Slate recently ran an article asking Who is Grady Harp? -- the short answer is, he's one of the top "customer reviewers" on Amazon. But the long answer is a good deal more complex. Grady Harp is one of just a few Amazon reviewers who reach the Top 10, reading excessive numbers of books and handing out lots of five-star reviews. The reviewers seem to scratch each others' backs by voting on each others' reviews, and some of them seem just a bit nutty. Here's a bit from Garth Risk Hallberg's Slate article:
I had imagined Amazon's customer reviews as a refuge from the machinations of the publishing industry: "an intelligent and articulate conversation ... conducted by a group of disinterested, disembodied spirits," as James Marcus, a former editor at the company, wrote in his memoir, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut. Indeed, with customers unseating salaried employees like Marcus as the company's leading content producers, Amazon had been hailed as a harbinger of "Web 2.0"--an ideal realm where user-generated consensus trumps the bankrupt pieties of experts. As I explored the murky understory of Amazon's reviewer rankings, however, I came to see the real Web 2.0 as a tangle of hidden agendas--one in which the disinterested amateur may be an endangered species.
More after the jump.
My own research suggests that GH is no more or less credible than Amazon's other "celebrity reviewers." Harriet Klausner, No. 1 since the inception of the ranking system in 2000, has averaged 45 book reviews per week over the last five years—a pace that seems hard to credit, even from a professed speed-reader. Reviewer No. 3, Donald Mitchell, ceaselessly promotes "the 400 Year Project," which his profile identifies only as "a pro bono, noncommercial project to help the world make improvements at 20 times the normal rate." John "Gunny" Matlock, ranked No. 6 this spring, took a holiday from Amazon, according to Vick Mickunas of the Dayton Daily News, after allegations that 27 different writers had helped generate his reviews.
Google for Grady Harp and you'll immediately find his Amazon profile page, complete with a portrait and some staggering statistics: he's written 3,650 reviews and they've been voted as "helpful" 99,625 times. Look for Number 1 Reviewer Harriet Klausner and you'll find this 2005 Wall Street Journal Interview, giving some insight into a personal life that involves reading four or five books every day.
Finally, check out a bit more on Grady Harp and the subject of Amazon reviewers in general over at MetaFilter.