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Editorial #7: On Reviews


After James Crawford’s first book, The Creation of States in International Law, his revised doctoral dissertation, was published in 1979, the reviews were split. Colin Warbrick in International Affairs enthusiastically describes it as a “formidable book” and a “masterly compilation”. Ignaz Seidl-Hohenveldern writes in Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (in German): not entirely convincing, despite lots of diligence in the assembling of material. Nissim Bar-Yaacov in Israel Law Review points out minor shortcomings while judging the book overall a “methodologically sound and convincing analysis”. A breadth of opinions on a book is nothing unusual – and at times the book review reveals as much about the reviewer as it says about the book.

To look back at James Crawford’s first book is prompted also, sadly, by the passing of this giant of international law. In the past weeks, many have shared their tributes and memories. But to look at reviews of “The Creation of States in International Law” is also prompted by the recent attention to the genre of the book review in legal scholarship, at least in German academic debates. Some discussion took place in reaction to scathing reviews of Hedwig Richter’s Demokratie. Eine deutsche Affäre, followed by a reviews’ review (in German). In criminal law scholarship, two cases of polemical reviews have engaged debates about boundaries of fair criticism. Tatjana Hörnle wrote (in German) about good academic practice regarding book reviews, including the advice to only comment on books you have actually read.

We at Völkerrechtsblog have been following these debates with interest, resharing a recommendation on why, when and how to write book reviews by Michaela Hailbronner on the blog a few years ago. We are listening carefully also because we regularly feature book symposia, and try to follow good practices in whom we invite as reviewers and what guidelines we follow in the editing process. If you have thoughts on our book review symposia – let us know. This month’s program on the blog included a book symposium on the book Contingency in International Law, edited by Ingo Venzke and Kevin Jon Heller, a symposium that was met with great interest from readers. Another review article by Maryam Jamshidi looks at Craig Jones’ “War Lawyers”. And we have some exciting book symposia coming up – so stay tuned.

It was an eventful month for international law and many blogposts bear witness to those events: Anneloes Hoff and Angelo Golia discussed the seminal Dutch judgment against Shell. Miriam Nomanni offered an analysis of the final judgement in the Mladić case. The blog livestreamed a series of discussions on COVID-19 Vaccinations and Human Rights. Another symposium dealt with Rewarding in International Law, and we continued the blog series on 70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention and UNHCR, inter alia with a post on the forgotten African Refugee Convention. Nadia Kornioti reacted to the last editorial and its reflections about silence. Engaging a conversation is what we hope to do – thus comments and reaction articles are always welcome.

The month started with Podcast No. 6 on (Des)information – which included an interview with Björnstjern Baade on truth in law. On Friday, Podcast No. 7 came out, on Statehood, featuring an interview with Andreas Zimmermann – and some practical advice. End of last week, we also held our biannual editorial team meeting, still online but with hope to return to occasional meetings in person in future. We welcomed new team members and are excited what the next months will bring with a growing and ever-changing Völkerrechtsblog-Team.

Dana Schmalz

Dana Schmalz ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht in Heidelberg/Berlin und Stipendiatin der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung.

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