Meet the Rogue Critic Who Reviews Hundreds of Books a Year

How many books have you marked as “read” on the Reading Room? No matter how many it is, it’s still only a tiny fraction of the number of books in the world. But that hasn’t stopped one man from trying to create a complete snapshot of the world of literature by reviewing (almost) everything for his “selectively comprehensive” website.

In a fascinating profile of Michael A. Orthofer and his website, The Complete Review, The New Yorker examines the impossible goal and Orthofer’s progress. Orthofer, a middle-aged lawyer who was born in Austria and raised in New York City, has managed to review 3,687 different books on his page over the past 16 years. That’s nowhere near all of the books in literature, but it’s an impressive number that has required Orthofer to read an average of more than 230 books a year.


Orthofer worked anonymously for years, crediting all of his reviews to a made-up “editorial board.” But he revealed himself as the writer in 2010, after more than a decade of work. Now, Orthofer is looking to take his reviewing talents mainstream. He’s signed a deal with Columbia University Press and will publish a book called The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction this coming April. It’s an ambitious title, but Orthofer has been nothing if not ambitious since starting his site in 1999. He even coded the entire thing himself – a fact that shows through in the site’s simple look.

Orthofer is a pretty interesting guy, and the details we covered here only scratch the surface of his bizarre quest. You can check out the complete piece on Orthofer over at The New Yorker’s website, and it’s more than worth your time.