Back in 2010, I read one of the most scathing book reviews I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, it was of my own book, The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Brill 2009). The review appeared in the Journal of Theological Studies and was written by J. Keith Elliott. You can read it here. I should also add that shortly before the publication of the review, I won a 2010 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise from the Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdisziplinaere Theologie at the University of Heidelberg based on the book. So I received this harsh negative feedback in a context of simultaneously receiving encouraging positive feedback.
Elliott managed in the space of about three or four pages to criticize the cover of the book (which I didn't pick), the foreword of the book (which I didn't write), the price of the book (which I didn't set), the fact that I published a chapter in the form of an article too closely to the publication of the book (the time frame for which I didn't control), as well as my chapter titles and dedications. He referred to my dedication of the book to a friend, my mother (for having survived two forms of cancer), my wife, and my (at the time) newborn son as "embarrassing and overblown." He ended the review by taking the words I wrote to my son in the dedications out of context to make it look like I was dismissive of my own study. The problem was not limited to the unprofessional act of dragging an author's dedicatory words to family members into an academic review that, ostensibly, was supposed to focus on the actual content of the book, though. On several occasions, Elliott misrepresented the argument of the book and even attributed to me the precise opposite of what I claim in the book. To this day I have no idea what prompted the review and its tone. I had never met Elliott in my life prior to the next SBL when I made sure to introduce myself and ask a few pointed questions.
At the time, I offered no formal public response other than a quick comment on Mark Goodacre's blog when Elliott's review came up in the comment thread on Marks' discussion of another negative book review. Elliott was a very senior scholar in the field of NT textual criticism and I was a very junior scholar. There was no way for me to respond officially without it looking like sour grapes. I did appreciate several blog discussions (here and here), though.
Earlier this year, the new editors for JTS learned of the review. They were shocked and invited a response, offering to publish a formal apology before it. That response, including the unreserved editorial apology, has now appeared in the online version of JTS and will appear in print in the next volume. You can access the online version here.
Negative criticism is part of academia and to be expected. We are not always right and our peers' job is to point that out sometimes. Thankfully, though, this type of negative criticism is rare. I appreciate the current editors of JTS taking the unusual step of rectifying such an odd review and offering me a platform to respond.
Update: Brad Johnson comments on the journal taking responsibility for the review here.