Book reviews: erosion of trust due to AI, bombing and misrepresentation

Book reviews: erosion of trust due to AI, bombing and misrepresentation

by Suswati Basu
Should we trust book reviews? From Jordan Peterson fiasco to AI reviewing books.

In an era dominated by algorithms and virtual avatars, the world of book reviews finds itself in a precarious position. The dawn of AI-generated opinions and the misuse of critics’ quotes have sparked a debate about the authenticity and credibility of literary appraisals. As readers and authors alike grapple with the question of whom to trust, it becomes imperative to dissect the issue at hand.

The issue of misrepresented reviews

The recent controversy surrounding psychologist Jordan Peterson’s book, “Beyond Order,” serves as a stark reminder of the pitfalls in misrepresenting reviews. The UK’s Society of Authors has condemned publishers for taking reviewers’ statements out of context, leading to misleading endorsements on book covers. This practice not only undermines the integrity of literary criticism but also raises questions about the intentions behind such tactics.

This was after Times columnists James Marriott and Johanna Thomas-Corr voiced their concerns over the manipulation of their reviews on Peterson’s book. Thomas-Corr posted an image of the cover on Twitter featuring a quote from her review that appears to endorse the work, which she called “horrifying” and a “gross misrepresentation.” The quote that was used from Marriott said “A philosophy of the meaning of life … the most lucid and touching prose Peterson has ever written.” In actual fact, the writer stated he had been “misrepresented”, having called his book “bonkers” in the original article.

Thomas-Corr supported the Society of Authors and Bonnier Books UK’s move to put together a best practice document for blurbs, adding that she hoped “other publishers will follow their lead.”

James Marriott says Jordan Peterson's book is "bonkers" as book reviews being misrepresented.
James Marriott says Jordan Peterson’s book is “bonkers” as book reviews being misrepresented.

The distortion of their opinions highlights the challenge of preserving the essence of critics’ insights in an era where soundbites dominate. The need for transparency and accuracy in portraying reviews is glaringly evident.

AI’s influence on authenticity

At the same time, AI’s emergence in the review landscape has introduced a new dimension to the debate. Steven Levy’s exploration of AI-generated opinions in book reviews for WIRED underscores the limitations of these technologies. While AI-powered avatars attempted to review a novel, their inability to access the actual text of the book called into question the authenticity of their assessments. This development raises concerns about the potential for biased and shallow commentary, devoid of the depth that genuine human reviews offer.

“[These] AI-generated comments would seem to not qualify as actual reviews. Indeed, they come off like promotional blurbs dashed off by a friend of a friend who hadn’t bothered to read the book or even ask what it was about.”

Steven Levy, WIRED

The two-or three-sentence, ChatGPT-generated “book reviews” only drew on the jacket copy and some Amazon reviews. Levy wrote that the comments “come off like promotional blurbs dashed off by a friend of a friend who hadn’t bothered to read the book or even ask what it was about.”

Read: Amazon halts AI-generated books impersonating author Jane Friedman

As a result, I tested this theory out myself using Google’s Bard to write a book review about William Shakespeare’s classic dark drama Macbeth, having read it several times and even co-founded a Shakespeare club as a nerdy child.

Macbeth: an AI book review
Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been first performed in 1606. The play tells the story of Macbeth, a Scottish general who is persuaded by his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder King Duncan and take the throne for himself. Macbeth is initially successful, but his reign is soon plagued by guilt and paranoia. He murders more and more people in an attempt to secure his power, but his actions ultimately lead to his downfall.

The play explores the themes of ambition, power, and the corrupting influence of evil. It is a powerful and dark tale that has been performed and studied for centuries.

Here are some of the things that I liked about Macbeth:

The characters are complex and well-developed. Macbeth is a sympathetic character who is ultimately undone by his own ambition. Lady Macbeth is a powerful and manipulative woman who is driven by her desire for power.

The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful. The play is full of twists and turns, and the reader is kept guessing until the very end.

The language is beautiful and poetic. Shakespeare's use of language is one of the things that makes his plays so special.

The themes of the play are timeless and universal. Macbeth is a play that can be interpreted in many different ways, and it continues to be relevant today.

Overall, I thought Macbeth was a great play. It is a complex and thought-provoking story that is sure to stay with you long after you have finished reading it. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Shakespeare or dark tragedies.

The biggest issue we can see is that there is very little additional information given here besides a description of the work itself. This is essentially a synopsis taken from the book cover and adds scant detail to its speculation. For instance, stating that the “language is beautiful and poetic,” yet providing zero examples of how this is the case. Also, a big red flag is the fact that it is giving an opinion, expressing that it was a “great play.” Except, as forementioned, AI is unable to read the book itself for “copyright reasons,” as Levy refers to in his article – so how would it know? The art of book reviewing is the subjectivity and the emotions that arise in the reader, which is where our own vivid prose is let loose. Therefore, AI falls desperately short of its expectations.

The menace of fake reviews and review bombing

What is the meaning of review bombing?
The definition states that review bombing is the act of manipulating an online rating system with a semi-organised campaign of unfavourable user reviews, often as a general statement of disapproval for a creator, a publisher, or other business, rather than a genuine opinion about a specific product or experience.

The issue of fake reviews and review bombing further compounds the challenge. Goodreads, once hailed as a platform for book lovers to share opinions, has been plagued by fraudulent feedback and targeted harassment. The network, founded in 2006 by Elizabeth and Otis Chandler, boasts as the world’s largest platform for book enthusiasts to share opinions and recommendations. Yet, it’s not immune to negatives: toxic comments, fake content, and review bombing that disrupts authors’ careers. A 2021 TIME article details extortion scams, review bombing trolls, and the impact on authors’ lives. The platform’s pre-publication ratings have allowed users to criticise books before they even hit the shelves, causing authors like Cecilia Rabess to suffer backlash months before their release.


MEGAN MCCLUSKEY quotes email scammer, Time

In a New York Times piece by Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris, they highlight Rabess’ ordeal with her debut “Everything’s Fine.” Months before release, Goodreads users influenced by a leaked summary on Twitter, bombarded the book’s review section with one-star ratings, without even reading the book.

In a July 29th, 2021 statement to TIME, a spokesperson for Goodreads said that the company is actively working to resolve many of these review bombing problems. “We take swift action to remove users when we determine that they violate our guidelines, and are actively assessing all available options to take further action against the small number of bad actors who have attempted extortion scams,” the statement read. 

What the industry says

As the world grapples with these challenges, industry professionals have offered diverse perspectives on the path forward. Jock Brocas, an author of “Deadly Departed“, advocates for mechanisms to verify reviewers’ identities, such as video reviews, to curb fraudulent assessments. Speaking to How To Be Books, the editor-in-chief of Paranormal Daily News felt that “Amazon does not go far enough to protect authors,” much like other sites.

“You are less likely to lie on camera for fear of being caught out or at the least verifying your review by phone text is perhaps another way to proof the reviewer.”


Nelly Darbois, an independent book editor and author, advises authors to focus on genuine reviews and not be consumed by the issue of fake opinions. For Darbois, AI did not create bogus reviews, and reviews are not the sole factor determining whether a book will succeed or not.

“Reviews do indeed have the potential to influence sales volume. However, they are not the sole factor determining whether a book will succeed or not.”

Nelly Darbois, Editor and Author

While Terena Bell, an independent publicist and author of the short fiction collection “Tell Me What You See,” sheds light on the tension between marketers’ drive to sell books and the ethical responsibility to accurately represent reviews. In the situation with Jordan Peterson’s book, Bell told us it is not a new situation. Having reviewed books for publications such as the Guardian and Marie Claire, she said she “always mentioned one nice thing.” However, Bell added: “Time and time again, I would see that one nice line lifted, always without the words around it qualifying it as the only good thing about the title.”

“We live in an age where readers are often swayed by others’ opinions. If we weren’t, marketers wouldn’t do this.”

Terena Bell, Publicist and Tell Me What You See Author

The advent of AI and the proliferation of online platforms have blurred the lines between authentic feedback and promotional blurbs.

Where can I find reliable reviews?

A limited poll conducted by How To Be Books on Mastodon showed growing discomfort with online book reviews, with 71% saying they no longer trusted book reviews, whilst 14% said they did. However, the poll had 21 responses so you be the judge. The users who did respond however, had clear views including avoiding Amazon and Goodreads for opinions.

Amid these discussions, the question remains: can the trust in book reviews be restored? The solution likely lies in a combination of technology, transparency, and fostering a culture of genuine critique. Platforms like The StoryGraph and Bookwyrm, which prioritise smaller and more intimate communities, have shown promise in providing more reliable perspectives. Perhaps a video platform has more chance of being trusted. Unfortunately, we now live in the world of deepfake, so it will not be a massive surprise if there are new issues around the corner.

Read: Authors’ pirated books used to train Generative AI

In an era where information overload is the norm, discerning readers and authors must navigate this complex landscape with caution. As the dust settles on the debates surrounding AI-generated opinions, misleading quotes, and fake reviews, the literary world must emerge with a renewed commitment to honesty, integrity, and the art of authentic critique. It’s up to all of us creatives to hold Big Tech to account.

Subscribe to my newsletter for new blog posts, recommendations & episodes. Let’s stay updated!


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

You may also like


Ranjana September 2, 2023 - 4:58 pm

Informative and educational post, Suswati. I didn’t knew that even Goodreads has become plagued with AI generated reviews. That’s devastating especially for new authors and unfair to readers.
I am not sure who are we fighting? The AI that we built to help us or the naive laziness of people who don’t want to read a book?
Sometimes it feels like the Frankenstein that we created is going to destroy us. Someone has to take the responsibility to regulate online reviews with strict laws.

Suswati Basu September 2, 2023 - 5:00 pm

Thanks for your response Ranjana, it’s an incredibly scary thought where we are heading! I agree with you, we’ve created a Frankenstein without any regulation. Review bombing is devastating for authors.


Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?
%d bloggers like this: