How to read an Amazon review – and when not to bother.

Hello! Did you know that I have another blog that I have been maintaining for close to two years now?

You didn’t?! Well, you should check it out.

Alright, that is about all the cross pollination I want to do for one day, and I feel so dirty just typing that sentence that the rest of this writing will be interrupted by a long hot shower.

I like to read, but just as every other adult in 2020, I don’t actually have time to read. Thankfully, I am plagued by anxiety and insomnia, and thus I find to partake in my hobby by scratching years off the end of my life. From everything I’ve seen from my relatives, being 90 just isn’t worth it anyway. But at some point a couple of years ago I started to get concerned that when I was reading I was doing little more than just turning pages to kill time. During this period of my life I didn’t have a lot going for me (well, when do I ever have a lot going on for me?), and the anxiety of life was making it hard for me to read anything at all. These funks come in waves, and as I was coming out of that one I came to the conclusion that I should oblige myself to review every book I read, without fail. Not too long after that, another friend suggested that I make a website reviewing books (if you are reading this and wondering if it was you who recommended this, the person’s name starts with ‘B’).

And thus my second blog was born.

I’ve failed to write a review about every book I’ve read, but I am damn near a 99% hit rate. Some books were an absolute struggle to find something to say about. Also, I need to find pictures of book covers to steal and put on the reviews. A website that solves a lot of these problems is Amazon.

This is a tradition that easily goes back to high school (I think. I’ve lived enough of an interesting life to seriously doubt my memory at times), where I would read amazon reviews to get ideas about book reports I had to do. This wasn’t plagiarism, but an attempt at kick-starting the ol’  imagination and critical faculties. I would go to the website, read a bit more, see what  I agreed with and what I didn’t, then formulate an argument. In college, I would learn that this is largely what liberal arts academics do, excepting the fact that they begin with hoity-toity academic journals and I was dipping my toes into the Vox populi deficientis.

So in all these years of looking at Amazon reviews I have come to one conclusion, which I can no longer keep to myself.




Groundbreaking I know. If I am to be perfectly honest, I do not recall them being this bad in the past. I am extremely sure that one day future internet economists will theorize a law that suggests that as a user base increases in size the value of the aggregate opinions of that user base half, up until a User base includes everyone currently living and the only opinion it can articulate is that ‘7-11 was a part-time job’.

That or a racial slur.

Again, I don’t know when this happened. The internet of my youth was really not this bad.

What’s even more interesting to me is that reviews on Amazon seems to follow a very specific typology that seems to be true a good 90% of the times I bother to go to Amazon. To illustrate what I am talking about, we can look at the Amazon review for Andrew Yang’s book (which I also reviewed). The breakdown generally goes as follows.

1 Star Reviews:

Likelihood of finding a worthless opinion: 95%

These are haters. They have decided to hate this book out of the gate. Sometimes it’s politically motivated, as is the case in our example, where one review talks about Obama and the another dismisses this .as mere ‘socialist claptrap’. What seems abundantly obvious is that there  people haven’t bothered to read the book, but  felt the need to waste your time with their uninformed mouth noises.

Mind you, there is the possibility that a one star review is actually worth something. At the time I wrote this, the most relevant 1 Star review of the book is the one that complains about the fact that he received a crooked misprinted copy of the book. My heart genuinely goes out to that individual, as that shit would drive me insane.

Or the book could be genuinely garbage. It’s a possibility.

2 Star Reviews:

Likelihood of finding a worthless opinion: 50%

These are also haters, but they are actually willing to make some concessions. They gave the book a shot but were largely resolute in their predetermined opinions. They are still proudly going to put their irrelevant opinion up, which will either have likely missed the point of the book or brought up points the book never meant to address.

Occasionally, it could just be a bad book.

3 Star Reviews:

Likelihood of finding a worthless opinion: 75%

These are the fence sitters. Back in college they learned that the best way to talk about things they don’t understand is by obfuscation, and so they learned to droll on about their opinions in a lengthy, boring fashions that tends to go on and never get to a point


They will find how whatever it is they are reviewing ties into that one passion project they had back in grad school and they will copy paste all the notes they had from it, till Jeff Bezos personally shows up to hand them a bill for the gigabytes their review has consumed.

Things are frequently mediocre. 3 star reviews on amazon should be the most numerous of all reviews, and reviews should largely say ‘yea it was alright, I could have done with more x and y, but it was alright.’ But people think with their dumb emotions, and the majority of reviews are 5 or 1 star. Just remember “80% of people think they are above average.” This is why YouTube, WISELY, got rid of a 5 star rating system for a simple thumbs up thumbs down.

4 Star Reviews:

Likelihood of finding a worthless opinion: 50%

These are the bootlickers. These people were likely sold when they walked through the door, but being concerned that someone will accuse them of being too fawning they have decided to mellow out their panting with whatever criticism they could muster.

Sometimes, however, a book is genuinely above average.

5 Star Reviews:

Likelihood of finding a worthless opinion: 95%

These people are the sycophants. They walked in sold on the idea, and have opted out of thinking critically about it. In the eyes of these reviewers, the author of this text is more akin to a deity, or at the very least the diety’s emissary on earth. The views expressed in here are likely the least controversial things a person has ever said given the most charitable interpretation imaginable.

I welcome anyone to take the data above and make a bell curve from it. Done correctly, it should look like a middle finger. And that is about correct for Amazon reviews.

Its sad to see what Amazon has become over the years. it used to be a place where people went to talk about books, and pretty intelligently at that. While we were there, we would also buy a book or two, just to show our gratitude. But then people started buying toasters, and backpack, and then IoT connected hair-straightens, and everyone joined in on the madness. At some point someone realized that this was the perfect place to inform the world that the box of cookies he bought last which (which have been his only source of sustenance over the past decade) give him heart burn. And we are expected to care.

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