Writing a Book Review

Goal/Outcome of the book review

It’s a reaction paper in which strengths and weaknesses of the material are analyzed. It should include a statement of what the author has tried to do, evaluates how well (in the opinion of the reviewer) the author has succeeded, and presents evidence to support this evaluation

What is a book review?

A review is a critical evaluation of a text, event, object, or phenomenon. Reviews can consider books, articles, entire genres or many fields.

Above all, a review makes an argument. The most important element of a review is that it is a commentary, not merely a summary. Typically, reviews are brief. In newspapers and academic journals, they rarely exceed 1000 words

How to write a book review?

In general, a critical assessment, a book review should focus on opinions, not facts and details. Summary should be kept to a minimum, and specific details should serve to illustrate arguments

  • Write a statement giving essential information about the book: title, author, first copyright date, type of book, general subject matter, special features (maps, color plates, etc.), price and ISBN
  • State the author’s purpose in writing the book. If the author didn’t specify ask yourself these questions:
    • Why did the author write on this subject rather than on some other subject?
    • From what point of view is the work written?
    • Was the author trying to give information, to explain something technical, to convince the reader of a belief’s validity by dramatizing it in action?
    • What is the general field or genre, and how does the book fit into it? (Use outside sources to familiarize yourself with the field, if necessary.) Knowledge of the genre means understanding the art form and how it functions.
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • What is the author’s style? Is it formal or informal? Evaluate the quality of the writing style by using some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, correct use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, fluidity. Does it suit the intended audience?
    • Scan the Table of Contents, it can help understand how the book is organized and will aid in determining the author’s main ideas and how they are developed – chronologically, topically, etc.
    • How did the book affect you? Were any previous ideas you had on the subject changed, abandoned, or reinforced due to this book? How is the book related to your own course or personal agenda? What personal experiences you’ve had relate to the subject?
    • How well has the book achieved its goal?
    • Would you recommend this book or article to others? Why?
  • State the theme and thesis of the book
    • Theme: The theme is the subject or topic. It is not necessarily the title, and it is usually not expressed in a complete sentence. It expresses a specific phase of the general subject matter
    • Thesis: The thesis is an author’s generalization about the theme, the author’s beliefs about something important, the book’s philosophical conclusion, or the proposition the author means to prove. Express it without metaphor or other figurative language, in one declarative sentence.
  • Explain the method of development-the way the author supports the thesis
    Illustrate your remarks with specific references and quotations. In general, authors tend to use the following methods:
    • Description: The author presents word-pictures of scenes and events by giving specific details that appeal to the five senses, or to the reader’s imagination
    • Narration: The author tells the story of a series of events, usually presented in chronological order
    • Exposition: The author uses explanation and analysis to present a subject or to clarify an idea. Exposition presents the facts about a subject or an issue as clearly and impartially as possible
    • Argument: The author uses the techniques of persuasion to establish the truth of a statement or to convince the reader of its falsity
  • Evaluate the book by:
    • Show whether the author’s main arguments are true
    • Respond to the author’s opinions
    • What do you agree or disagree with? And why?
    • Illustrate whether or not any conclusions drawn are derived logically from the evidence
    • What possibilities does the book suggest?
    • What has the author omitted or what problems were left unsolved?
    • What specific points are not convincing?
    • Compare it with other books on similar subjects or other books by the same as well as different authors.
    • Is it only a reworking of earlier books; a refutation of previous positions?
    • Have newly uncovered sources justified a new approach by the author?
    • Comment on parts of particular interest, and point out anything that seems to give the book literary merit.
    • Relate the book to larger issues.
  • Try to find further information about the author – reputation, qualifications, influences, biographical. IOW, can you discern any connections between the author’s philosophy, life experience and the reviewed book?
  • If relevant, make note of the book’s format – layout, binding, typography, etc
  • Check back matters
    • Is the index accurate?
    • Do footnotes provide important additional information or just redundancy? Are they relevant?
  • Summarize (briefly), analyze, and comment on the book’s content
    • State your general conclusions.
    • Is author’s summary and conclusion is convincing?
    • List the principal topics, and briefly summarize the author’s ideas about these topics, main points, and conclusions (Use specific references and quotations to support your statements)
    • Give recommendation on what’s missing from the book and you feel if it was added that’d be great!
    • Same as above point but what can be taken out to make the book more concise and focused.

When reviewing History and other Nonfiction, ask these questions

  • With what particular subject or period does the book deal?
  • How thorough is the treatment?
  • What were the sources used?
  • Is the account given in broad outline or in detail?
  • Is the style that of reportorial writing, or is there an effort at interpretive writing?
  • What is the point of view or thesis of the author?
  • Is the treatment superficial or profound?
  • For what group is the book intended (textbook, popular, scholarly, etc.)?
  • What part does biographical writing play in the book?
  • Is social history or political history emphasized?
  • Are dates used extensively, and if so, are they used intelligently?
  • Is the book a revision? How does it compare with earlier editions?
  • Are maps, illustrations, charts, etc. used and how are these to be evaluated?
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