Many science journals (e.g., Nature, Science, Ecology, Quarterly Review of Biology, TREE) publish book reviews. Which I mostly don’t find very interesting or useful (your mileage may vary). With the exception of some reviews in Science and Nature and very occasional reviews elsewhere, book reviews in the journals I follow tend to just summarize books, with only brief evaluative comments from the reviewers. That doesn’t help me. It’s too redundant with the book’s table of contents, or with a quick flip through the book at the publisher’s ESA meeting booth (again, your mileage may vary).
What I would find much more interesting and useful would be book reviews like those in the Times Literary Supplement or the London Review of Books. Not so much straight book reviews as essays inspired by one or more books. Essays that use the books as a jumping-off point to talk about some broader issue. For instance, pretty much any good new science book provides occasion to talk about where the field has been, where it’s at, and where it’s going.
There’s precedent for this in other disciplines, such as sociology (which is where I stole this idea from). And it’s how Meghan and I try to write our book reviews, though our blog posts are far from polished essays.
At a guess, I bet the main obstacle would be finding reviewers who want to write such reviews. It’s much easier and quicker for a reviewer to just summarize a book and give only brief evaluative comments. But there are some reviewers who will do it, as evidenced by the fact that some book reviews in Nature and Science read like LRB and TLS pieces.
What do you think? Would you read an equivalent of the LRB or TLS for ecology, or perhaps for some broader field such as biology or science as a whole? I would read the heck out of that!