Although I would agree that this text isn't a nail-biting page-turner, I have difficulty believing those reviewers who found the primary texts by the likes of Butler, Cixous, Irigaray so much livelier, more accessible and clear than Tong's explanations. Post-structuralist criticism, especially following upon the heels of French thinkers like Lacan and Derrida, became dense, esoteric, and difficult beyond the understanding of even many Ph.D.s with its specialist jargon and self-referential, seemingly private, inquiries/demonstrations into the limits and possibilities of human language. Feminist criticism--originally influenced heavily my male thinkers in the areas of structuralist, post-structuralist, post-modernist thought--was no different. In fact, its frequently recondite, difficult, and impenetrable prose led to many revolts by undergraduate women against feminist theory itself.
For this reason, Tong's book was especially valuable during feminism's heyday--an organized approach to the entire field as well as an accessible explication of the major, primarily female, feminist thinkers. Given the movement's declining influence as the 1990s came to an end, it was important that Tong came out with this new edition--not only to address developments since the 2nd edition--including the so-called "backlash"--but to serve as a reminder that even if feminist theory had lost much of its popularity and influence, it was still alive--and many of its most influential voices, if less heard from due to apathy and new priorities, were merely waiting to be rediscovered by later, intellectually curious students.
While there are always those who will deride "theory" (French theory, especially, has never been popular with American academics), thinking about what we normally do without thinking--in effect, thinking about thinking--is critical to the life of mind which, in a desperate world where only survival and political action count, becomes a "necessary luxury," a sure sign that all human actions and behavior aren't determined exclusively by the herd. Moreover, theory offers a useful paradigm, a structure, a conceptual framework for what would otherwise be an occasionally diverting but rather incoherent chorus of various, individual voices. The danger we face, especially since the downloading, piecing-out, and "atomizing" of texts by the many individual hyper-spatial "files" (fragments of what were once whole and complete works, albums, suites) is exactly the sort of disarray that theory seeks to organize and clarify--and to do so without "reducing" the original works and their authors to mere talking points and topic sentences in an overly broad, sweeping, homogenizing overview. Tong's strength is that she covers the field without misrepresenting its individual voices. The reader has every right to trust her and her carefully chosen words.