My personal recommendations from Amazon.com get really weird

If you have ever bought something on-line from Amazon.com, and you werern’t quite on the ball enough to check the box indicating that you don’t want them sending you e-mails giving you their personal recommendations of other books (or whatever ) that you might like to buy, then like me your in-box is jammed with these recommendations.

I don’t know if it is a human being that makes these picks or a computer (I would guess that latter) but sometimes they are amusing. As you may know I am an atonement scholar and buy most of the significant books (and some insignificant ones) about the atonement that come out to keep up with the field. So I get lots of recommendations about the atonement. Which is fine. But I buy even the atonement books from the people I don’t agree with, and they write other books which I also don’t agree with, and so these other books are often picked for me too.

Also, the picker can’t seem to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction so Ian McEwan’s Booker Prize-winning novel Atonement is often one my picks.

I also have friends who are writers and I try to buy their books. So, for example, I bought Gretchen Legler’s engaging memoir of her time in Antartica On the Ice, and now my picks contain many polar explorer books, which are kind of fun to consider.

But the funniest pick ever came in my e-mail yesterday. This is going to be a bit of an inside joke for theologians and biblical scholars, but if the rest of you stay with me I think I can explain how weird it is.

I recently bought from Amazon.com my friend (and former teacher) George Hunsinger’s fine book from Cambridge Press The Eucharist and Ecumenism, a book I hope to say more about on this blog as I get deeper into it.

So Amazon.com, noticing my purchase, recommended that I might also like to buy John Allegro’s controversial 1970 book: The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, a book that argued, from Allegro’s Dead Sea Scroll research, that the origins of Christianity came out of the practices of fertility cults, one of these practices being the ingestion of hallucinatory mushrooms.

Now biblical scholars rarely have reached such universal agreement as they did on this book. The book pretty much finished Allegro’s career as a serious biblical scholar, although the book was a must-read among some of the mystical brothers and sisters in the counter-culture for obvious reasons (I started seminary the year after Allegro’s book came out and remember its various receptions well.)

So unless this was a joke, the picker having fun with me (if it is a person), I just can’t see any connection between Allegro and George Hunsinger. Hunsinger (pictured top left) is a highly-respected theologian, called by the late great Thomas Torrance the “best theologian in North America.” He teaches at Princeton and has written the standard Barth intoduction called How To Read Karl Barth.

Barth himself died just two years before Allegro’s book was published, but one can imagine what he would have made of it.  Hunsinger and Allegro?  Just weird!
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3 thoughts on “My personal recommendations from Amazon.com get really weird

  1. >It is frightening to consider the sociological profile Amazon has compiled on each of its customers. It is also interesting. I think it must be a probability program that strings together your purchases and creates a web of inference with other purchasers.

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