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FAQs on MAA Reviews

How do you decide which books get reviewed?

Some critical conditions have to be satisfied before we can review a book:

  • We must get a copy of the book. If we don’t have it, we usually can’t review it.
  • We must be able to find a reviewer who is willing to do the review.

There are other factors that play an important role. In order to be reviewed, the book should appeal to more than a strictly specialist audience. It should be good enough (or, sometimes, bad enough) to merit the attention. If a book fits very well with the interests of a particular reviewer, it has a higher chance of being reviewed even if it is quite specialized: reviewing has its privileges!

In general, we will not produce reviews for books that are collections of articles or proceedings from conferences. For those books, often all one really needs to see is the table of contents, which we try always to include. We will rarely try to review books that are very technical. At the other extreme, we will do our best to review books that have the potential to serve as textbooks.

Of course, all of the above can be overruled in special cases. That’s why MAA Reviews has an editor, after all.

Some books have a table of contents, but not the one I was looking at.

We can only list contents if we have them! In some cases (for example, a novel) there may be no contents to list. In others (for example, a book collecting “best papers” on some subject), that table of contents may be the part of the book that is intellectual property. Whenever we can, we will include the contents.

Publishers: if our page for one of your books doesn’t have table of contents and you would like us to add one, just send it our way.

I looked at an old review, why is it all messed up?

We have been posting reviews since 1999, and over the years have used many different platforms and content-management systems. Sometimes there are problems. Most often, it has to do with images not being in the correct location, but there can be other problems too. Luckily, the solution is simple: email the editor at and I'll be happy to fix things.

Are all new reviews highlighted on the front page?

Yes, except for “reviews” that are really short editorial notes like “see our review of the previous edition”. Sometimes, however, it will be a week or two after they are posted. If you want to see everything that has been posted recently, click on Browse.

What does it mean when a book’s page says “There is no review yet. Please check back later.”?

It means that we hope to review the book. That said, we could be at several different stages of the process:

  • It could be that the book has been received and is sitting on my “to be reviewed” shelf waiting for a reviewer.
  • It could be that a reviewer has been found and is working on a review.
  • It could be that we have a review in hand but haven’t posted it yet.

The third stage is usually very brief, so if you see a book with that notation it will almost certainly be in either the first or second stages of the process.

If you see such a book listed and it is something you’re anxious to see and would like to review, email the editor. There’s a decent chance that we’ll still be looking for a reviewer, particularly if the book came out recently.

What does it mean when a book’s page says “We do not plan to review this book.”?

It means that we aren’t currently planning to review the book. It doesn’t mean that we would turn down a review if one were offered; we’d certainly consider an offer to review such a book, though we may no longer have a copy to send you. See also the next question.

This book had “There is no review yet. Please check back later.” and now it says “We do not plan to review”!

Alas, if a book sits on our “to be reviewed” pile for too long, we’ll eventually give up.

Also, alas, sometimes a reviewer agrees to look at the book, but hates it so intensely that we decide that reviewing it is not worth the time and effort. And sometimes reviewers fail to get back to us at all.

Finally, clerical errors do happen!

This older book is listed, but there is no review; may I write one?

Certainly! We may not be able to get you a copy of the book, but we are willing to try. Just email the editor.

Most of the time, when an older book is listed, it is because it belongs to the MAA’s list of library recommendations. The BLL Committee is eager to see new reviews of all the books on their list.

What’s with these categories? What’s the difference between an anthology and a collection?

We actually started with only two of these: “textbook” and everything else. But then it became clear that we should have a few more. So here is a rough guide:

  • Anthology: a collection of papers by several different authors. See also “Festschrift” and “Proceedings”.
  • Collection: a collection of papers by one author.
  • Dictionary: anything that has entries and definitions.
  • Festschrift: an anthology put together in honor of someone.
  • General: anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else, but especially “trade books” aimed at the general public.
  • Handbook: an overview of some topic intended as a “ready reference.”
  • Manual: in our usage, restricted to a software manual.
  • Monograph: a book whose main goal is to explain a specific subject.
  • Problem Book: a collection of problems.
  • Proceedings: an anthology connected to a conference or meeting.
  • Report: an official report from some entity.
  • Sourcebook: a collection of (usually historical) source material.
  • Student Helps: a book meant to supplement textbooks.
  • Textbook: a book intended for course adoption.

At the graduate level, the difference between a textbook and a monograph becomes very tenuous. Our decisions there have been somewhat arbitrary.

Do you list every book you receive?

We list every mathematics book we receive. We interpret that very broadly. But we won’t list a biology book, a book on how to build furniture, or the latest Susan Grafton book (unless it has a mathematician in it).

I clicked something and got a blank page.

Yes, every site has problems now and then, and there’s always a chance that something will go wrong. Feel free to email the editor about the problem.