Book reviews can save lives

A fascinating piece of history written by Australian academic Scott Burchill:

In August 2004 I was asked by The Age to review [Australian journalist] John Martinkus’ new book ‘Travels in American Iraq‘ (Black Inc, 2004). It was a very good account of life after the invasion and Martinkus was clearly more sympathetic to the occupied than he was to the occupier. My review was published on 28 August, 2004 and headlined ‘Occupied Iraq – a first hand territory’.

I was told by a colleague of mine who knew him (I had not met or ever spoken to Martinkus at the time) that when the insurgents who took John Martinkus hostage Googled his name to verify both his identity and his political allegiance (if any), my review in The Age came up as the top “hit” against his name. I presume that’s because Google’s algorithm locked onto what was probably the most recent online publication of his name. After allegedly reviewing the internet, Martinkus was released unharmed.

I was always a bit skeptical about all this, so when his article came out last week, I asked Martinkus if the anecdote had any veracity. Here’s his reply:

“That is a true story about them reading that review. I know that because they asked me about it in the long discussions we had which were for me very nerve wracking because I was trying to not say anything that would get them angry or think I was lying.”

Such is the role that luck can play in life. Book reviews can save lives!