A comprehensive review repository for books?
November 3, 2005 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Something like the Allmusic guide for books?

I've become quite spoiled when it comes to looking for music recommendations since there's always the Allmusic guide to look through. Is there something like this for books? I'd like something that has a large repository of books all through history, from the earliest to the latest books written, that has comprehensive and trustworthy ratings and descriptive reviews. I'd prefer that it be on the internet and free, although it would be all right if it were in some other form and it had some kind of price. Anyone?
posted by northernsoul to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Amazon is probably the closest thing so far, though Metacritic has started collecting book reviews recently.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:37 PM on November 3, 2005

I've been wishing for something like this myself, particularly for advising on which translation or edition is the best. I haven't found anything satisfying: I use Amazon, but more for reference, browsing, and page view, and Metacritic is okay but not very extensive. Sometimes I go down the links list at www.aldaily.com but that's not as easy as a search. Sometimes google.

One option that's helpful but not that useful for you, maybe, is using academic search engines: project muse, jstor, find articles. I've gone to these sites, though the books I look for are more academic and you might need a password or something.
posted by kensanway at 1:40 PM on November 3, 2005

I use Amazon for this....seriously. They list almost everything, and their "people who bought X also liked Y" is decent, if not exactly what you seek. You need to take their reviews with a grain of salt, or a whole shaker.

I also own a book called The Number One NY Times Bestseller, which goes year by year through the bestselling books since the Times started their list. Obviously it can't personalize recommendations for you, but I was inspired by it to read a lot of older books and understood more about their place in history.

For recommendations of new books, Bookbrowse is fun.
posted by GaelFC at 1:40 PM on November 3, 2005

Public librarians are actually trained to do this. It's called readers advisory, and many libraries have access to databases to help if the librarian's expertise fails you. Call them up or drop by; you might be pleasantly surprised at the experience.

If you insist on avoiding your local brick-and-mortar library, look for a e-mail reference or chat service on their website.
posted by arco at 1:46 PM on November 3, 2005

Bare bones: What Should I Read Next? Sometimes it can't come up with something to suggest if you enter an obscure or older book. But it's fun, and useful.

Otherwise, Amazon, like most others have said.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 1:50 PM on November 3, 2005

What Should I Read Next is a little flaky sometimes. For example, enter Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark and one of the recommended titles is Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror. Okaaaaay...

It also doesn't give any context around the recommendation: why one book is recommended over others, etc. Amazon at least has the buying patterns of readers behind its algorithms. But, "What Should I Read Next" is free, so it doesn't hurt to try it out.

If you want suggestions for things to read based on why you liked certain other books, rather than just lists of popular titles or well-reviewed books, I still think your local librarian will trump any online source.
posted by arco at 2:08 PM on November 3, 2005

Another vote for Amazon. Sometimes if I want something similar to books I already like, I'll just wander through Amazon, going to pages for the kinds of books I'm looking for. Before long, the "Page You Made" and the various user-created guides will generate recommendations of surprising quality. Amazon's real value to the internet isn't the fact that they sell books, etc.; it's in the site's various reference functions...
posted by jdroth at 2:09 PM on November 3, 2005

(Crap, pressed post too soon.)

The strength of the Allmusic guide is that there are real people listening to those albums and reviewing them, then assigning genres and creating links to other, similar artists. No database can replicate that experience when it comes to recommending music, or books, or movies, etc. (Even the Amazon recommendations have some human experience behind them.) This is why I think the library is your best shot if you really want good recommendations.

Now, your local library might horribly suck, in which case I recommend you find a large urban library website and look for a chat service. Or call them up.
posted by arco at 2:12 PM on November 3, 2005

It's been mentioned on AskMe before for questions like this - try Gnod. It's not very extensive since it only searches by author, but you can get an idea of authors similar to ones you already like and go from there. It actually has sections for books, music, and movies. No reviews, of course, but the maps are so much fun to look at.

I think the answer is to find someone to start an Allbooks website. :-)
posted by bibbit at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2005

I've been looking for the same kind of thing, and, although I love Amazon, it's not what I'm looking for.

What AllMusic has that Amazon lacks is an overview of the artist and their work, plus reviews of all of their significant work, regardless of whether or not they're for sale.

Also, the AMG reviews are good for comparing one of an artist's albums to another, whereas the Amazon reviews are usually more specfic to the individual book and don't give as much perspective about how the book fits into the context of the writer's career.

I think the answer is to find someone to start an Allbooks website. :-)?
www.allbooks.com goes to Amazon.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:39 PM on November 3, 2005

It's not actually what you're looking for, but try ConnectViaBooks.com and build a list of books. It will automatically find people who have read the books on your list so that you can discuss it with them, talk about other books, and you can view their list (which will be useful since many of the people that read the same books as you could have similar taste).
posted by Ekim Neems at 4:16 PM on November 3, 2005

Also, depending on your library (try both public and academic in your area), you might have access to databases like NoveList or Book Review Digest or Book Index with Reviews (BIR).
None of these are perfect (and speaking as a librarian myself I find NoveList to be fairly irritating to use despite its being touted as the Second Coming) but they all have their good points.
There's also an online version of What Do I Read Next? but from what I've heard it's not as good as NoveList.

Reader2 and StoryCode are sort of grassroots versions of what you're looking for, I think. I haven't explored them much yet but they're both in the early stages and need a lot more input before they're much use.
posted by exceptinsects at 4:21 PM on November 3, 2005

The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors is a great read. Not only has it turned me on to a lot of great books and authors, but it is an entertaining and informative read in and of itself. I find it much more useful than Amazon because the writers are knowledgable and sometimes witty and generally decent writers themselves. It describes itself as "an opinionated, irreverent look at the most fascinating writers of our time."

However, it's not free or on the internet as it is an actual book (but since you like books, that shouldn't be too much of a problem). Also it focuses only on comtemporary writers.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 8:51 PM on November 3, 2005

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