Instructions for the Preparation of Book Reviews
A critical book review is not a book report or a summary. It is a reaction paper in which strengths and weaknesses of the material are analyzed. The paper should be 3-5 pages in length, 12 point font.
I.The Critical Book Review: The purpose of a critical book review is twofold. The reviewer wishes, first, to inform the reader as to the nature and scope of the book under consideration. More important, the reviewer seeks to present an evaluation of the book. In so far as is possible, the review should be objective; it should be an evaluation based upon evidence and examples presented in the review and not upon such subjective criteria as personal likes and dislikes.
II. Reading the Book:
A. Begin with questions in your mind: Who wrote the book? Is he/she qualified to write on the subject chosen? What is the book about? Why did the author write the book? Does the book have a thesis? Does the title reveal the author's attitude toward his/her subject? If you ask yourself these and other pertinent questions before you begin to read, you will be in a good position to evaluate the book.
B. Read the preface, the introduction, and the acknowledgments. Valuable clues to the author's purpose and/or thesis may be found in one or all of these places.
C. Read the body of the work carefully, noting important passages.
III. Evaluation. While reading the book, attempt to identify the author's thesis - a thesis is an argument supported by evidence put forward by the author of the book. Once you have found the thesis, you must decide for yourself if it is valid. You must, in other words, discover what the author is trying to say and, then, evaluate what is said. In so doing, you may find the following questions helpful:
- What is the subject and scope of the book?
- How thorough is the author's treatment of his subject?
- What kind of sources (primary or secondary) does the author use?
- Does the book treat the subject in detail or in general terms?
- In what sort of style (i.e. popular, interpretive, ect.) is the book written?
- Is the book well organized and constructed?
- Are maps, illustrations, charts used and are these evaluated?
- When was the book written? Is it the most recent in the field?
IV. Preparing to Write the Review: Once you have read the book and found its thesis or purpose, and once you have evaluated it, you are ready to write your review. Having decided on the point your review will make (i.e. this is a sound, well-documented, and carefully written book or this book is so poorly researched and so badly written that the publisher should not have wasted good paper on it or this is a fascinating book but it lacks the evidence to support the thesis-and so on). Write an introductory paragraph containing the title and author of the book, a sentence about the author, a brief description of the book's contents, and an indication of what your review will say. The following two or three paragraphs (i.e. the body of the review) will probably contain a statement of the author's argument, an evaluation of its validity, and the answers to such of the above questions as are pertinent to the book. When you have finished the review - an absolute maximum of five typed (or the equivalent in long-hand pages) - write a concluding paragraph in which a summary of your review's most important points is made.
V. Citation. At the top of the first page of your review, give a full citation for the book read.
Thomson, David. World History From 1914 to 1968. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
The last paragraph of your review should contain a summary of your review and a clear statement that conveys your overall opinion. It is common to make a statement such as:
This book delivered on its promise because . . .
This book was a disappointment because . . .
This book contributed significantly to the argument that . . .