Is Harriet Klausner for real?

Is it possible to read 7 books in a day…every day?

That’s apparently what Harriet Klausner is doing. The famed #1 book reviewer on (who does claim to be a speed-reader) posts, on average, 7 book reviews a day. So not only does Harriet have time for reading all these books, she can also whip off reviews of them pretty quickly, too.

Color me skeptical, and I’m not the only one. Read this page of comments to see how curious observers are challenging Harriet’s numbers, while others are coming to her aid.

Their antipathy might actually be useful, given that Klausner is apparently trying to game the system so she keeps her position. In a world where building social tools like this is becoming more common every day, Klausner is diluting the value of her reviews just for personal gain. While nobody is going to get too upset over less-than-helpful reviews, the larger, longer effect is that if she’s merely writing them to keep her spot, she’s not writing them for the right reason. Amazon’s social design should incentivize her to write valuable reviews, not allow her to write them without value.

At any rate, Klausner faces fierce competition for the top spot. Though nobody has written nearly as many reviews as her, the distinction of Top Reviewer isn’t based solely on the number of reviews. It also takes into consideration the number of “helpful votes”, which are votes that any reader can give when they read the review.

Here’s the list of Top Reviewers as it now stands.

Rank Reviewer Total Reviews Helpful Votes Helpful Votes/Review
1 Harriet Klausner 14959 92448 6.18
2 Lawrance Bernabo 6666 94069 14.11
3 Don Mitchell 3235 57539 17.78
4 Gail Cooke 4190 35883 8.56
5 Rebecca Johnson 4062 42531 10.47

As you can see, Don Mitchell is great at writing reviews. For every review he has written, he has received almost 18 helpful votes. This rate is nearly 3 times as good as Klausner’s.

Perhaps the most convincing argument against Klausner’s prolificity are the reviews themselves, a mere overview of the basic plot points. This level of detail would be incredibly easy to fake if you had the book in your hands and the introduction and back matter available to you.

Here’s an example:

“High school history teacher Bill Lewis decides to write a biography of his famous namesake Meriwether Lewis to be completed in time to meet the bicentennial anniversary of the renowned explorer’s suicide, October 11, 1809. Bill researches Meriwether’s interaction with the Burrs, father and daughter, who expected to become the empires of the west when they led the succession from the union. The modern day teacher studies the Lewis and Clark expedition and his subsequent time as governor of the Louisiana Territory. Meriwether meets other famous figures upon his return to DC as he has a hero’s welcome. Eventually he slid into depression and three years after his triumphant return with Clark from the Pacific, broke and addicted, Meriwether killed himself. Meanwhile in the present Bill has family problems caused by his teenage son who refuses to eat. This leads Bill back into clinical depression which jeopardizes his biography and his marriage.

The story line rotates between the modern day subplot and that of the early nineteenth century. Both are well written as readers obtain a sense that besides the same surname, the two Lewis males suffer similar mental problems. Fascinatingly the current Lewis with his everyday family life is the more passionate segue. Somewhat this is so because of the recent focus on the two hundredth anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition to find a Northwest passage so that Meriwether’s emotional collapse and suicide has become well documented abating the impact. Biographical fiction fans will appreciate the comparison between a legend and an everyman; who is the hero depends on who is deciding as Bill’s family might choose him for his efforts to overcome his depression to try to be there for them.

Harriet Klausner

As a result of reviews like this, Klausner seems to be going for quantity over quality. Out of the 49 people who judged her most recent reviews, only 4 found them valuable while 45 did not. That’s a measly 8%.

Whether or not Klausner is reading the books, she’s not helping other people with her reviews, and that’s the whole point of writing them in the first place.

Published: October 15th, 2007