Writing a Book ReviewWriter's Web
by Andrea Stevens, Writing Consultant
(printable version here)

A book review is one of the most common forms of historical writing. A book review critically evaluates one or more works on the basis of several analytical points. These include: accuracy, validity, and the book's relationship to other works of its kind. A review is written from the standpoint that the reader knows something about the book and does not require a chapter by chapter summary. In fact, such a summary would be contrary to the purpose of the review.

Writers should begin a book review by introducing the reader to the author's main point, the facts presented or omitted, and the conclusions reached by the author. It is also helpful to do some background on the author, exploring their previous work and qualifications to write on the subject. The review should have a thesis statement. The remainder of the review should delve into why the author used a particular method of historiography and the kind of information he or she uses to support the main points of the book. Basically, the reviewer's task is to determine whether the author's methods and interpretations are valid for the subject.

Note: The preceding work incorporated material from How to Study History (Cantor & Schneider, 151-64).

Book Review Guidelines

Most professors require that the citation of the book being reviewed be written at the beginning of the essay. Note how the first paragraph begins with a short description of the author and her field of research. The second paragraph delves into the argument of the book and its purpose. In the third paragraph, the audience of the book is identified as well as the ways that the author does or does not fit her work to her audience. The book review then evaluates what kinds of sources the author used and how they were used to further her argument. Finally, the book review concludes with an evaluation of the book which includes both points of critique and points of acclamation.

Here is an organization guide for a book review:

1. Citation of book

2. What is the book? Who is the author? What is the author's field of research?

3. What is the main argument of this book? What is its purpose? What historical perspective (or method of historiography) does this book take? Use examples that show how you came to this conclusion. For longer book reviews, this section can present the author's "roadmap," or the points of argument the author makes throughout the book. It can include a paragraph which presents the supporting arguments and evaluates their legitimacy and effect on reinforcing the central thesis. Specific examples should be used to critically analyze the argument the author makes.

4. Who is the audience for this book? Do you think the author succeeds in fitting his/her argument to his/her audience? Why do you think this?

5. What types of sources does the author use in this book? How do the sources add value or credibility to the argument? In what ways are the sources used in furthering his/her argument? What is the role of counterexamples or counterarguments in the book? How does the author enforce his/her argument through the counterarguments?

6. What are your critiques of the book? Did you see any flaws or holes in the author's argument? This paragraph contains concluding thoughts on the answers to the previous questions.

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