I spent some time recently puzzling over reviews earned by Sears' Gettysburg. The pattern was to give the work five stars, label the author pre-eminent and such, then get down to a level of criticism that would sink any other work. I am beginning to understand that this is how you criticize a prizewinner with major industry clout.

When James McPherson issued his own Gettysburg book to coincide with the anniversary of the battle we saw again the correct etiquette to be used in condemning a weak offering by a strong personality.

Here is a review to illustrate the "good form" required, and you can skip over the ingratiating beginning, and the maximimum number of stars to read that:

* "He appears to have written this book in haste..."
* The number of "errors and other problems are both puzzling and disappointing."
* "Most of these [erors] could have been easily avoided if the manuscript had received even a cursory historical proofreading (which it apparently did not)."

And here is my personal favorite: "As an introduction to the campaign, this book is adequate." Five stars indeed!

Now that you know the form, you can start writing those critical reviews. I've been waiting for them for a long time.