LibraryThing, of which I am a member runs a program where members are shipped early copies of books for free, with the preference for them writing a review when they’re done reading the book. The books are shipped by the publisher directly to the reviewers. This isn’t that uncommon in the publishing industry — both of my books have experienced a similar process, although less formal.
(In fact, any very early review of a book on a site light amazon.com should be viewed with a little bit of caution I suppose. These people probably got their review copies for free from the publisher.)
LibraryThing’s implementation is a little different though, mainly because of the scale at which they hand out books, and the fact that the publishers don’t appear to get any direct say in who gets the books. That means that there is less incentive to write a positive review, and that more people get access to early copies of new books. You can see a list of the books LibraryThing is currently handing out here.
The Spy Within is the true story of a senior CIA agent who turned out to also be a Chinese spy. Its the first book I’ve received through the early review program, so I am still learning the ropes and have sat on this book for a few weeks before actually reading it.
As I said earlier, this is the “true story” a senior Chinese spy within the CIA. However, it should be noted that large portions of the book are pure speculation — inserted simply to make the story more readable. In addition, as with all such works, the book is based on a limited number of interviews, and is subject to the biases of those who provide source material.
This kind of book isn’t really my thing, and I would read less one one non-fiction contemporary history book a year. However, I found this to be an engaging read, especially because the books manuscript flows much like a novel. However, the story simply wasn’t that gripping (so, Larry Chin was a dick, I get it). Its hard for non-fiction to compete with fantasy for story lines I suppose.