressed young (pseudo-/wannabe)academic I am often dependent on book reviews to help me make decisions about whether to chase down particular texts to use in my research and to keep up-to-date with recent publications in my field. [Bless the internet for RSS feeds etc.] But.. I am in a quandary about the place of writing reviews in an academic portfolio.
On the one hand if you are lucky you might even get to keep a copy of a text you are interested in but might not have been able to justify spending money on. Furthermore writing reviews encourages critical reading of academic text and it offers practice in writing for publication – writing for an academic audience, subject to their standards and their criticism without putting your precious research on the line. It even helps establish your name on the list of people interested in and writing about particular topics.
On the other hand reading and writing reviews are time-consuming and will never be as high profile as the real articles (and/or thesis) you would otherwise be writing.
University graduate skills programmes are unsurprisingly ambivalent on whether they are genuinely relevant to young researchers trying to climb the academic ladder and so am I. However, the fact remains that someone has to write them because they are vital for efficient research (and I am told important to authors and publishers too) – realistically I won’t be writing any whilst my thesis is still in progress on the basis that my supervisor might kill me so perhaps I shall resign myself to the notion that they are best saved for maternity leave 😉