What this handout is about.
This handout will help you write a book review, a report or essay that offers a critical perspective on a text. It offers a process and suggests some strategies for writing book reviews.
What is a review?
A review is a critical evaluation of a text, event, object, or phenomenon. Reviews can consider books, articles, entire genres or fields of literature, architecture, art, fashion, restaurants, policies, exhibitions, performances, and many other forms. This handout will focus on book reviews. For a similar assignment, see our handout on literature reviews .
Above all, a review makes an argument. The most important element of a review is that it is a commentary, not merely a summary. It allows you to enter into dialogue and discussion with the work’s creator and with other audiences. You can offer agreement or disagreement and identify where you find the work exemplary or deficient in its knowledge, judgments, or organization. You should clearly state your opinion of the work in question, and that statement will probably resemble other types of academic writing, with a thesis statement, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Typically, reviews are brief. In newspapers and academic journals, they rarely exceed 1000 words, although you may encounter lengthier assignments and extended commentaries. In either case, reviews need to be succinct. While they vary in tone, subject, and style, they share some common features:
- First, a review gives the reader a concise summary of the content. This includes a relevant description of the topic as well as its overall perspective, argument, or purpose.
- Second, and more importantly, a review offers a critical assessment of the content. This involves your reactions to the work under review: what strikes you as noteworthy, whether or not it was effective or persuasive, and how it enhanced your understanding of the issues at hand.
- Finally, in addition to analyzing the work, a review often suggests whether or not the audience would appreciate it.
Becoming an expert reviewer: three short examples
Reviewing can be a daunting task. Someone has asked for your opinion about something that you may feel unqualified to evaluate. Who are you to criticize Toni Morrison’s new book if you’ve never written a novel yourself, much less won a Nobel Prize? The point is that someone—a professor, a journal editor, peers in a study group—wants to know what you think about a particular work. You may not be (or feel like) an expert, but you need to pretend to be one for your particular audience. Nobody expects you to be the intellectual equal of the work’s creator, but your careful observations can provide you with the raw material to make reasoned judgments. Tactfully voicing agreement and disagreement, praise and criticism, is a valuable, challenging skill, and like many forms of writing, reviews require you to provide concrete evidence for your assertions.
Consider the following brief book review written for a history course on medieval Europe by a student who is fascinated with beer:
Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600, investigates how women used to brew and sell the majority of ale drunk in England. Historically, ale and beer (not milk, wine, or water) were important elements of the English diet. Ale brewing was low-skill and low status labor that was complimentary to women’s domestic responsibilities. In the early fifteenth century, brewers began to make ale with hops, and they called this new drink “beer.” This technique allowed brewers to produce their beverages at a lower cost and to sell it more easily, although women generally stopped brewing once the business became more profitable.
The student describes the subject of the book and provides an accurate summary of its contents. But the reader does not learn some key information expected from a review: the author’s argument, the student’s appraisal of the book and its argument, and whether or not the student would recommend the book. As 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.
Now consider a review of the same book written by a slightly more opinionated student:
Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 was a colossal disappointment. I wanted to know about the rituals surrounding drinking in medieval England: the songs, the games, the parties. Bennett provided none of that information. I liked how the book showed ale and beer brewing as an economic activity, but the reader gets lost in the details of prices and wages. I was more interested in the private lives of the women brewsters. The book was divided into eight long chapters, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to read it.
There’s no shortage of judgments in this review! But the student does not display a working knowledge of the book’s argument. The reader has a sense of what the student expected of the book, but no sense of what the author herself set out to prove. Although the student gives several reasons for the negative review, those examples do not clearly relate to each other as part of an overall evaluation—in other words, in support of a specific thesis. This review is indeed an assessment, but not a critical one.
Here is one final review of the same book:
One of feminism’s paradoxes—one that challenges many of its optimistic histories—is how patriarchy remains persistent over time. While Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 recognizes medieval women as historical actors through their ale brewing, it also shows that female agency had its limits with the advent of beer. I had assumed that those limits were religious and political, but Bennett shows how a “patriarchal equilibrium” shut women out of economic life as well. Her analysis of women’s wages in ale and beer production proves that a change in women’s work does not equate to a change in working women’s status. Contemporary feminists and historians alike should read Bennett’s book and think twice when they crack open their next brewsky.
This student’s review avoids the problems of the previous two examples. It combines balanced opinion and concrete example, a critical assessment based on an explicitly stated rationale, and a recommendation to a potential audience. The reader gets a sense of what the book’s author intended to demonstrate. Moreover, the student refers to an argument about feminist history in general that places the book in a specific genre and that reaches out to a general audience. The example of analyzing wages illustrates an argument, the analysis engages significant intellectual debates, and the reasons for the overall positive review are plainly visible. The review offers criteria, opinions, and support with which the reader can agree or disagree.
Developing an assessment: before you write
There is no definitive method to writing a review, although some critical thinking about the work at hand is necessary before you actually begin writing. Thus, writing a review is a two-step process: developing an argument about the work under consideration, and making that argument as you write an organized and well-supported draft. See our handout on argument .
What follows is a series of questions to focus your thinking as you dig into the work at hand. While the questions specifically consider book reviews, you can easily transpose them to an analysis of performances, exhibitions, and other review subjects. Don’t feel obligated to address each of the questions; some will be more relevant than others to the book in question.
- What is the thesis—or main argument—of the book? If the author wanted you to get one idea from the book, what would it be? How does it compare or contrast to the world you know? What has the book accomplished?
- What exactly is the subject or topic of the book? Does the author cover the subject adequately? Does the author cover all aspects of the subject in a balanced fashion? What is the approach to the subject (topical, analytical, chronological, descriptive)?
- How does the author support her argument? What evidence does she use to prove her point? Do you find that evidence convincing? Why or why not? Does any of the author’s information (or conclusions) conflict with other books you’ve read, courses you’ve taken or just previous assumptions you had of the subject?
- How does the author structure her argument? What are the parts that make up the whole? Does the argument make sense? Does it persuade you? Why or why not?
- How has this book helped you understand the subject? Would you recommend the book to your reader?
Beyond the internal workings of the book, you may also consider some information about the author and the circumstances of the text’s production:
- Who is the author? Nationality, political persuasion, training, intellectual interests, personal history, and historical context may provide crucial details about how a work takes shape. Does it matter, for example, that the biographer was the subject’s best friend? What difference would it make if the author participated in the events she writes about?
- What is the book’s genre? Out of what field does it emerge? Does it conform to or depart from the conventions of its genre? These questions can provide a historical or literary standard on which to base your evaluations. If you are reviewing the first book ever written on the subject, it will be important for your readers to know. Keep in mind, though, that naming “firsts”—alongside naming “bests” and “onlys”—can be a risky business unless you’re absolutely certain.
Writing the review
Once you have made your observations and assessments of the work under review, carefully survey your notes and attempt to unify your impressions into a statement that will describe the purpose or thesis of your review. Check out our handout on thesis statements . Then, outline the arguments that support your thesis.
Your arguments should develop the thesis in a logical manner. That logic, unlike more standard academic writing, may initially emphasize the author’s argument while you develop your own in the course of the review. The relative emphasis depends on the nature of the review: if readers may be more interested in the work itself, you may want to make the work and the author more prominent; if you want the review to be about your perspective and opinions, then you may structure the review to privilege your observations over (but never separate from) those of the work under review. What follows is just one of many ways to organize a review.
Since most reviews are brief, many writers begin with a catchy quip or anecdote that succinctly delivers their argument. But you can introduce your review differently depending on the argument and audience. The Writing Center’s handout on introductions can help you find an approach that works. In general, you should include:
- The name of the author and the book title and the main theme.
- Relevant details about who the author is and where he/she stands in the genre or field of inquiry. You could also link the title to the subject to show how the title explains the subject matter.
- The context of the book and/or your review. Placing your review in a framework that makes sense to your audience alerts readers to your “take” on the book. Perhaps you want to situate a book about the Cuban revolution in the context of Cold War rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union. Another reviewer might want to consider the book in the framework of Latin American social movements. Your choice of context informs your argument.
- The thesis of the book. If you are reviewing fiction, this may be difficult since novels, plays, and short stories rarely have explicit arguments. But identifying the book’s particular novelty, angle, or originality allows you to show what specific contribution the piece is trying to make.
- Your thesis about the book.
Summary of content
This should be brief, as analysis takes priority. In the course of making your assessment, you’ll hopefully be backing up your assertions with concrete evidence from the book, so some summary will be dispersed throughout other parts of the review.
The necessary amount of summary also depends on your audience. Graduate students, beware! If you are writing book reviews for colleagues—to prepare for comprehensive exams, for example—you may want to devote more attention to summarizing the book’s contents. If, on the other hand, your audience has already read the book—such as a class assignment on the same work—you may have more liberty to explore more subtle points and to emphasize your own argument. See our handout on summary for more tips.
Analysis and evaluation of the book
Your analysis and evaluation should be organized into paragraphs that deal with single aspects of your argument. This arrangement can be challenging when your purpose is to consider the book as a whole, but it can help you differentiate elements of your criticism and pair assertions with evidence more clearly. You do not necessarily need to work chronologically through the book as you discuss it. Given the argument you want to make, you can organize your paragraphs more usefully by themes, methods, or other elements of the book. If you find it useful to include comparisons to other books, keep them brief so that the book under review remains in the spotlight. Avoid excessive quotation and give a specific page reference in parentheses when you do quote. Remember that you can state many of the author’s points in your own words.
Sum up or restate your thesis or make the final judgment regarding the book. You should not introduce new evidence for your argument in the conclusion. You can, however, introduce new ideas that go beyond the book if they extend the logic of your own thesis. This paragraph needs to balance the book’s strengths and weaknesses in order to unify your evaluation. Did the body of your review have three negative paragraphs and one favorable one? What do they all add up to? The Writing Center’s handout on conclusions can help you make a final assessment.
Finally, a few general considerations:
- Review the book in front of you, not the book you wish the author had written. You can and should point out shortcomings or failures, but don’t criticize the book for not being something it was never intended to be.
- With any luck, the author of the book worked hard to find the right words to express her ideas. You should attempt to do the same. Precise language allows you to control the tone of your review.
- Never hesitate to challenge an assumption, approach, or argument. Be sure, however, to cite specific examples to back up your assertions carefully.
- Try to present a balanced argument about the value of the book for its audience. You’re entitled—and sometimes obligated—to voice strong agreement or disagreement. But keep in mind that a bad book takes as long to write as a good one, and every author deserves fair treatment. Harsh judgments are difficult to prove and can give readers the sense that you were unfair in your assessment.
- A great place to learn about book reviews is to look at examples. The New York Times Sunday Book Review and The New York Review of Books can show you how professional writers review books.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Drewry, John. 1974. Writing Book Reviews. Boston: Greenwood Press.
Hoge, James. 1987. Literary Reviewing. Charlottesville: University Virginia of Press.
Sova, Dawn, and Harry Teitelbaum. 2002. How to Write Book Reports , 4th ed. Lawrenceville, NY: Thomson/Arco.
Walford, A.J. 1986. Reviews and Reviewing: A Guide. Phoenix: Oryx Press.
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Writing a Book Review
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This resource discusses book reviews and how to write them.
Book reviews typically evaluate recently-written works. They offer a brief description of the text’s key points and often provide a short appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
Readers sometimes confuse book reviews with book reports, but the two are not identical. Book reports commonly describe what happens in a work; their focus is primarily on giving an account of the major plot, characters, and/or main idea of the work. Most often, book reports are a K-12 assignment and range from 250 to 500 words. If you are looking to write a book report, please see the OWL resource, Writing a Book Report.
By contrast, book reviews are most often a college assignment, but they also appear in many professional works: magazines, newspapers, and academic journals. They typically range from 500-750 words, but may be longer or shorter. A book review gives readers a sneak peek at what a book is like, whether or not the reviewer enjoyed it, and details on purchasing the book.
Before You Read
Before you begin to read, consider the elements you will need to included in your review. The following items may help:
- Author: Who is the author? What else has s/he written? Has this author won any awards? What is the author’s typical style?
- Genre: What type of book is this: fiction, nonfiction, romance, poetry, youth fiction, etc.? Who is the intended audience for this work? What is the purpose of the work?
- Title: Where does the title fit in? How is it applied in the work? Does it adequately encapsulate the message of the text? Is it interesting? Uninteresting?
- Preface/Introduction/Table of Contents: Does the author provide any revealing information about the text in the preface/introduction? Does a “guest author” provide the introduction? What judgments or preconceptions do the author and/or “guest author” provide? How is the book arranged: sections, chapters?
- Book Jacket/Cover/Printing: Book jackets are like mini-reviews. Does the book jacket provide any interesting details or spark your interest in some way? Are there pictures, maps, or graphs? Do the binding, page cut, or typescript contribute or take away from the work?
As You Read
As you read, determine how you will structure the summary portion or background structure of your review. Be ready to take notes on the book’s key points, characters, and/or themes.
- Characters: Are there characters in the work? Who are the principal characters? How do they affect the story? Do you empathize with them?
- Themes/Motifs/Style: What themes or motifs stand out? How do they contribute to the work? Are they effective or not? How would you describe this author’s particular style? Is it accessible to all readers or just some?
- Argument: How is the work’s argument set up? What support does the author give for her/findings? Does the work fulfill its purpose/support its argument?
- Key Ideas: What is the main idea of the work? What makes it good, different, or groundbreaking?
- Quotes: What quotes stand out? How can you demonstrate the author’s talent or the feel of the book through a quote?
When You Are Ready to Write
Begin with a short summary or background of the work, but do not give too much away. Many reviews limit themselves only to the first couple of chapters or lead the reader up to the rising action of the work. Reviewers of nonfiction texts will provide the basic idea of the book’s argument without too much detailed.
The final portion of your review will detail your opinion of the work. When you are ready to begin your review, consider the following:
- Establish a Background, Remember your Audience: Remember that your audience has not read the work; with this in mind, be sure to introduce characters and principles carefully and deliberately. What kind of summary can you provide of the main points or main characters that will help your readers gauge their interest? Does the author’s text adequately reach the intended audience? Will some readers be lost or find the text too easy?
- Minor principles/characters: Deal only with the most pressing issues in the book. You will not be able to cover every character or idea. What principles/characters did you agree or disagree with? What other things might the author have researched or considered?
- Organize: The purpose of the review is to critically evaluate the text, not just inform the readers about it. Leave plenty room for your evaluation by ensuring that your summary is brief. Determine what kind of balance to strike between your summary information and your evaluation. If you are writing your review for a class, ask your instructor. Often the ratio is half and half.
- Your Evaluation: Choose one or a few points to discuss about the book. What worked well for you? How does this work compare with others by the same author or other books in the same genre? What major themes, motifs, or terms does the book introduce, and how effective are they? Did the book appeal to you on an emotional or logical way?
- Publisher/Price: Most book reviews include the publisher and price of the book at the end of the article. Some reviews also include the year published and ISBN.
When making the final touches to your review, carefully verify the following:
- Double-check the spelling of the author name(s), character names, special terms, and publisher.
- Try to read from the vantage point of your audience. Is there too much/enough summary? Does your argument about the text make sense?
- Should you include direct quotes from the reading? Do they help support your arguments? Double-check your quotes for accuracy.
IATL Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research
Writing a book review.
It should go without saying that you need to read the book thoroughly and reflect on it before you start. Once you begin writing, the key thing to remember is that this is a book review, not a book summary. Don’t spend all of your review recapitulating the content; instead, reflect upon and react to the author and book, and write clearly, concisely and critically.
You can explain briefly what the book is about in order to contextualise your review, but you should also make sure that you analyse its thesis and evidence, offer a critical assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, and appraise its value to the scholarly and/or student community. Consider matters such as emphases and viewpoints, contributions to understanding, clarity and organisation, credibility and evidence offered. Does the author present new findings or utilise new sources? How does the perspective and/or interpretation differ from the work of earlier scholars on this topic?
Mix up your commentary to avoid giving a chapter-by-chapter evaluation of the book. Even though it might seem systematic and organised to do so, this can make your review dull and pedestrian. Instead, touch on points that you find the most important and organise your review thematically.
Simply telling your readers “I enjoyed the book” or “the book is good” is not terribly useful. But telling the readers about the contributions the author makes, with specific examples, is a useful feature of any review. You can refer to the book as “interesting”, “poorly organised”, or “helpful”, etc., but in all cases use specific examples (with page references where appropriate) to support your judgement.
And finally, remain civil at all times. Sometimes (particularly if you disagree with what has been written) it can be tempting to add a flourish of wit or sarcasm to a book review, but it’s better to keep your tone professional and your criticism constructive.
Write a Book Review
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A book review describes, analyzes, and evaluates a book by examining its purpose and its contribution.
A book review should address the following:
- What are the authors trying to accomplish? What is their argument?
- Who is the author trying to convince?
- What strategies and evidence did you see in the book?
- To what extent are you convinced by the book? To whom (if anyone) would you recommend this book?
Your professor may specify additional instructions or objectives for their book review assignment. Therefore, be sure to read the assignment instructions carefully.
In many ways, your book review can be structured like a typical essay, using an introduction, body, and conclusion.
Like other introductions, the book review introduction should move from broad (the topic of the book) to narrow (your specific argument or purpose statement).
Your reader will expect you to do the following in your introduction:
- Introduce the topic of the book (what is the issue at hand, and why should we care?)
- Introduce the title and author of the book
- State the purpose of the book (including the author’s thesis or major findings)
- State your thesis (or the purpose of your review)
The thesis of your book review may vary depending on the assignment.
- If you are given a specific task (e.g., to relate the book to course themes), that task will likely form the basis of your review.
- If you are asked to evaluate the book’s contribution to a specific field, that evaluation will be the backbone of your thesis.
Example thesis relating the book to course themes:
George Orwell’s 1984 provides insight into three course themes: critical thinking as a form of resistance, the role of misinformation in totalitarian societies, and the connection between privacy and personal freedom. The review that follows argues that the novel’s engagement with these themes can deepen our understanding of these themes in the course context by illustrating their interconnections.
Example thesis evaluating the book’s contribution to the field:
Sara Jaquette Ray’s The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture is an important contribution to environmental justice scholarship because it offers a nuanced account of how environmental discourse has positioned people with disabilities, immigrants, and Native Americans as environmental outsiders. At the same time, it suggests how environmental activists can frame their arguments with greater inclusivity and care.
In your body paragraphs, you will describe, analyze, and evaluate the book. Your reader will expect you to do the following in the body of your review:
- Summarize the major points of the author’s argument
- Discuss the author’s engagement with larger themes
- Identify key strengths and weaknesses
- Evaluate the author’s contribution to the field
- Support your claims with evidence from the text
- Suggest how the book extends, complicates, or overturns arguments from other sources
In the body of your book review, you will support your thesis with reference to specific examples from the text. Although you may organize this material in a number of different ways, three common patterns of organization are thematic, chronological, and evaluative.
- If you are tasked with relating a book to course themes, use these themes to structure your review.
- You can devote each section of the body to one theme.
- Use topic sentences and transitions to show your reader when you are moving from one theme to the next.
- This structure can help you discuss the author’s engagement with a set of issues.
- The structure of your review can mirror the structure of the book itself.
- You can discuss topics in the same order as the author, providing an evaluation that moves from chapter to chapter or section to section.
- This structure can help you emphasize the thoroughness of your review.
- Many published academic reviews begin by highlighting the strengths of the book under discussion and then move toward a critique of the weaknesses.
- This structure can help you assert your own critical voice as a scholar.
Rather than summarizing the book or restating your thesis, use the conclusion to provide your final thoughts. Consider the following questions:
- What have you learned from reviewing the book?
- What is your overall assessment of the book’s importance?
- Who might benefit most from reading it?
- How can future researchers build on this book?
- Does the book make space for new kinds of research within its field?
The conclusion is your last chance to add analysis to your book review, so be sure to address the book’s overall significance.
Try using signal words like ‘ultimately’ or ‘overall’ instead of ‘in conclusion’ to help you frame your conclusion through an analytical lens while also telling the reader that they should pay special attention to what follows.
The assignment’s instructions may also provide clues for material that you could include in the conclusion.
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A book review is a thorough description, critical analysis, and/or evaluation of the quality, meaning, and significance of a book, often written in relation to prior research on the topic. Reviews generally range from 500-2000 words, but may be longer or shorter depends on several factors: the length and complexity of the book being reviewed, the overall purpose of the review, and whether the review examines two or more books that focus on the same topic. Professors assign book reviews as practice in carefully analyzing complex scholarly texts and to assess your ability to effectively synthesize research so that you reach an informed perspective about the topic being covered.
There are two general approaches to reviewing a book:
- Descriptive review: Presents the content and structure of a book as objectively as possible, describing essential information about a book's purpose and authority. This is done by stating the perceived aims and purposes of the study, often incorporating passages quoted from the text that highlight key elements of the work. Additionally, there may be some indication of the reading level and anticipated audience.
- Critical review: Describes and evaluates the book in relation to accepted literary and historical standards and supports this evaluation with evidence from the text and, in most cases, in contrast to and in comparison with the research of others. It should include a statement about what the author has tried to do, evaluates how well you believe the author has succeeded in meeting the objectives of the study, and presents evidence to support this assessment. For most course assignments, your professor will want you to write this type of review.
Book Reviews. Writing Center. University of New Hampshire; Book Reviews: How to Write a Book Review. Writing and Style Guides. Libraries. Dalhousie University; Kindle, Peter A. "Teaching Students to Write Book Reviews." Contemporary Rural Social Work 7 (2015): 135-141; Erwin, R. W. “Reviewing Books for Scholarly Journals.” In Writing and Publishing for Academic Authors . Joseph M. Moxley and Todd Taylor. 2 nd edition. (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 1997), pp. 83-90.
How to Approach Writing Your Review
NOTE: Since most course assignments require that you write a critical rather than descriptive book review, the following information about preparing to write and developing the structure and style of reviews focuses on this approach.
I. Common Features
While book reviews vary in tone, subject, and style, they share some common features. These include:
- A review gives the reader a concise summary of the content . This includes a description of the research topic and scope of analysis as well as an overview of the book's overall perspective, argument, and purpose.
- A review offers a critical assessment of the content in relation to other studies on the same topic . This involves documenting your reactions to the work under review--what strikes you as noteworthy or important, whether or not the arguments made by the author(s) were effective or persuasive, and how the work enhanced your understanding of the research problem under investigation.
- In addition to analyzing a book's strengths and weaknesses, a scholarly review often recommends whether or not readers would value the work for its authenticity and overall quality . This measure of quality includes both the author's ideas and arguments and covers practical issues, such as, readability and language, organization and layout, indexing, and, if needed, the use of non-textual elements .
To maintain your focus, always keep in mind that most assignments ask you to discuss a book's treatment of its topic, not the topic itself . Your key sentences should say, "This book shows...,” "The study demonstrates...," or “The author argues...," rather than "This happened...” or “This is the case....”
II. Developing a Critical Assessment Strategy
There is no definitive methodological approach to writing a book review in the social sciences, although it is necessary that you think critically about the research problem under investigation before you begin to write. Therefore, writing a book review is a three-step process: 1) carefully taking notes as you read the text; 2) developing an argument about the value of the work under consideration; and, 3) clearly articulating that argument as you write an organized and well-supported assessment of the work.
A useful strategy in preparing to write a review is to list a set of questions that should be answered as you read the book [remember to note the page numbers so you can refer back to the text!]. The specific questions to ask yourself will depend upon the type of book you are reviewing. For example, a book that is presenting original research about a topic may require a different set of questions to ask yourself than a work where the author is offering a personal critique of an existing policy or issue.
Here are some sample questions that can help you think critically about the book:
- Thesis or Argument . What is the central thesis—or main argument—of the book? If the author wanted you to get one main idea from the book, what would it be? How does it compare or contrast to the world that you know or have experienced? What has the book accomplished? Is the argument clearly stated and does the research support this?
- Topic . What exactly is the subject or topic of the book? Is it clearly articulated? Does the author cover the subject adequately? Does the author cover all aspects of the subject in a balanced fashion? Can you detect any biases? What type of approach has the author adopted to explore the research problem [e.g., topical, analytical, chronological, descriptive]?
- Evidence . How does the author support their argument? What evidence does the author use to prove their point? Is the evidence based on an appropriate application of the method chosen to gather information? Do you find that evidence convincing? Why or why not? Does any of the author's information [or conclusions] conflict with other books you've read, courses you've taken, or just previous assumptions you had about the research problem?
- Structure . How does the author structure their argument? Does it follow a logical order of analysis? What are the parts that make up the whole? Does the argument make sense to you? Does it persuade you? Why or why not?
- Take-aways . How has this book helped you understand the research problem? Would you recommend the book to others? Why or why not?
Beyond the content of the book, you may also consider some information about the author and the general presentation of information. Question to ask may include:
- The Author: Who is the author? The nationality, political persuasion, education, intellectual interests, personal history, and historical context may provide crucial details about how a work takes shape. Does it matter, for example, that the author is affiliated with a particular organization? What difference would it make if the author participated in the events they wrote about? What other topics has the author written about? Does this work build on prior research or does it represent a new or unique area of research?
- The Presentation: What is the book's genre? Out of what discipline does it emerge? Does it conform to or depart from the conventions of its genre? These questions can provide a historical or other contextual standard upon which to base your evaluations. If you are reviewing the first book ever written on the subject, it will be important for your readers to know this. Keep in mind, though, that declarative statements about being the “first,” the "best," or the "only" book of its kind can be a risky unless you're absolutely certain because your professor [presumably] has a much better understanding of the overall research literature.
NOTE: Most critical book reviews examine a topic in relation to prior research. A good strategy for identifying this prior research is to examine sources the author(s) cited in the chapters introducing the research problem and, of course, any review of the literature. However, you should not assume that the author's references to prior research is authoritative or complete. If any works related to the topic have been excluded, your assessment of the book should note this . Be sure to consult with a librarian to ensure that any additional studies are located beyond what has been cited by the author(s).
Book Reviews. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Book Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (July 2006): 1194–1207; Motta-Roth, D. “Discourse Analysis and Academic Book Reviews: A Study of Text and Disciplinary Cultures.” In Genre Studies in English for Academic Purposes . Fortanet Gómez, Inmaculada et al., editors. (Castellò de la Plana: Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I, 1998), pp. 29-45. Writing a Book Review. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Book Reviews. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Suárez, Lorena and Ana I. Moreno. “The Rhetorical Structure of Academic Journal Book Reviews: A Cross-linguistic and Cross-disciplinary Approach .” In Asociación Europea de Lenguas para Fines Específicos, María del Carmen Pérez Llantada Auría, Ramón Plo Alastrué, and Claus Peter Neumann. Actas del V Congreso Internacional AELFE/Proceedings of the 5th International AELFE Conference . Zaragoza: Universidad de Zaragoza, 2006.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Bibliographic Information
Bibliographic information refers to the essential elements of a work if you were to cite it in a paper [i.e., author, title, date of publication, etc.]. Provide the essential information about the book using the writing style [e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago] preferred by your professor or used by the discipline of your major . Depending on how your professor wants you to organize your review, the bibliographic information represents the heading of your review. In general, it would look like this:
[Complete title of book. Author or authors. Place of publication. Publisher. Date of publication. Number of pages before first chapter, often in Roman numerals. Total number of pages]. The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History . By Jill Lepore. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. xii, 207 pp.)
Reviewed by [your full name].
Begin your review by telling the reader not only the overarching concern of the book in its entirety [the subject area] but also what the author's particular point of view is on that subject [the thesis statement]. If you cannot find an adequate statement in the author's own words or if you find that the thesis statement is not well-developed, then you will have to compose your own introductory thesis statement that does cover all the material. This statement should be no more than one paragraph and must be succinctly stated, accurate, and unbiased.
If you find it difficult to discern the overall aims and objectives of the book [and, be sure to point this out in your review if you determine that this is a deficiency], you may arrive at an understanding of the book's overall purpose by assessing the following:
- Scan the table of contents because it can help you understand how the book was organized and will aid in determining the author's main ideas and how they were developed [e.g., chronologically, topically, historically, etc.].
- 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, or 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? If necessary, review related literature from other books and journal articles to familiarize yourself with the field.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author's style? Is it formal or informal? You can evaluate the quality of the writing style by noting some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, accurate use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, and fluidity [i.e., quality of the narrative flow].
- How did the book affect you? Were there any prior assumptions you had about the subject that were changed, abandoned, or reinforced after reading the book? How is the book related to your own personal beliefs or assumptions? What personal experiences have you had related to the subject that affirm or challenge underlying assumptions?
- How well has the book achieved the goal(s) set forth in the preface, introduction, and/or foreword?
- Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?
III. Note the Method
Support your remarks with specific references to text and quotations that help to illustrate the literary method used to state the research problem, describe the research design, and analyze the findings. In general, authors tend to use the following literary methods, exclusively or in combination.
- Description : The author depicts scenes and events by giving specific details that appeal to the five senses, or to the reader’s imagination. The description presents background and setting. Its primary purpose is to help the reader realize, through as many details as possible, the way persons, places, and things are situated within the phenomenon being described.
- Narration : The author tells the story of a series of events, usually thematically or in chronological order. In general, the emphasis in scholarly books is on narration of the events. Narration tells what has happened and, in some cases, using this method to forecast what could happen in the future. Its primary purpose is to draw the reader into a story and create a contextual framework for understanding the research problem.
- 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 clearly and as impartially as possible. Its primary purpose is to describe and explain, to document for the historical record an event or phenomenon.
- Argument : The author uses techniques of persuasion to establish understanding of a particular truth, often in the form of addressing a research question, or to convince the reader of its falsity. The overall aim is to persuade the reader to believe something and perhaps to act on that belief. Argument takes sides on an issue and aims to convince the reader that the author's position is valid, logical, and/or reasonable.
IV. Critically Evaluate the Contents
Critical comments should form the bulk of your book review . State whether or not you feel the author's treatment of the subject matter is appropriate for the intended audience. Ask yourself:
- Has the purpose of the book been achieved?
- What contributions does the book make to the field?
- Is the treatment of the subject matter objective or at least balanced in describing all sides of a debate?
- Are there facts and evidence that have been omitted?
- What kinds of data, if any, are used to support the author's thesis statement?
- Can the same data be interpreted to explain alternate outcomes?
- Is the writing style clear and effective?
- Does the book raise important or provocative issues or topics for discussion?
- Does the book bring attention to the need for further research?
- What has been left out?
Support your evaluation with evidence from the text and, when possible, state the book's quality in relation to other scholarly sources. If relevant, note of the book's format, such as, layout, binding, typography, etc. Are there tables, charts, maps, illustrations, text boxes, photographs, or other non-textual elements? Do they aid in understanding the text? Describing this is particularly important in books that contain a lot of non-textual elements.
NOTE: It is important to carefully distinguish your views from those of the author so as not to confuse your reader. Be clear when you are describing an author's point of view versus expressing your own.
V. Examine the Front Matter and Back Matter
Front matter refers to any content before the first chapter of the book. Back matter refers to any information included after the final chapter of the book . Front matter is most often numbered separately from the rest of the text in lower case Roman numerals [i.e. i - xi ]. Critical commentary about front or back matter is generally only necessary if you believe there is something that diminishes the overall quality of the work [e.g., the indexing is poor] or there is something that is particularly helpful in understanding the book's contents [e.g., foreword places the book in an important context].
Front matter that may be considered for evaluation when reviewing its overall quality:
- Table of contents -- is it clear? Is it detailed or general? Does it reflect the true contents of the book? Does it help in understanding a logical sequence of content?
- Author biography -- also found as back matter, the biography of author(s) can be useful in determining the authority of the writer and whether the book builds on prior research or represents new research. In scholarly reviews, noting the author's affiliation and prior publications can be a factor in helping the reader determine the overall validity of the work [i.e., are they associated with a research center devoted to studying the problem under investigation].
- Foreword -- the purpose of a foreword is to introduce the reader to the author and the content of the book, and to help establish credibility for both. A foreword may not contribute any additional information about the book's subject matter, but rather, serves as a means of validating the book's existence. In these cases, the foreword is often written by a leading scholar or expert who endorses the book's contributions to advancing research about the topic. Later editions of a book sometimes have a new foreword prepended [appearing before an older foreword, if there was one], which may be included to explain how the latest edition differs from previous editions. These are most often written by the author.
- Acknowledgements -- scholarly studies in the social sciences often take many years to write, so authors frequently acknowledge the help and support of others in getting their research published. This can be as innocuous as acknowledging the author's family or the publisher. However, an author may acknowledge prominent scholars or subject experts, staff at key research centers, people who curate important archival collections, or organizations that funded the research. In these particular cases, it may be worth noting these sources of support in your review, particularly if the funding organization is biased or its mission is to promote a particular agenda.
- Preface -- generally describes the genesis, purpose, limitations, and scope of the book and may include acknowledgments of indebtedness to people who have helped the author complete the study. Is the preface helpful in understanding the study? Does it provide an effective framework for understanding what's to follow?
- Chronology -- also may be found as back matter, a chronology is generally included to highlight key events related to the subject of the book. Do the entries contribute to the overall work? Is it detailed or very general?
- List of non-textual elements -- a book that contains numerous charts, photographs, maps, tables, etc. will often list these items after the table of contents in the order that they appear in the text. Is this useful?
Back matter that may be considered for evaluation when reviewing its overall quality:
- Afterword -- this is a short, reflective piece written by the author that takes the form of a concluding section, final commentary, or closing statement. It is worth mentioning in a review if it contributes information about the purpose of the book, gives a call to action, summarizes key recommendations or next steps, or asks the reader to consider key points made in the book.
- Appendix -- is the supplementary material in the appendix or appendices well organized? Do they relate to the contents or appear superfluous? Does it contain any essential information that would have been more appropriately integrated into the text?
- Index -- are there separate indexes for names and subjects or one integrated index. Is the indexing thorough and accurate? Are elements used, such as, bold or italic fonts to help identify specific places in the book? Does the index include "see also" references to direct you to related topics?
- Glossary of Terms -- are the definitions clearly written? Is the glossary comprehensive or are there key terms missing? Are any terms or concepts mentioned in the text not included that should have been?
- Endnotes -- examine any endnotes as you read from chapter to chapter. Do they provide important additional information? Do they clarify or extend points made in the body of the text? Should any notes have been better integrated into the text rather than separated? Do the same if the author uses footnotes.
- Bibliography/References/Further Readings -- review any bibliography, list of references to sources, and/or further readings the author may have included. What kinds of sources appear [e.g., primary or secondary, recent or old, scholarly or popular, etc.]? How does the author make use of them? Be sure to note important omissions of sources that you believe should have been utilized, including important digital resources or archival collections.
VI. Summarize and Comment
State your general conclusions briefly and succinctly. Pay particular attention to the author's concluding chapter and/or afterword. Is the summary convincing? List the principal topics, and briefly summarize the author’s ideas about these topics, main points, and conclusions. If appropriate and to help clarify your overall evaluation, use specific references to text and quotations to support your statements. If your thesis has been well argued, the conclusion should follow naturally. It can include a final assessment or simply restate your thesis. Do not introduce new information in the conclusion. If you've compared the book to any other works or used other sources in writing the review, be sure to cite them at the end of your book review in the same writing style as your bibliographic heading of the book.
Book Reviews. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Book Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Gastel, Barbara. "Special Books Section: A Strategy for Reviewing Books for Journals." BioScience 41 (October 1991): 635-637; Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (July 2006): 1194–1207; Lee, Alexander D., Bart N. Green, Claire D. Johnson, and Julie Nyquist. "How to Write a Scholarly Book Review for Publication in a Peer-reviewed Journal: A Review of the Literature." Journal of Chiropractic Education 24 (2010): 57-69; Nicolaisen, Jeppe. "The Scholarliness of Published Peer Reviews: A Bibliometric Study of Book Reviews in Selected Social Science Fields." Research Evaluation 11 (2002): 129-140;.Procter, Margaret. The Book Review or Article Critique. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reading a Book to Review It. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Scarnecchia, David L. "Writing Book Reviews for the Journal Of Range Management and Rangelands." Rangeland Ecology and Management 57 (2004): 418-421; Simon, Linda. "The Pleasures of Book Reviewing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 27 (1996): 240-241; Writing a Book Review. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Book Reviews. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University.
Always Read the Foreword and/or the Preface
If they are included in the front matter, a good place for understanding a book's overall purpose, organization, contributions to further understanding of the research problem, and relationship to other studies is to read the preface and the foreword. The foreword may be written by someone other than the author or editor and can be a person who is famous or who has name recognition within the discipline. A foreword is often included to add credibility to the work.
The preface is usually an introductory essay written by the author or editor. It is intended to describe the book's overall purpose, arrangement, scope, and overall contributions to the literature. When reviewing the book, it can be useful to critically evaluate whether the goals set forth in the foreword and/or preface were actually achieved. At the very least, they can establish a foundation for understanding a study's scope and purpose as well as its significance in contributing new knowledge.
Distinguishing between a Foreword, a Preface, and an Introduction . Book Creation Learning Center. Greenleaf Book Group, 2019.
Locating Book Reviews
There are several databases the USC Libraries subscribes to that include the full-text or citations to book reviews. Short, descriptive reviews can also be found at book-related online sites such as Amazon , although it's not always obvious who has written them and may actually be created by the publisher. The following databases provide comprehensive access to scholarly, full-text book reviews:
- ProQuest [1983-present]
- Book Review Digest Retrospective [1905-1982]
Some Language for Evaluating Texts
It can be challenging to find the proper vocabulary from which to discuss and evaluate a book. Here is a list of some active verbs for referring to texts and ideas that you might find useful:
- account for
Examples of usage
- "The evidence indicates that..."
- "This work assesses the effect of..."
- "The author identifies three key reasons for..."
- "This book questions the view that..."
- "This work challenges assumptions about...."
Paquot, Magali. Academic Keyword List. Centre for English Corpus Linguistics. Université Catholique de Louvain.
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You might be asked to write a book review as a way to help you read actively and form an opinion on the author's views and the context in which the book was written. Book reviews are common ways for academics to evaluate each others' contributions to the field of research, especially in the arts and social sciences where publishing in books is more usual than publishing in journals.
A good review is more than just a summary of the contents. It should include your view on what the purpose of the book is and who it is intended for, and it should address the context (time and place) in which the book has been written, an evaluation of the author's arguments for strengths and weaknesses, and your identification of any bias in their perspective on the topic. Your lecturer will probably give you some guidance on what they expect, and it is likely to involve you asking yourself some or all of the following questions:
- Who is the author? What is their disciplinary background? What have they published before? Is this building on their previous research or entering a new field?
- When was the book written? How might that affect the perspective taken? Is there, for example, a political, social or economic context that would impact on the writing?
- What is the book about? What is the main topic area and scope? How does it fit with other books that have been published in this area?
- What is the main argument in the book? Is it well argued? Are the author's assumptions valid? Is there any obvious bias in the source of evidence they use?
- Is the writing style appropriate? Is the book well structured and does it flow comfortably?
- What is your view on the book's strengths and weaknesses? Do you think it's a valuable contribution to the literature in the discipline?
All of this should be supported by reference to particular passages or chapters that provide evidence to support your views.
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For further writing assistance , consult Writing Critical Book Reviews , published by Student Academic Success Services at Queen's. To learn more about book reviews, look at examples of ones in The New York Times Book Review , the New York Review of Books , and the Times Literary Supplement to see how professional writers review books.
Writing Book Reviews . Westport: Greenwood Press, 1974 PN98 .B7 D7 1974
Literary Reviewing. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1987. PN441 .L487 1987
Reviews and Reviewing: a Guide. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1986. PN98 .B7 R5 1986
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Book Reviews: What Should An Academic Book Review Look Like?
- Book Reviews
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- What Should An Academic Book Review Look Like?
Academic Book Reviews Follow a General Format
Academic Book Reviews are written for two main readers, the academic scholars and specialized readers. Every book review will be different depending on assignment or the audience of review. Generally speaking a review should have the following four sections.
- Middle or Body
- Critical Book Review Tip Sheet from University of Alberta Libraries This PDF Tip Sheet has several elements to keep in mind when writing a Academic Book Review.
- Brienza, Casey. “Writing Academic Book Reviews.” Inside Higher Ed, 27 Mar. 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2015/03/27/essay-writing-academic-book-reviews.
Standardized citation (MLA, APA, Chicago etc.) also include ISBN, number of pages in book, format (hard cover, online, etc.), and price (check cover or publishers web site for cost)
Should generally cover three basic areas
- how this material fits into existing writings
- authors qualifications and standing in field
- history of topic
- state what the authors thesis is
- evaluate how this thesis compares with the field
- DO NOT just summarize, make sure to add your opinion as reader and expert (even if you don’t feel like one)
- give an overall value added commentary
Middle or Body – Method of Critique
- Author’s main argument
- Individual chapters and arguments
- Author’s methodology
- Accessibility / Readability
- Factual errors
- Appropriateness for intended audience
- Relationship to other research in field
- Implications for future study
- Back up opinion with quotes from text
- Follow the Chapters : evaluate and group chapters together following the order of the book.
- Topic / Ideas : organize by the general topics covered in the book and evaluate each grouping as appropriate
- Criticism based : Each paragraph will address your critical points about the book. This can lead to a choppy review offering examples that jump around the text.
- End on a positive note but don’t lie or embellish
- Who should read and why
- Be Detailed but succinct
- Back up criticism with examples from the text.
- Stay away from minor points such as spelling/grammar mistakes, cover art, visual appeal and gossip.
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Writing Tutorial Services
Writing book reviews.
A book review tells not only what a book is about, but also how successful it is at what it is trying to do. Professors often assign book reviews as practice in careful analytical reading.
As a reviewer, you bring together the two strands of accurate, analytical reading and strong, personal response when you indicate what the book is about and what it might mean to a reader (by explaining what it meant to you). In other words, reviewers answer not only the WHAT but the SO WHAT question about a book. Thus, in writing a review, you combine the skills of describing what is on the page, analyzing how the book tried to achieve its purpose, and expressing your own reactions.
READING THE BOOK
As you're reading or preparing to write the review, ask yourself these questions:
What are the author's viewpoint and purpose? The viewpoint or purpose may be implied rather than stated, but often a good place to look for what the author says about his or her purpose and viewpoint is the introduction or preface. What are the author's main points? Again, these will often be stated in the introduction. What kind of evidence does the author use to prove his or her points? Is the evidence convincing? Why or why not? Does the author support his or her points adequately? How does this book relate to other books on the same topic? Is the book unique? Does it add new information? What group of readers, if any, would find this book most useful? Does the author have the necessary expertise to write the book? What are the most appropriate criteria by which to judge the book? How successful do you think the author was in carrying out the overall purposes of the book? Depending on your book's purpose, you should select appropriate criteria by which to judge its success. Use any criteria your instructor has given you in lecture or on your assignment sheet. Otherwise, here are some criteria to consider. For example, if an author says his or her purpose is to argue for a particular solution to a public problem, such as school reform or international relations, then the review should judge whether the author has defined the problem, identified causes, planned points of attack, provided necessary background information and offered specific solutions. A review should also indicate the author's professional expertise. In other books, however, authors may argue for their theory about a particular phenomenon. Reviews of these books should evaluate what kind of theory the book is arguing for, how much and what kind of evidence the author uses to support his/her scholarly claims, how valid the evidence seems, how expert the author is, and how much the book contributes to the knowledge of the field.
WRITING THE BOOK REVIEW
Although you should include what you feel is appropriate for explaining your assessment of a book, reviews generally include the following kinds of information.
Most reviews start off with a heading that includes all the bibliographic information about the book. If your assignment sheet does not indicate which form you should use, you can use the following:
Title . Author. Place of publication: publisher, date of publication. Number of pages.
Like most pieces of writing, the review itself usually begins with an introduction that lets your readers know what the review will say. The first paragraph usually includes the author and title again, so your readers don't have to look up to find the title. You should also include a very brief overview of the contents of the book, the purpose or audience for the book, and your reaction and evaluation.
Reviews then generally move into a section of background information that helps place the book in context and discusses criteria for judging the book.
Next, the review gives a summary of the main points of the book, quoting and paraphrasing key phrases from the author.
Finally, reviewers get to the heart of their writing—their evaluation of the book. In this section, reviewers discuss a variety of issues:
- how well the book has achieved its goal,
- what possibilities are suggested by the book,
- what the book has left out,
- how the book compares to others on the subject,
- what specific points are not convincing, and
- what personal experiences you've had related to the subject.
It is important to carefully distinguish your views from the author's, so that you don't confuse your reader.
Like other essays, book reviews usually end with a conclusion which ties together issues raised in the review and provides a concise comment on the book.
There is, of course, no set formula, but a general rule of thumb is that the first one-half to two-thirds of the review should summarize the author's main ideas and at least one-third should evaluate the book. Check with your instructor.
Below is a review of Taking Soaps Seriously by Michael Intintoli written by Ruth Rosen in the Journal of Communication . Note that Rosen begins with a context for Intintoli's book, showing how it is different from other books about soap operas. She finds a strength in the kind of details that his methodology enables him to see. However, she disagrees with his choice of case study. All in all, Rosen finds Intintoli's book most useful for novices, but not one that advances our ability to critique soap operas very much.
Taking Soaps Seriously: The World of Guiding Light . Michael Intintoli. New York: Praeger, 1984. 248 pp. Ever since the U.S. public began listening to radio soaps in the 1930s, cultural critics have explored the content, form, and popularity of daytime serials. Today, media critics take a variety of approaches. Some explore audience response and find that, depending on sex, race, or even nationality, people "decode" the same story in different ways. Others regard soaps as a kind of subversive form of popular culture that supports women's deepest grievances. Still others view the soap as a "text" and attempt to "deconstruct" it, much as a literary critic dissects a work of literature. Michael Intintoli's project is somewhat different. For him, the soap is a cultural product mediated and created by corporate interests. It is the production of soaps, then, that is at the center of his Taking Soaps Seriously . To understand the creation of soap operas, Intintoli adopted an ethnographic methodology that required a rather long siege on the set of "Guiding Light." Like a good anthropologist, he picked up a great deal about the concerns and problems that drive the production of a daily soap opera. For the novice there is much to be learned here. . . . But the book stops short of where it should ideally begin. In many ways, "Guiding Light" was simply the wrong soap to study. First broadcast in 1937, "Guiding Light" is the oldest soap opera in the United States, owned and produced by Procter and Gamble, which sells it to CBS. It is therefore the perfect soap to study for a history of the changing daytime serial. But that is not Intintoli's project. . . . Taking Soaps Seriously is a good introduction to the production of the daily soap opera. It analyzes soap conventions, reveals the hierarchy of soap production, and describes a slice of the corporate production of mass culture. Regrettably, it reads like an unrevised dissertation and misses an important opportunity to probe the changing nature of soap production and the unarticulated ideological framework in which soaps are created.
POLISHING THE BOOK REVIEW
After you've completed your review, be sure to proofread it carefully for errors and typos. Double-check your bibliographic heading—title, author, publisher, and pages—for accuracy and correct spelling as well.
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Writing a Book Review
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A critical book review is a thoughtful discussion of a text’s contents, strengths, and limitations. A book review should reflect your capacity to read critically and to evaluate an author’s arguments and evidence. Compose your review as you would any essay, with an argument supported by evidence, and a clear, logical structure.
- Read the book carefully, taking notes on material that you think may be relevant or quotable and on your impressions of the author's ideas and arguments.
- Determine the author’s principal argument, the chief themes of the text, the kinds of evidence used, and the way in which the author uses them.
Organizing the Review
- All reviews begin with bibliographic information: the author’s name, the book’s full title, place of publication, publisher, edition, date, pagination, and cost, if known.
- In no more than two paragraphs, introduce the book. Give your initial appraisal of the work, including your key observation on the text. This key observation will be your thesis. Try not to begin with a flat statement such as “This book is interesting.” Begin with an anecdote, a challenging quotation, or a key observation.
- clearly set out the author’s purpose in writing the book, and whether or not you think the author has succeeded.
- describe the author’s arguments and the themes of the book, and give your appraisal of their validity and effectiveness.
- describe the sources and evidence the author uses to prove his case, and evaluate their appropriateness and sufficiency. What are the author's sources? Should the author have used more, or different, sources?
- Comment on the author's organization and writing style.
- Conclude. Here you may make more general remarks about the text and the ideas presented in it. If you have not already done so, indicate whether you feel the book is worthwhile, and for what audience. Is the book outstanding? Will it make a lasting contribution to its field, or is it less satisfactory?
Questions to Consider
Although you should not use the following questions as some sort of laundry list of “things to include” (dull for us all), you may wish to consider them as you prepare and write your review.
Analysis of Content
- What is the author’s principal argument? What are her/his conclusions?
- What does the author choose to emphasize?
- Does the author’s presentation contradict or refute alternative interpretations?
- What methods of analysis does the author employ?
- What sorts of evidence does the author employ?
- Who is the author? Is he/she qualified to write this work?
- When was the work written? How relevant is it today?
Evaluation of Content
- Is the book convincing in style and substance? Why or why not?
- Does the author accomplish her/his purpose?
- Is the author fair to his/her subjects, or is the author overly biased? Is the book accurate or misleading?
- Does the author describe but not analyze?
- Does the author treat all available data equally well?
- Are all arguments in the book equally well supported? Is the book marred by generalizations or speculations?
- Is the author's use of evidence adequate and convincing?
- Does the author omit possible alternative interpretations? Is the author's approach flexible, or is it dogmatic?
- Is the book well-organized? Are all parts of the book equally well reasoned and developed?
- Is the book well written, or is it in some way repetitive, obscure, or confusing?
- To whom would the book appeal? What audience did the author intend?
Office / Department Name
Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center
Writing Center Director
The $400 million campaign marked the most ambitious fundraising initiative in the College's history.
Wendy Laura Belcher
How to write an academic book review.
This article “Writing the Academic Book Review” was originally written by Belcher to aid participants in a workshop sponsored by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center in February 2003 and to encourage book review submissions to Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies . Book reviews in the field of Chicano studies can be sent to the journal; for information, see the new submissions page. The article was updated in 2015. Cite as Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2003. “Writing the Academic Book Review.” Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Last Modified 2015. Retrieved from https://www.wendybelcher.com/writing-advice/how-to-write-book-review/ on [month year]. See also the best-selling book of advice on writing, now in its second edition: Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.
Why Write a Book Review?
Writing book reviews is not only the easiest and quickest route to publication, it is a good way to improve your writing skills, develop your analytical skills, learn how the journal publishing process works, and get to know editors. Since some libraries can’t buy books unless they have been reviewed and many individuals won’t buy books unless they have read a review, reviewing books can definitely advance your field. Indeed, scholars in smaller fields sometimes get together and assign books for review so that every book published in their field is reviewed somewhere. Just remember that book reviews do not “count” as much on a curriculum vitae as an academic essay. If you are doing more than two book reviews a year, you may be spending too much time on book reviews and not enough on your other writing.
Choosing a Book
Think about what kind of book would be most useful to you in writing your dissertation, finalizing a paper for publication, or passing your exams. Since book reviews do take time, like any writing, it is best to chose a book that will work for you twice, as a publication and as research. Alternatively, some recommend that graduate students focus on reviewing textbooks or anthologies, since such reviews take less background knowledge and editors can find it difficult to find people willing to do such reviews. Although the traditional book review is of one book, editors will often welcome book reviews that address two or more related books–called a review essay.
Choose a book that (1) is in your field, (2) is on a topic for which you have sound background knowledge, (3) has been published in the past two or three years, and (4) has been published by a reputable publisher (i.e., any press affiliated with a university or large commercial presses).
Books on hot topics are often of special interest to editors. It can also be rewarding to pick an obscure but useful book in order to bring attention to it. To avoid complications, it is best not to review books written by your advisor, spouse, or ex!
To identify a suitable book in your field:
- Look up the call number of the favorite book in your field and go to the stacks of your university library. Do a shelf search around the call number to see if anything similar or related has been published in the past couple of years.
- Go to any book database—your university library on-line, Worldcat , Amazon.com , the Library of Congress —and search using two or three keywords related to your field (e.g., Chicano fiction, Chicana politics, Latino demographics, Latina high school education) to find books in your area.
- Read magazines that review books before publication—such as Choice , Library Journal, or Kirkus Reviews —to get a sense for interesting books that will be coming out. You can get copies of books for review before they are published. Editors especially like reviews of just published books.
- Read those academic journals that list books recently received for review or recently published in their area.
- Ask faculty members in your department for recommendations.
Once you have identified several books, locate copies and skim them. Pick the book that seems the strongest. Do not pick a book that has major problems or with which you disagree violently. As a graduate student, you do not have the protection of tenure and may one day be evaluated by the person whose book you put to the ax. If you really feel strongly that you must write a negative review of a certain book, go ahead and write the review. Academia is, after all, quite oedipal and young scholars do sometimes make their reputations by deflating those who came before them. Just realize that going on record in such a public way may have consequences.
Choosing a Journal
Identify several leading journals in your field that publish book reviews. One way to do this is to search an on-line article database or something like Book Review Digest , if your library has access. Using several key words from your field, limit your search to book reviews and note the journals where the results were published.
Before starting to write your review, contact the book review editor of one of the journals. This is important standard practice; in particular because most journals do not accept unsolicited reviews. You do not want to write an entire review of a book and send it to a journal, only to be told that they don’t accept unsolicited reviews or that a review of that very book is to appear in the next issue.
So, send a short e-mail to book review editors at prospective journals (most journals have websites with such information) identifying the book you would like to review and your qualifications for reviewing it. This e-mail need not be longer than two sentences: “I am writing to find out if you would welcome a review from me of [ Book Title ], edited by [editor] and published in 2012 by [pubisher]. I am currently writing my dissertation at Stanford on the history of the field of [name of a field related to book].”
Another reason why you want to contact the book review editor is that they often can get you the book for free. Publishers frequently send books for review straight to journals or, if the book editor directly contacts them, straight to you. Of course, you don’t need to wait for the book to start your review if you have access to a library copy. If you get a free book, make sure to write the review. A book review editor will never send you another book if you don’t deliver on the first.
If the book review editor says yes, they would like a review of the book from you, make sure to ask if the journal has any book review submission guidelines. In particular, you want to make sure you understand how long their book reviews tend to be.
If the book review editor says the book is already under review, move on to your next journal choice or ask the editor if they have any books on the topic that they would like reviewed. You are under no obligation to review a book they suggest, just make sure to get back to them with a decision. It is perfectly acceptable to say “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ve decided to focus on writing my prospectus/dissertation.”
Reading the Book
It is best, when writing a book review, to be an active reader of the book. Sit at a desk with pen and paper in hand. As you read, stop frequently to summarize the argument, to note particularly clear statements of the book’s argument or purpose, and to describe your own responses. If you have read in this active way, putting together the book review should be quick and straightforward. Some people prefer to read at the computer, but if you’re a good typist, you often start typing up long quotes from the book instead of analyzing it. Paper and pen provides a little friction to prevent such drifting.
Take particular note of the title (does the book deliver what the title suggests it is going to deliver?), the table of contents (does the book cover all the ground it says it will?), the preface (often the richest source of information about the book), and the index (is it accurate, broad, deep?).
Some questions to keep in mind as you are reading:
- What is the book’s argument?
- Does the book do what it says it is going to do?
- Is the book a contribution to the field or discipline?
- Does the book relate to a current debate or trend in the field and if so, how?
- What is the theoretical lineage or school of thought out of which the book rises?
- Is the book well-written?
- What are the books terms and are they defined?
- How accurate is the information (e.g., the footnotes, bibliography, dates)?
- Are the illustrations helpful? If there are no illustrations, should there have been?
- Who would benefit from reading this book?
- How does the book compare to other books in the field?
- If it is a textbook, what courses can it be used in and how clear is the book’s structure and examples?
It can be worthwhile to do an on-line search to get a sense for the author’s history, other books, university appointments, graduate advisor, and so on. This can provide you with useful context..
Making a Plan
Book reviews are usually 600 to 2,000 words in length. It is best to aim for about 1,000 words, as you can say a fair amount in 1,000 words without getting bogged down. There’s no point in making a book review into a 20-page masterpiece since the time would have been better spent on an academic essay that would count for more on your c.v.
Some say a review should be written in a month: two weeks reading the book, one week planning your review, and one week writing it.
Although many don’t write an outline for an essay, you should really try to outline your book review before you write it. This will keep you on task and stop you from straying into writing an academic essay.
Classic book review structure is as follows:
- Title including complete bibliographic citation for the work (i.e., title in full, author, place, publisher, date of publication, edition statement, pages, special features [maps, color plates, etc.], price, and ISBN.
- One paragraph identifying the thesis, and whether the author achieves the stated purpose of the book.
- One or two paragraphs summarizing the book.
- One paragraph on the book’s strengths.
- One paragraph on the book’s weaknesses.
- One paragraph on your assessment of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
Writing the Review
Once you’ve read the book, try to spend no more than one or two weeks writing the review. Allowing a great deal of time to fall between reading the book and writing about it is unfair to you and the author. The point of writing something short like a book review is to do it quickly. Sending a publication to a journal is always scary, sitting on the review won’t make it less so.
Avoiding Five Common Pitfalls
- Evaluate the text, don’t just summarize it. While a succinct restatement of the text’s points is important, part of writing a book review is making a judgment. Is the book a contribution to the field? Does it add to our knowledge? Should this book be read and by whom? One needn’t be negative to evaluate; for instance, explaining how a text relates to current debates in the field is a form of evaluation.
- Do not cover everything in the book. In other words, don’t use the table of contents as a structuring principle for your review. Try to organize your review around the book’s argument or your argument about the book.
- Judge the book by its intentions not yours. Don’t criticize the author for failing to write the book you think that he or she should have written. As John Updike puts it, “Do not imagine yourself the caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind.”
- Likewise, don’t spend too much time focusing on gaps. Since a book is only 200 to 500 pages, it cannot possibly address the richness of any topic. For this reason, the most common criticism in any review is that the book doesn’t address some part of the topic. If the book purports to be about ethnicity and film and yet lacks a chapter on Latinos, by all means, mention it. Just don’t belabor the point. Another tic of reviewers is to focus too much on books the author did not cite. If you are using their bibliography just to display your own knowledge it will be obvious to the reader. Keep such criticisms brief.
- Don’t use too many quotes from the book. It is best to paraphrase or use short telling quotes within sentences.
For further advice about writing for publication, see Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success by Wendy Laura Belcher (University of Chicago Press, 2019).
Writing the Academic Book Review
I no longer teach this course , but you might want to think about teaching it, so I provide the information here.
This workshop aids students in actually writing and publishing a book review for a peer-reviewed journal. At the first session, students receive instruction on why graduate students should (or should not) write book reviews, how to choose a book for review, how to chose a journal for submission, how to read a book for review, how to plan and structure a book review, and five common pitfalls of reviewing. Students also form small groups to discuss the book each plans to review.At the second meeting, students bring a draft of their book review for exchange and feedback. At the third meeting, students arrive with a final version of their essay to submit to an editor for publication.
This workshop is sometimes offered by a particular journal with the editors serving on a panel the first night to provide students with specific advice for submitting reviews to their journal. I did such a workshop for Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies , with the editors Chon A. Noriega and Alicia Gaspar de Alba.
Session 1, Week 1
- Introduction to book reviewing
- Selecting an appropriate book to review
- Five essential elements of any book review
- Typical errors graduate student reviewers make
Session 2, Week 10
- Assignment: First draft due
- Discussion of the writing process and challenges
- Exchanging and critiquing first drafts
- Some instructions on revising
Session 3, Week 16
- Assignment: Final draft due
- Working with editors and the publication process
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How to Write a Book Review in 5 Steps
If you love to read books, you might be looking for ways to share your opinions about your recent reads.
Writing book reviews is a great way to engage with the book-loving community. If your reviews gain a large enough following, you might even get paid to read books—every reader’s dream come true!
So how exactly do you write book reviews?
This article will explain what a book review is and give you a step-by-step guide for writing a good one.
What Is a Book Review?
How to review a book in 5 steps, best book review examples, how to be a book reviewer.
A book review is a critical assessment of a recently published book. Looking at book reviews helps readers figure out which books to read next and which books to avoid.
The average book review is around 300–750 words. It includes a quick summary of the book, the reviewer’s evaluation of the book, and a recommendation about who should read this book.
It’s important not to confuse book reviews with book reports. A book report is a summary that proves you understood the book, often assigned to elementary school or middle school students.
Book reviews, on the other hand, should offer a unique perspective on a book. They’re often assigned to undergraduate or graduate students.
Professional book reviews can be published in academic journals, on the reviewer’s personal blog, or on platforms like Goodreads.
Here are five steps you can follow to write your own book review.
1. Briefly Summarize the Book
If you’re wondering how to start a book review, the answer is simple—start by summarizing the story!
A quick and objective summary, similar to the one you might find on the book jacket, gives your readers a sense of what the book is about. That way, they have enough context to understand the rest of your review.
If the book is nonfiction, you should include the major questions the book examines, the ways the book tries to answer those questions, and any relevant details about the author’s credentials.
If the book is a novel, you should include the genre, the main character, and the events that launch the main character into the story.
However, it’s important not to spoil the story for people who haven’t read it yet. A good rule is not to mention anything that happens after the midpoint of the story. Leave the rest for the readers to discover on their own.
2. Evaluate the Book’s Qualities
Once you’ve explained the premise of the book, it’s time to provide a more subjective evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. What do you want other readers to know about this book?
Here are some different aspects of a nonfiction book you can evaluate:
- Key takeaways (e.g. What did you learn? What’s the book’s argument?)
- Readability (e.g. What background knowledge do readers need to understand this?)
- Prose (e.g. How are the points communicated? What’s the author’s writing style?)
Here are some different aspects of a novel you can evaluate:
- Characters (e.g. How well-developed is the protagonist? The villain? The love interest?)
- Plot (e.g. Are there surprising twists? Subverted tropes? Plot holes?)
- Worldbuilding (e.g. Is the world of the story immersive? Unique? Original?)
- Theme (e.g. What questions does the story examine? How does it answer those questions?)
- Prose (e.g. Is the writing lyrical or plain? Funny or serious? Dense or digestible?)
Many reviewers focus on one aspect for each of the paragraphs in their review.
As much as possible, try to balance the good with the bad. If the entire review is glowing, or if the entire review is critical, it won’t feel as objective as one that mentions both positive and negative qualities.
Also, make sure you include spoiler warnings if you’re going to mention anything that happens after the midpoint of the story. Some book review platforms let you hide those passages of your review until readers click on them.
3. Include Quotes from the Book
Quotes from the book can serve as useful supporting evidence for your key points. If you say the book includes lyrical prose, make sure to include a passage that represents the lyrical style of the book, so your readers can see what you mean.
You can include well-written passages that showcase the author’s talent. If you disliked the book, you can also choose quotes that showcase what you disliked most.
4. Rate the Book
Many book review platforms, such as Goodreads, let you give a star rating to each book you review.
You can develop your own rating system if you’d like. For example, you could rate books on a scale of 1–5, 1–10, or even 1–100.
Some reviewers break down their ratings into multiple categories. For example, you might give a book five stars for its characters, but only two stars for its plot.
5. Give Your Recommendation
Finish your book review by stating whether or not you would recommend this book to others. That’s the main purpose of a book review, after all—to convince readers either to read the book or to skip it.
It can be helpful to say exactly what kinds of readers you’d recommend it to.
For example, you might write, “This book is perfect for anyone who loves swing dancing and slow-burn romance,” or “Don’t read this if you don’t like slow, atmospheric books that focus more on vibes than on plot.”
You can also recommend other books in the same genre that you think fellow readers will enjoy if they liked this one. “If you liked A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, we recommend The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.”
One way to learn how to write great book reviews is by reading them. Let’s look at a few examples of great book reviews you can use as inspiration.
Kirkus Reviews is a well-known American book review magazine. Here’s the beginning of their review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo , a historical fiction novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
An aging starlet with seven marriages behind her generously offers the rights to her memoir to an inexperienced writer—at a heartbreaking cost. Monique Grant is stunned when Hollywood legend Evelyn Hugo grants an exclusive interview to her over more seasoned journalists, but when she’s also chosen to publish Evelyn’s final confessions after her death, she learns that the 79-year-old actress has enough life experience for them both. Growing up poor in Hell’s Kitchen, young Evelyn Herrera trades her virginity for a ride to Hollywood, changes her name, and climbs the rungs of the entertainment-industry ladder one husband at a time until she hits Oscar gold. To write her off as being calculating and fickle would leave out the difficulty of being a woman, especially a woman of color, trying to get by in the late 1950s without a man’s blessing.
Emily May is a UK-based book reviewer who’s one of the top-ranked reviewers on Goodreads. Here are the first few paragraphs of her Goodreads review of The Poppy War , a fantasy novel by R.F. Kuang.
“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.” Holy hell, what did I just read?? A fantasy military school A rich world based on modern Chinese history Shamans and gods Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters Adorable, opium-smoking mentors That’s a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that The Poppy War will be one of my best reads of 2018.
Finally, Book Geeks is a website that describes itself as “India’s best book blog.” Here’s the beginning of their review of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
WRITING STYLE: 3.5/5 SUBJECT: 4/5 CANDIDNESS: 4.5/5 RELEVANCE: 3.5/5 ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3.5/5 Eat Pray Love is so popular that it is almost impossible to not read it. Having felt ashamed many times on my not having read this book, I quietly ordered the book (before I saw the movie) from Amazon and sat down to read it. I don’t remember what I expected it to be—maybe more like a chick-lit but it turned out quite different. The book is a real story and is a short journal from the time when its writer went travelling to three different countries in pursuit of three different things—Italy (Pleasure), India (Spirituality), Bali (Balance) and this is what corresponds to the book’s name—EAT (in Italy), PRAY (in India), and LOVE (in Bali, Indonesia).
There are many benefits to becoming a consistent book reviewer.
After you establish a following, many publishing houses will send you books for free in exchange for a review, which can be a huge perk. In some cases, you can even get paid for your reviews.
So how do you become a book reviewer? Here are a few tips:
Develop your own book reviewing style to give your reviews a more personal touch. Do you want to leave funny reviews that make readers laugh? Personal reviews that include anecdotes from your own life? Serious reviews that readers can trust for an objective opinion?
Start taking notes every time you read a book you’re planning to review. Recording your initial reactions can help you develop more insightful critiques.
Finally, set book reviewing goals and stick to them. For example, you might decide to start by reviewing one book a month. That way, you can turn reviewing into a consistent practice.
Good luck, and happy writing!
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Hannah Yang is a speculative fiction writer who writes about all things strange and surreal. Her work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, The Dark, and elsewhere, and two of her stories have been finalists for the Locus Award. Her favorite hobbies include watercolor painting, playing guitar, and rock climbing. You can follow her work on hannahyang.com, or subscribe to her newsletter for publication updates.
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How to Write Academic Reviews
- What is a review?
- Common problems with academic reviews
- Getting started: approaches to reading and notetaking
- Understanding and analyzing the work
- Organizing and writing the review
What Is a Review?
A scholarly review describes, analyzes, and evaluates an article, book, film, or performance (through this guide we will use the term “work” to refer to the text or piece to be reviewed). A review also shows how a work fits into its disciplines and explains the value or contribution of the work to the field.
Reviews play an important role in scholarship. They give scholars the opportunity to respond to one another’s research, ideas and interpretations. They also provide an up-to-date view of a discipline. We recommend you seek out reviews in current scholarly journals to become familiar with recent scholarship on a topic and to understand the forms review writing takes in your discipline. Published scholarly reviews are helpful models for beginner review-writers. However, we remind you that you are to write your own assessment of the work, not rely on the assessment from a review you found in a journal or on a blog.
As a review-writer, your objective is to:
- understand a work on its own terms (analyze it)
- bring your own knowledge to bear on a work (respond to it)
- critique the work while considering validity, truth, and slant (evaluate it)
- place the work in context (compare it to other works).
Common Problems with Academic Reviews
A review is not a research paper.
Rather than a research paper on the subject of the work,an academic review is an evaluation about the work’s message, strengths, and value. For example, a review of Finis Dunaway’s Seeing Green would not include your own research about media coverage of the environmental movement; instead, your review would assess Dunaway’s argument and its significance to the field.
A review is not a summary
It is important to synthesize the contents and significance of the work you review, but the main purpose of a review is to evaluate, critically analyze, or comment on the text. Keep your summary of the work brief, and make specific references to its message and evidence in your assessment of the work.
A review is not an off-the-cuff, unfair personal response
An effective review must be fair and accurate. It is important to see what is actually in front of you when your first reaction to the tone, argument, or subject of what you are reviewing is extremely negative or positive.
You will present your personal views on the work, but they must be explained and supported with evidence. Rather than writing, “I thought the book was interesting,” you can explain why the book was interesting and how it might offer new insights or important ideas. Further, you can expand on a statement such as “The movie was boring,” by explaining how it failed to interest you and pointing toward specific disappointing moments.
Getting Started: Approaches to Reading and Notetaking
Pre-reading helps a reader to see a book as a whole. Often, the acknowledgments, preface, and table of contents of a book offer insights about the book’s purpose and direction. Take time before you begin chapter one to read the introduction and conclusion, examine chapter titles, and to explore the index or references pages.
Read more about strategies for critical and efficient reading
A reverse outline helps a reader analyze the content and argument of a work of non-fiction. Read each section of a text carefully and write down two things: 1) the main point or idea, and 2) its function in the text. In other words, write down what each section says and what it does. This will help you to see how the author develops their argument and uses evidence for support.
In its simplest form, the double-entry notebook separates a page into two columns. In one column, you make observations about the work. In the other, you note your responses to the work. This notetaking method has two advantages. It forces you to make both sorts of notes — notes about the work and notes about your reaction to the work — and it helps you to distinguish between the two.
Whatever method of notetaking you choose, do take notes, even if these are scribbles in the margin. If you don’t, you might rely too heavily on the words, argument, or order of what you are reviewing when you come to write your review.
Understand and Analyze the Work
It is extremely important to work toward seeing a clear and accurate picture of a work. One approach is to try to suspend your judgment for a while, focusing instead on describing or outlining a text. A student once described this as listening to the author’s voice rather than to their own.
Ask questions to support your understanding of the work.
Questions for Works of Non-Fiction
- What is the subject/topic of the work? What key ideas do you think you should describe in your review?
- What is the thesis, main theme, or main point?
- What major claims or conclusions does the author make? What issues does the work illuminate?
- What is the structure of the work? How does the author build their argument?
- What sources does the author consult? What evidence is used to support claims? Do these sources in any way “predetermine” certain conclusions?
- Is there any claim for which the evidence presented is insufficient or slight? Do any conclusions rest on evidence that may be atypical?
- How is the argument developed? How do the claims relate? What does the conclusion reveal?
Questions for Works of Fiction
- What is the main theme or message? What issues does the book illuminate?
- How does the work proceed? How does the author build their plot?
- What kind of language, descriptions, or sections of plot alert you to the themes and significance of the book?
- What does the conclusion reveal when compared with the beginning?
Being critical does not mean criticizing. It means asking questions and formulating answers. Critical reading is not reading with a “bad attitude.” Critical readers do not reject a text or take a negative approach to it; they inquire about a text, an author, themselves, and the context surrounding all three, and they attempt to understand how and why the author has made the particular choices they have.
Think about the Author
You can often tell a lot about an author by examining a text closely, but sometimes it helps to do a little extra research. Here are some questions about the author that would be useful to keep in mind when you are reading a text critically:
- Who is the author? What else has the author written?
- What does the author do? What experiences of the author’s might influence the writing of this book?
- What is the author’s main purpose or goal for the text? Why did they write it and what do they want to achieve?
- Does the author indicate what contribution the text makes to scholarship or literature? What does the author say about their point of view or method of approaching the subject? In other words, what position does the author take?
Think about Yourself
Because you are doing the interpreting and evaluating of a text, it is important to examine your own perspective, assumptions, and knowledge (positionality) in relation to the text. One way to do this is by writing a position statement that outlines your view of the subject of the work you are reviewing. What do you know, believe, or assume about this subject? What in your life might influence your approach to this text?
Here are some prompts that might help you generate a personal response to a book:
- I agree that ... because ...
- I disagree that ... because ...
- I don’t understand ...
- This reminds me of …
- I’m surprised by …
Another way to examine your thoughts in relation to a text is to note your initial response to the work. Consider your experience of the text – did you like it? Why or why not?
- What did I feel when I read this book? Why?
- How did I experience the style or tone of the author? How would I characterize each?
- What questions would I ask this author if I could?
- For me, what are the three best things about this book? The three worst things? Why?
A reviewer needs to examine the context of the book to arrive at a fair understanding and evaluation of its contents and importance. Context may include the scholarship to which this book responds or the author’s personal motive for writing. Or perhaps the context is simply contemporary society or today’s headlines. It is certainly important to consider how the work relates to the course that requires the review.
Here are some useful questions:
- What are the connections between this work and others on similar subjects? How does it relate to core concepts in my course or my discipline?
- What is the scholarly or social significance of this work? What contribution does it make to our understanding?
- What, of relevance, is missing from the work: certain kinds of evidence or methods of analysis/development? A particular theoretical approach? The experiences of certain groups?
- What other perspectives or conclusions are possible?
Once you have taken the time to thoroughly understand and analyze the work, you will have a clear perspective on its strengths and weaknesses and its value within the field. Take time to categorize your ideas and develop an outline; this will ensure your review is well organized and clear.
Organizing and Writing the Review
A review is organized around an assessment of the work or a focused message about its value to the field. Revisit your notes and consider your responses to your questions from critical reading to develop a clear statement that evaluates the work and provides an explanation for that evaluation.
X is an important work because it provides a new perspective on . . .
X’s argument is compelling because . . . ; however, it fails to address . . .
Although X claims to . . ., they make assumptions about . . . , which diminishes the impact . . .
This statement or evaluation is presented in the introduction. The body of the review works to support or explain your assessment; organize your key ideas or supporting arguments into paragraphs and use evidence from the book, article, or film to demonstrate how the work is (or is not) effective, compelling, provocative, novel, or informative.
As with all scholarly writing, a well-organized structure supports the clarity of your review. There is not a rigid formula for organization, but you may find the following guidelines to be helpful. Note that reviews do not typically include subheadings; the headings listed here serve to help you think about the main sections of your academic review.
Introduce the work, the author (or director/producer), and the points you intend to make about this work. In addition, you should
- give relevant bibliographic information
- give the reader a clear idea of the nature, scope, and significance of the work
- indicate your evaluation of the work in a clear 1-2 sentence thesis statement
Provide background information to help your readers understand the importance of the work or the reasons for your appraisal. Background information could include:
- why the issue examined is of current interest
- other scholarship about this subject
- the author’s perspective, methodology, purpose
- the circumstances under which the book was created
Within educational research, much attention has been given to the importance of diversity and equity, and the literature is rife with studies detailing the best ways to create environments that are supportive of diverse students. In “Guidance Matters,” however, Carpenter and Diem (2015) examined these concepts in a less-studied source: policy documents related to leadership training. Using discourse analysis, they explored the ways in which government policies concerning the training of educational administrators discussed issues of diversity and equity. While their innovative methods allowed them to reveal the ways in which current policy promotes superficial platitudes to diversity rather than a deep commitment to promoting social justice, their data analysis left many of their identified themes vague and their discussion did not provide a clear explanation of the applications of their findings.
What works in this sample introduction:
- The nature of the larger issue, how best to create diversity and equity within educational environments, is clearly laid out.
- The paragraph clearly introduces the authors and study being reviewed and succinctly explains how they have addressed the larger issue of equity and diversity in a unique way.
- The paragraph ends with a clear thesis that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
Summary of the Work
Keep the summary of the work short! A paragraph or two should be sufficient. Summarize its contents very briefly and focus on:
- the purpose of the work
- the main points of the work
- the ideas, themes, or arguments that you will evaluate or discuss in the review
Analysis and Evaluation
Analyze and explain the significance of the main points of the work. Evaluate the work, answering questions such as the following:
- Does the work do what its author claimed it would?
- Is the work valid and accurate?
- How does the work fit into scholarship in the field?
- What are your reasons for agreeing, disagreeing, liking, disliking, believing, disbelieving?
Note that this section will take up the bulk of your review and should be organized into paragraphs. Because this form of writing typically does not use subheadings, strong paragraphing, particularly the use of clear topic sentences, is essential. Read more on paragraphing.
Reviews are informed by your critical reading or viewing of a work; therefore you need to include specific evidence from the work to support your claims about its message and its impact. Your writing and your assessment of the work will be most effective if you paraphrase or summarize the evidence you use, rather than relying on direct quotations. Be sure to follow the rules for citation in your discipline. Read more on paraphrasing and summarizing.
Sample Body Paragraph
One of the strengths of Carpenter and Diem’s (2015) study was innovative use of and nuanced explanation of discourse analysis. Critiquing much of the research on policy for its positivist promises of “value neutral and empirically objective” (p. 518) findings, Carpenter and Diem (2015) argued that discourse theory can provide an important lens through which to view policy and its relationship to educational outcomes. By interrogating the “inscribed discourses of policy making” (p. 518), they showed how policy language constructs particular social meanings of concepts such as diversity and equity. Significantly, this analysis was not simply about the language used within documents; instead, Carpenter and Diem (2015) argued that the language used was directly related to reality. Their “study examine[d] how dominant discourses related to equity, and their concretization within guiding policy documents, may shape the ways in which states, local school districts, and educational leaders are asked to consider these issues in their everyday practice” (Carpenter & Diem, 2015, p. 519). Thus, through the use of discourse theory, Carpenter and Diem (2015) framed policy language, which some might consider abstract or distant from daily life, as directly connected to the experience of educational leaders.
What works in this sample body paragraph:
- The paragraph begins with a clear topic sentence that connects directly to a strength mentioned in the thesis of the review.
- The paragraph provides specific details and examples to support how and why their methods are innovative.
- The direct quotations used are short and properly integrated into the sentences.
The paragraph concludes by explaining the significance of the innovative methods to the larger work.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Give your overall assessment of the work. Explain the larger significance of your assessment. Consider who would benefit from engaging with this work.
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How to Write a Successful Book Review for University Courses, Academic and Newspaper Publications
Thank you to Dr. Joshua Sinai , Professor of Practice, Intelligence and Security Studies, for composing yet another excellent guide for college students and industry professionals on how to write a book review for academic assignments or journalistic publication. If you have not read Dr. Sinai's previous guide, How to Write a University Research Paper , we highly recommend that article as well as it is a valuable template to help with writing college research papers.
I’ve been writing book reviews of various categories, types and lengths throughout my academic career and am often asked, “are there any formulas for writing a successful book review?” The answer is yes. Like writing any type of article, it involves a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, but unlike an article, a book review is intended to describe, discuss and evaluate a published book in as concise and engaging a manner as possible for the reader, with the focus on the reviewed book, not the reviewer.
Why Write a Book Review?
There are several reasons for writing a book review. The first reason is to share one’s thoughts with readers about a newly published book that might meet, exceed, or fall short of one’s expectations. Other reasons range from completing a required class assignment for a university course (where less recent books might be assigned for review), to getting a publishing “credit” by writing a book review of a newly-published book for an academic journal or newspaper (whether in print or online). Publishing a review in a journal or newspaper will also entitle the reviewer to a free copy of the book from the publisher. Nowadays, one can either get a free print copy or an e-book copy [I prefer a print copy whenever possible, but will settle for an e-book if it’s the only alternative provided by the publisher].
Categories of Book Reviews
As mentioned earlier, there are three categories of book reviews. These are: a class assignment, an academic journal, or a newspaper. Each of these categories has its own set of requirements and writing styles. For example, a class assignment will address the requirements of the course’s teacher in terms of guidelines in covering the book’s topic and the review’s length. An academic journal will expect the review to be written at a high academic level in accordance with the publication’s writing guidelines. Finally, a review in a newspaper is expected to be written in an interesting manner for a general readership, for instance, free of any academic jargon.
Types and Lengths of Book Reviews
Regardless of the categories of book reviews, there are three types and lengths of reviews. Reviews that cover single books are generally 800 to 1,000 words in length. Capsule book reviews, in which several books are covered in a single review column, will generally each be 300 to 400 words in length. In capsule book reviews, the reviewed books generally cover a similar overall subject, such as national security, but can focus on different sub-topics within it. A capsule book review column does not require a concluding paragraph or sentence. In review essays, which generally are published in academic journals (or in university courses), several books will be reviewed, with the overall essay beginning with an introductory overview of the books’ subject, with each review intended to cover an aspect of the overall subject, and with a concluding paragraph that presents a finding about the reviewed books’ contribution to the academic discipline.
Writing the Book Review
Once the category, type and length of a book review is selected, the same formula can be applied to writing the review. This consists of six components:
Essential book information
Summary of book’s content
Evaluation of book’s content
Concluding paragraph or sentence
1.Essential Book Information
The beginning of a review will include the book’s publication details. This will generally consist of the author, the book’s title, the publisher’s city and state, the name of the publisher, the year the book was published (including whether it is a revised edition), the book’s page length, the book’s price, whether the book is a hardcover, paperback or e-book, and the book’s ISBN number (the acronym for International Standard Book Number, which identifies a specific book or an edition of a book). Note that not all of these details need to be included in a book’s publication details, depending on the category of the book review and the publishing guidelines of the publication where the review is published. For university courses, the APA 7th Edition citation style guide may be selected.
Jack Devine, Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression (Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books/An Imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, 2021), 304 pp., $34.95 [Hardcover], ISBN: 978-1-6401-2378-6.
2. Introductory “Hook”
A review’s introductory sentence should serve as a “hook” to interest the reader in noticing and reading the review. It can be a compelling or provocative statement in general about the book’s topic or about the book itself. After the initial sentence, the reviewer might mention the author’s professional affiliation to validate his/her expertise on the book’s topic.
“How can we define terrorism with so many definitions being proposed for it? This important book proposes a new definition that will provide the solution. The author is ideally qualified to discuss these issues, as he/she is a professor of ___________ at the University of ____________, and has published books and articles on this topic.”
3.Summary of Book’s Content
This section provides a brief synopsis of what is the book is about. The book’s main points are the summary’s focus. To accompany the synopsis, if possible, the reviewer should provide quotations from the book, including their page numbers. This is important as it ‘brings the book’s text to life’ and also demonstrates that the reviewer has actually read through the text (or at least read enough to write a review). Do not include the author’s conclusion(s) until the end of the review.
4.Evaluation of Book’s Content
Evaluating a book’s content is the review’s most important and longest section. It differs from the previous summary as it provides the reviewer’s evaluation of the book’s content. This will enable the readers to know whether and how they would benefit from reading the book.
“The book’s coverage of the Second World War revealed new details, based on newly uncovered documents, about the effectiveness of the Allied military campaigns. These details included…..”
After evaluating the book’s content, provide the reader with your recommendation of the book’s worthiness in 1-3 sentences (or longer, if necessary). Also, who do you think would benefit from reading this book, such as university students, faculty, practitioners in the field, the general reader, etc.
“The book contributes to advancing the state of the academic discipline on these because….”
The concluding sentence can be the same as the recommendation sentences or a final comment about the book.
“In conclusion, this important book is an invaluable resource for those working on this topic, as its findings provide new insights for understanding these issues.”
I hope that this template for writing a book review will help you write it for one of these various categories, types and lengths. Remember that the most important aspect of writing a review is to be as interesting and concise as necessary, since gaining the reader's interest in the book is the primary reason for writing a book review.
About the author: Dr. Joshua Sinai is a Professor of Practice, Intelligence and Security Studies, at Capitol Technology University. Over the years, he has published dozens of full book reviews and about 1,000 capsule reviews in academic journals, magazines and newspapers on national security subjects, including terrorism and counterterrorism. He started writing capsule book reviews, in particular, as one of his responsibilities while working as a Senior Intelligence Analyst at the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress (FRD/LOC), and after leaving it turned book reviewing as a “side business” as a way to obtain free review copies of books for his personal professional research library.
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Blog – Posted on Friday, Mar 29
17 book review examples to help you write the perfect review.
It’s an exciting time to be a book reviewer. Once confined to print newspapers and journals, reviews now dot many corridors of the Internet — forever helping others discover their next great read. That said, every book reviewer will face a familiar panic: how can you do justice to a great book in just a thousand words?
As you know, the best way to learn how to do something is by immersing yourself in it. Luckily, the Internet (i.e. Goodreads and other review sites , in particular) has made book reviews more accessible than ever — which means that there are a lot of book reviews examples out there for you to view!
In this post, we compiled 17 prototypical book review examples in multiple genres to help you figure out how to write the perfect review . If you want to jump straight to the examples, you can skip the next section. Otherwise, let’s first check out what makes up a good review.
Are you interested in becoming a book reviewer? We recommend you check out Reedsy Discovery , where you can earn money for writing reviews — and are guaranteed people will read your reviews! To register as a book reviewer, sign up here.
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What must a book review contain?
Like all works of art, no two book reviews will be identical. But fear not: there are a few guidelines for any aspiring book reviewer to follow. Most book reviews, for instance, are less than 1,500 words long, with the sweet spot hitting somewhere around the 1,000-word mark. (However, this may vary depending on the platform on which you’re writing, as we’ll see later.)
In addition, all reviews share some universal elements, as shown in our book review templates . These include:
- A review will offer a concise plot summary of the book.
- A book review will offer an evaluation of the work.
- A book review will offer a recommendation for the audience.
If these are the basic ingredients that make up a book review, it’s the tone and style with which the book reviewer writes that brings the extra panache. This will differ from platform to platform, of course. A book review on Goodreads, for instance, will be much more informal and personal than a book review on Kirkus Reviews, as it is catering to a different audience. However, at the end of the day, the goal of all book reviews is to give the audience the tools to determine whether or not they’d like to read the book themselves.
Keeping that in mind, let’s proceed to some book review examples to put all of this in action.
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Book review examples for fiction books
Since story is king in the world of fiction, it probably won’t come as any surprise to learn that a book review for a novel will concentrate on how well the story was told .
That said, book reviews in all genres follow the same basic formula that we discussed earlier. In these examples, you’ll be able to see how book reviewers on different platforms expertly intertwine the plot summary and their personal opinions of the book to produce a clear, informative, and concise review.
Note: Some of the book review examples run very long. If a book review is truncated in this post, we’ve indicated by including a […] at the end, but you can always read the entire review if you click on the link provided.
Examples of literary fiction book reviews
Kirkus Reviews reviews Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man :
An extremely powerful story of a young Southern Negro, from his late high school days through three years of college to his life in Harlem.
His early training prepared him for a life of humility before white men, but through injustices- large and small, he came to realize that he was an "invisible man". People saw in him only a reflection of their preconceived ideas of what he was, denied his individuality, and ultimately did not see him at all. This theme, which has implications far beyond the obvious racial parallel, is skillfully handled. The incidents of the story are wholly absorbing. The boy's dismissal from college because of an innocent mistake, his shocked reaction to the anonymity of the North and to Harlem, his nightmare experiences on a one-day job in a paint factory and in the hospital, his lightning success as the Harlem leader of a communistic organization known as the Brotherhood, his involvement in black versus white and black versus black clashes and his disillusion and understanding of his invisibility- all climax naturally in scenes of violence and riot, followed by a retreat which is both literal and figurative. Parts of this experience may have been told before, but never with such freshness, intensity and power.
This is Ellison's first novel, but he has complete control of his story and his style. Watch it.
Lyndsey reviews George Orwell’s 1984 on Goodreads:
YOU. ARE. THE. DEAD. Oh my God. I got the chills so many times toward the end of this book. It completely blew my mind. It managed to surpass my high expectations AND be nothing at all like I expected. Or in Newspeak "Double Plus Good." Let me preface this with an apology. If I sound stunningly inarticulate at times in this review, I can't help it. My mind is completely fried.
This book is like the dystopian Lord of the Rings, with its richly developed culture and economics, not to mention a fully developed language called Newspeak, or rather more of the anti-language, whose purpose is to limit speech and understanding instead of to enhance and expand it. The world-building is so fully fleshed out and spine-tinglingly terrifying that it's almost as if George travelled to such a place, escaped from it, and then just wrote it all down.
I read Fahrenheit 451 over ten years ago in my early teens. At the time, I remember really wanting to read 1984, although I never managed to get my hands on it. I'm almost glad I didn't. Though I would not have admitted it at the time, it would have gone over my head. Or at the very least, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate it fully. […]
The New York Times reviews Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry :
Three-quarters of the way through Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, “Asymmetry,” a British foreign correspondent named Alistair is spending Christmas on a compound outside of Baghdad. His fellow revelers include cameramen, defense contractors, United Nations employees and aid workers. Someone’s mother has FedExed a HoneyBaked ham from Maine; people are smoking by the swimming pool. It is 2003, just days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, and though the mood is optimistic, Alistair is worrying aloud about the ethics of his chosen profession, wondering if reporting on violence doesn’t indirectly abet violence and questioning why he’d rather be in a combat zone than reading a picture book to his son. But every time he returns to London, he begins to “spin out.” He can’t go home. “You observe what people do with their freedom — what they don’t do — and it’s impossible not to judge them for it,” he says.
The line, embedded unceremoniously in the middle of a page-long paragraph, doubles, like so many others in “Asymmetry,” as literary criticism. Halliday’s novel is so strange and startlingly smart that its mere existence seems like commentary on the state of fiction. One finishes “Asymmetry” for the first or second (or like this reader, third) time and is left wondering what other writers are not doing with their freedom — and, like Alistair, judging them for it.
Despite its title, “Asymmetry” comprises two seemingly unrelated sections of equal length, appended by a slim and quietly shocking coda. Halliday’s prose is clean and lean, almost reportorial in the style of W. G. Sebald, and like the murmurings of a shy person at a cocktail party, often comic only in single clauses. It’s a first novel that reads like the work of an author who has published many books over many years. […]
Emily W. Thompson reviews Michael Doane's The Crossing on Reedsy Discovery :
In Doane’s debut novel, a young man embarks on a journey of self-discovery with surprising results.
An unnamed protagonist (The Narrator) is dealing with heartbreak. His love, determined to see the world, sets out for Portland, Oregon. But he’s a small-town boy who hasn’t traveled much. So, the Narrator mourns her loss and hides from life, throwing himself into rehabbing an old motorcycle. Until one day, he takes a leap; he packs his bike and a few belongings and heads out to find the Girl.
Following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and William Least Heat-Moon, Doane offers a coming of age story about a man finding himself on the backroads of America. Doane’s a gifted writer with fluid prose and insightful observations, using The Narrator’s personal interactions to illuminate the diversity of the United States.
The Narrator initially sticks to the highways, trying to make it to the West Coast as quickly as possible. But a hitchhiker named Duke convinces him to get off the beaten path and enjoy the ride. “There’s not a place that’s like any other,”  Dukes contends, and The Narrator realizes he’s right. Suddenly, the trip is about the journey, not just the destination. The Narrator ditches his truck and traverses the deserts and mountains on his bike. He destroys his phone, cutting off ties with his past and living only in the moment.
As he crosses the country, The Narrator connects with several unique personalities whose experiences and views deeply impact his own. Duke, the complicated cowboy and drifter, who opens The Narrator’s eyes to a larger world. Zooey, the waitress in Colorado who opens his heart and reminds him that love can be found in this big world. And Rosie, The Narrator’s sweet landlady in Portland, who helps piece him back together both physically and emotionally.
This supporting cast of characters is excellent. Duke, in particular, is wonderfully nuanced and complicated. He’s a throwback to another time, a man without a cell phone who reads Sartre and sleeps under the stars. Yet he’s also a grifter with a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude that harms those around him. It’s fascinating to watch The Narrator wrestle with Duke’s behavior, trying to determine which to model and which to discard.
Doane creates a relatable protagonist in The Narrator, whose personal growth doesn’t erase his faults. His willingness to hit the road with few resources is admirable, and he’s prescient enough to recognize the jealousy of those who cannot or will not take the leap. His encounters with new foods, places, and people broaden his horizons. Yet his immaturity and selfishness persist. He tells Rosie she’s been a good mother to him but chooses to ignore the continuing concern from his own parents as he effectively disappears from his old life.
Despite his flaws, it’s a pleasure to accompany The Narrator on his physical and emotional journey. The unexpected ending is a fitting denouement to an epic and memorable road trip.
The Book Smugglers review Anissa Gray’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls :
I am still dipping my toes into the literally fiction pool, finding what works for me and what doesn’t. Books like The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray are definitely my cup of tea.
Althea and Proctor Cochran had been pillars of their economically disadvantaged community for years – with their local restaurant/small market and their charity drives. Until they are found guilty of fraud for stealing and keeping most of the money they raised and sent to jail. Now disgraced, their entire family is suffering the consequences, specially their twin teenage daughters Baby Vi and Kim. To complicate matters even more: Kim was actually the one to call the police on her parents after yet another fight with her mother. […]
Examples of children’s and YA fiction book reviews
The Book Hookup reviews Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give :
♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: 5 stars! I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to tackle the voice of a movement like Black Lives Matter, but I do know that Thomas did it with a finesse only a talented author like herself possibly could. With an unapologetically realistic delivery packed with emotion, The Hate U Give is a crucially important portrayal of the difficulties minorities face in our country every single day. I have no doubt that this book will be met with resistance by some (possibly many) and slapped with a “controversial” label, but if you’ve ever wondered what it was like to walk in a POC’s shoes, then I feel like this is an unflinchingly honest place to start.
In Angie Thomas’s debut novel, Starr Carter bursts on to the YA scene with both heart-wrecking and heartwarming sincerity. This author is definitely one to watch.
♥ Review: The hype around this book has been unquestionable and, admittedly, that made me both eager to get my hands on it and terrified to read it. I mean, what if I was to be the one person that didn’t love it as much as others? (That seems silly now because of how truly mesmerizing THUG was in the most heartbreakingly realistic way.) However, with the relevancy of its summary in regards to the unjust predicaments POC currently face in the US, I knew this one was a must-read, so I was ready to set my fears aside and dive in. That said, I had an altogether more personal, ulterior motive for wanting to read this book. […]
The New York Times reviews Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood :
Alice Crewe (a last name she’s chosen for herself) is a fairy tale legacy: the granddaughter of Althea Proserpine, author of a collection of dark-as-night fairy tales called “Tales From the Hinterland.” The book has a cult following, and though Alice has never met her grandmother, she’s learned a little about her through internet research. She hasn’t read the stories, because her mother, Ella Proserpine, forbids it.
Alice and Ella have moved from place to place in an attempt to avoid the “bad luck” that seems to follow them. Weird things have happened. As a child, Alice was kidnapped by a man who took her on a road trip to find her grandmother; he was stopped by the police before they did so. When at 17 she sees that man again, unchanged despite the years, Alice panics. Then Ella goes missing, and Alice turns to Ellery Finch, a schoolmate who’s an Althea Proserpine superfan, for help in tracking down her mother. Not only has Finch read every fairy tale in the collection, but handily, he remembers them, sharing them with Alice as they journey to the mysterious Hazel Wood, the estate of her now-dead grandmother, where they hope to find Ella.
“The Hazel Wood” starts out strange and gets stranger, in the best way possible. (The fairy stories Finch relays, which Albert includes as their own chapters, are as creepy and evocative as you’d hope.) Albert seamlessly combines contemporary realism with fantasy, blurring the edges in a way that highlights that place where stories and real life convene, where magic contains truth and the world as it appears is false, where just about anything can happen, particularly in the pages of a very good book. It’s a captivating debut. […]
James reviews Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight, Moon on Goodreads:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is one of the books that followers of my blog voted as a must-read for our Children's Book August 2018 Readathon. Come check it out and join the next few weeks!
This picture book was such a delight. I hadn't remembered reading it when I was a child, but it might have been read to me... either way, it was like a whole new experience! It's always so difficult to convince a child to fall asleep at night. I don't have kids, but I do have a 5-month-old puppy who whines for 5 minutes every night when he goes in his cage/crate (hopefully he'll be fully housebroken soon so he can roam around when he wants). I can only imagine! I babysat a lot as a teenager and I have tons of younger cousins, nieces, and nephews, so I've been through it before, too. This was a believable experience, and it really helps show kids how to relax and just let go when it's time to sleep.
The bunny's are adorable. The rhymes are exquisite. I found it pretty fun, but possibly a little dated given many of those things aren't normal routines anymore. But the lessons to take from it are still powerful. Loved it! I want to sample some more books by this fine author and her illustrators.
Publishers Weekly reviews Elizabeth Lilly’s Geraldine :
This funny, thoroughly accomplished debut opens with two words: “I’m moving.” They’re spoken by the title character while she swoons across her family’s ottoman, and because Geraldine is a giraffe, her full-on melancholy mode is quite a spectacle. But while Geraldine may be a drama queen (even her mother says so), it won’t take readers long to warm up to her. The move takes Geraldine from Giraffe City, where everyone is like her, to a new school, where everyone else is human. Suddenly, the former extrovert becomes “That Giraffe Girl,” and all she wants to do is hide, which is pretty much impossible. “Even my voice tries to hide,” she says, in the book’s most poignant moment. “It’s gotten quiet and whispery.” Then she meets Cassie, who, though human, is also an outlier (“I’m that girl who wears glasses and likes MATH and always organizes her food”), and things begin to look up.
Lilly’s watercolor-and-ink drawings are as vividly comic and emotionally astute as her writing; just when readers think there are no more ways for Geraldine to contort her long neck, this highly promising talent comes up with something new.
Examples of genre fiction book reviews
Karlyn P reviews Nora Roberts’ Dark Witch , a paranormal romance novel , on Goodreads:
4 stars. Great world-building, weak romance, but still worth the read.
I hesitate to describe this book as a 'romance' novel simply because the book spent little time actually exploring the romance between Iona and Boyle. Sure, there IS a romance in this novel. Sprinkled throughout the book are a few scenes where Iona and Boyle meet, chat, wink at each, flirt some more, sleep together, have a misunderstanding, make up, and then profess their undying love. Very formulaic stuff, and all woven around the more important parts of this book.
The meat of this book is far more focused on the story of the Dark witch and her magically-gifted descendants living in Ireland. Despite being weak on the romance, I really enjoyed it. I think the book is probably better for it, because the romance itself was pretty lackluster stuff.
I absolutely plan to stick with this series as I enjoyed the world building, loved the Ireland setting, and was intrigued by all of the secondary characters. However, If you read Nora Roberts strictly for the romance scenes, this one might disappoint. But if you enjoy a solid background story with some dark magic and prophesies, you might enjoy it as much as I did.
I listened to this one on audio, and felt the narration was excellent.
Emily May reviews R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy Wars , an epic fantasy novel , on Goodreads:
“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.”
Holy hell, what did I just read??
➽ A fantasy military school
➽ A rich world based on modern Chinese history
➽ Shamans and gods
➽ Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters
➽ Adorable, opium-smoking mentors
That's a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that The Poppy War will be one of my best reads of 2018.
Isn't it just so great when you find one of those books that completely drags you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and demands that you sit on the edge of your seat for every horrific, nail-biting moment of it? This is one of those books for me. And I must issue a serious content warning: this book explores some very dark themes. Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you are particularly sensitive to scenes of war, drug use and addiction, genocide, racism, sexism, ableism, self-harm, torture, and rape (off-page but extremely horrific).
Because, despite the fairly innocuous first 200 pages, the title speaks the truth: this is a book about war. All of its horrors and atrocities. It is not sugar-coated, and it is often graphic. The "poppy" aspect refers to opium, which is a big part of this book. It is a fantasy, but the book draws inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanking.
Crime Fiction Lover reviews Jessica Barry’s Freefall , a crime novel:
In some crime novels, the wrongdoing hits you between the eyes from page one. With others it’s a more subtle process, and that’s OK too. So where does Freefall fit into the sliding scale?
In truth, it’s not clear. This is a novel with a thrilling concept at its core. A woman survives plane crash, then runs for her life. However, it is the subtleties at play that will draw you in like a spider beckoning to an unwitting fly.
Like the heroine in Sharon Bolton’s Dead Woman Walking, Allison is lucky to be alive. She was the only passenger in a private plane, belonging to her fiancé, Ben, who was piloting the expensive aircraft, when it came down in woodlands in the Colorado Rockies. Ally is also the only survivor, but rather than sitting back and waiting for rescue, she is soon pulling together items that may help her survive a little longer – first aid kit, energy bars, warm clothes, trainers – before fleeing the scene. If you’re hearing the faint sound of alarm bells ringing, get used to it. There’s much, much more to learn about Ally before this tale is over.
Kirkus Reviews reviews Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One , a science-fiction novel :
Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles.
The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three.
Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.
Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.
Book review examples for non-fiction books
Nonfiction books are generally written to inform readers about a certain topic. As such, the focus of a nonfiction book review will be on the clarity and effectiveness of this communication . In carrying this out, a book review may analyze the author’s source materials and assess the thesis in order to determine whether or not the book meets expectations.
Again, we’ve included abbreviated versions of long reviews here, so feel free to click on the link to read the entire piece!
The Washington Post reviews David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon :
The arc of David Grann’s career reminds one of a software whiz-kid or a latest-thing talk-show host — certainly not an investigative reporter, even if he is one of the best in the business. The newly released movie of his first book, “The Lost City of Z,” is generating all kinds of Oscar talk, and now comes the release of his second book, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the film rights to which have already been sold for $5 million in what one industry journal called the “biggest and wildest book rights auction in memory.”
Grann deserves the attention. He’s canny about the stories he chases, he’s willing to go anywhere to chase them, and he’s a maestro in his ability to parcel out information at just the right clip: a hint here, a shading of meaning there, a smartly paced buildup of multiple possibilities followed by an inevitable reversal of readerly expectations or, in some cases, by a thrilling and dislocating pull of the entire narrative rug.
All of these strengths are on display in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Around the turn of the 20th century, oil was discovered underneath Osage lands in the Oklahoma Territory, lands that were soon to become part of the state of Oklahoma. Through foresight and legal maneuvering, the Osage found a way to permanently attach that oil to themselves and shield it from the prying hands of white interlopers; this mechanism was known as “headrights,” which forbade the outright sale of oil rights and granted each full member of the tribe — and, supposedly, no one else — a share in the proceeds from any lease arrangement. For a while, the fail-safes did their job, and the Osage got rich — diamond-ring and chauffeured-car and imported-French-fashion rich — following which quite a large group of white men started to work like devils to separate the Osage from their money. And soon enough, and predictably enough, this work involved murder. Here in Jazz Age America’s most isolated of locales, dozens or even hundreds of Osage in possession of great fortunes — and of the potential for even greater fortunes in the future — were dispatched by poison, by gunshot and by dynamite. […]
Stacked Books reviews Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers :
I’ve heard a lot of great things about Malcolm Gladwell’s writing. Friends and co-workers tell me that his subjects are interesting and his writing style is easy to follow without talking down to the reader. I wasn’t disappointed with Outliers. In it, Gladwell tackles the subject of success – how people obtain it and what contributes to extraordinary success as opposed to everyday success.
The thesis – that our success depends much more on circumstances out of our control than any effort we put forth – isn’t exactly revolutionary. Most of us know it to be true. However, I don’t think I’m lying when I say that most of us also believe that we if we just try that much harder and develop our talent that much further, it will be enough to become wildly successful, despite bad or just mediocre beginnings. Not so, says Gladwell.
Most of the evidence Gladwell gives us is anecdotal, which is my favorite kind to read. I can’t really speak to how scientifically valid it is, but it sure makes for engrossing listening. For example, did you know that successful hockey players are almost all born in January, February, or March? Kids born during these months are older than the others kids when they start playing in the youth leagues, which means they’re already better at the game (because they’re bigger). Thus, they get more play time, which means their skill increases at a faster rate, and it compounds as time goes by. Within a few years, they’re much, much better than the kids born just a few months later in the year. Basically, these kids’ birthdates are a huge factor in their success as adults – and it’s nothing they can do anything about. If anyone could make hockey interesting to a Texan who only grudgingly admits the sport even exists, it’s Gladwell. […]
Quill and Quire reviews Rick Prashaw’s Soar, Adam, Soar :
Ten years ago, I read a book called Almost Perfect. The young-adult novel by Brian Katcher won some awards and was held up as a powerful, nuanced portrayal of a young trans person. But the reality did not live up to the book’s billing. Instead, it turned out to be a one-dimensional and highly fetishized portrait of a trans person’s life, one that was nevertheless repeatedly dubbed “realistic” and “affecting” by non-transgender readers possessing only a vague, mass-market understanding of trans experiences.
In the intervening decade, trans narratives have emerged further into the literary spotlight, but those authored by trans people ourselves – and by trans men in particular – have seemed to fall under the shadow of cisgender sensationalized imaginings. Two current Canadian releases – Soar, Adam, Soar and This One Looks Like a Boy – provide a pointed object lesson into why trans-authored work about transgender experiences remains critical.
To be fair, Soar, Adam, Soar isn’t just a story about a trans man. It’s also a story about epilepsy, the medical establishment, and coming of age as seen through a grieving father’s eyes. Adam, Prashaw’s trans son, died unexpectedly at age 22. Woven through the elder Prashaw’s narrative are excerpts from Adam’s social media posts, giving us glimpses into the young man’s interior life as he traverses his late teens and early 20s. […]
Book Geeks reviews Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love :
WRITING STYLE: 3.5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3.5/5
“Eat Pray Love” is so popular that it is almost impossible to not read it. Having felt ashamed many times on my not having read this book, I quietly ordered the book (before I saw the movie) from amazon.in and sat down to read it. I don’t remember what I expected it to be – maybe more like a chick lit thing but it turned out quite different. The book is a real story and is a short journal from the time when its writer went travelling to three different countries in pursuit of three different things – Italy (Pleasure), India (Spirituality), Bali (Balance) and this is what corresponds to the book’s name – EAT (in Italy), PRAY (in India) and LOVE (in Bali, Indonesia). These are also the three Is – ITALY, INDIA, INDONESIA.
Though she had everything a middle-aged American woman can aspire for – MONEY, CAREER, FRIENDS, HUSBAND; Elizabeth was not happy in her life, she wasn’t happy in her marriage. Having suffered a terrible divorce and terrible breakup soon after, Elizabeth was shattered. She didn’t know where to go and what to do – all she knew was that she wanted to run away. So she set out on a weird adventure – she will go to three countries in a year and see if she can find out what she was looking for in life. This book is about that life changing journey that she takes for one whole year. […]
Emily May reviews Michelle Obama’s Becoming on Goodreads:
Look, I'm not a happy crier. I might cry at songs about leaving and missing someone; I might cry at books where things don't work out; I might cry at movies where someone dies. I've just never really understood why people get all choked up over happy, inspirational things. But Michelle Obama's kindness and empathy changed that. This book had me in tears for all the right reasons.
This is not really a book about politics, though political experiences obviously do come into it. It's a shame that some will dismiss this book because of a difference in political opinion, when it is really about a woman's life. About growing up poor and black on the South Side of Chicago; about getting married and struggling to maintain that marriage; about motherhood; about being thrown into an amazing and terrifying position.
I hate words like "inspirational" because they've become so overdone and cheesy, but I just have to say it-- Michelle Obama is an inspiration. I had the privilege of seeing her speak at The Forum in Inglewood, and she is one of the warmest, funniest, smartest, down-to-earth people I have ever seen in this world.
And yes, I know we present what we want the world to see, but I truly do think it's genuine. I think she is someone who really cares about people - especially kids - and wants to give them better lives and opportunities.
She's obviously intelligent, but she also doesn't gussy up her words. She talks straight, with an openness and honesty rarely seen. She's been one of the most powerful women in the world, she's been a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, she's had her own successful career, and yet she has remained throughout that same girl - Michelle Robinson - from a working class family in Chicago.
I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book.
Hopefully, this post has given you a better idea of how to write a book review. You might be wondering how to put all of this knowledge into action now! Many book reviewers start out by setting up a book blog. If you don’t have time to research the intricacies of HTML, check out Reedsy Discovery — where you can read indie books for free and review them without going through the hassle of creating a blog. To register as a book reviewer , go here .
And if you’d like to see even more book review examples, simply go to this directory of book review blogs and click on any one of them to see a wealth of good book reviews. Beyond that, it's up to you to pick up a book and pen — and start reviewing!
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On the 1st of January 2021, the seminal works of 1925 became yours to have, to read, and to adapt! And what a year it was for literature. The full list is a little rough to navigate, so we’ve gathered together twelve of your best bets — and they’re all gems.
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How to Write a Book Review: Awesome Guide
A book review allows students to illustrate the author's intentions of writing the piece, as well as create a criticism of the book — as a whole. In other words, form an opinion of the author's presented ideas. Check out this guide from EssayPro — dissertation writing service to learn how to write a book review successfully.
What Is a Book Review?
You may prosper, “what is a book review?”. Book reviews are commonly assigned students to allow them to show a clear understanding of the novel. And to check if the students have actually read the book. The essay format is highly important for your consideration, take a look at the book review format below.
Book reviews are assigned to allow students to present their own opinion regarding the author’s ideas included in the book or passage. They are a form of literary criticism that analyzes the author’s ideas, writing techniques, and quality. A book analysis is entirely opinion-based, in relevance to the book. They are good practice for those who wish to become editors, due to the fact, editing requires a lot of criticism.
Book Review Template
The book review format includes an introduction, body, and conclusion.
- Describe the book cover and title.
- Include any subtitles at this stage.
- Include the Author’s Name.
- Write a brief description of the novel.
- Briefly introduce the main points of the body in your book review.
- Avoid mentioning any opinions at this time.
- Use about 3 quotations from the author’s novel.
- Summarize the quotations in your own words.
- Mention your own point-of-view of the quotation.
- Remember to keep every point included in its own paragraph.
- In brief, summarize the quotations.
- In brief, summarize the explanations.
- Finish with a concluding sentence.
- This can include your final opinion of the book.
- Star-Rating (Optional).
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How to Write a Book Review: Step-By-Step
Writing a book review is something that can be done with every novel. Book reviews can apply to all novels, no matter the genre. Some genres may be harder than others. On the other hand, the book review format remains the same. Take a look at these step-by-step instructions from our professional writers to learn how to write a book review in-depth.
Step 1: Planning
Create an essay outline which includes all of the main points you wish to summarise in your book analysis. Include information about the characters, details of the plot, and some other important parts of your chosen novel. Reserve a body paragraph for each point you wish to talk about.
Consider these points before writing:
- What is the plot of the book? Understanding the plot enables you to write an effective review.
- Is the plot gripping? Does the plot make you want to continue reading the novel? Did you enjoy the plot? Does it manage to grab a reader’s attention?
- Are the writing techniques used by the author effective? Does the writer imply factors in-between the lines? What are they?
- Are the characters believable? Are the characters logical? Does the book make the characters are real while reading?
- Would you recommend the book to anyone? The most important thing: would you tell others to read this book? Is it good enough? Is it bad?
- What could be better? Keep in mind the quotes that could have been presented better. Criticize the writer.
Step 2: Introduction
Presumably, you have chosen your book. To begin, mention the book title and author’s name. Talk about the cover of the book. Write a thesis statement regarding the fictitious story or non-fictional novel. Which briefly describes the quoted material in the book review.
Step 3: Body
Choose a specific chapter or scenario to summarise. Include about 3 quotes in the body. Create summaries of each quote in your own words. It is also encouraged to include your own point-of-view and the way you interpret the quote. It is highly important to have one quote per paragraph.
Step 4: Conclusion
Write a summary of the summarised quotations and explanations, included in the body paragraphs. After doing so, finish book analysis with a concluding sentence to show the bigger picture of the book. Think to yourself, “Is it worth reading?”, and answer the question in black and white. However, write in-between the lines. Avoid stating “I like/dislike this book.”
Step 5: Rate the Book (Optional)
After writing a book review, you may want to include a rating. Including a star-rating provides further insight into the quality of the book, to your readers. Book reviews with star-ratings can be more effective, compared to those which don’t. Though, this is entirely optional.
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Here is the list of tips for the book review:
- A long introduction can certainly lower one’s grade: keep the beginning short. Readers don’t like to read the long introduction for any essay style.
- It is advisable to write book reviews about fiction: it is not a must. Though, reviewing fiction can be far more effective than writing about a piece of nonfiction
- Avoid Comparing: avoid comparing your chosen novel with other books you have previously read. Doing so can be confusing for the reader.
- Opinion Matters: including your own point-of-view is something that is often encouraged when writing book reviews.
- Refer to Templates: a book review template can help a student get a clearer understanding of the required writing style.
- Don’t be Afraid to Criticize: usually, your own opinion isn’t required for academic papers below Ph.D. level. On the other hand, for book reviews, there’s an exception.
- Use Positivity: include a fair amount of positive comments and criticism.
- Review The Chosen Novel: avoid making things up. Review only what is presented in the chosen book.
- Enjoyed the book? If you loved reading the book, state it. Doing so makes your book analysis more personalized.
Writing a book review is something worth thinking about. Professors commonly assign this form of an assignment to students to enable them to express a grasp of a novel. Following the book review format is highly useful for beginners, as well as reading step-by-step instructions. Writing tips is also useful for people who are new to this essay type. If you need a book review or essay, ask our book report writing services ' write paper for me ' and we'll give you a hand asap!
We also recommend that everyone read the article about essay topics . It will help broaden your horizons in writing a book review as well as other papers.
Book Review Examples
Referring to a book review example is highly useful to those who wish to get a clearer understanding of how to review a book. Take a look at our examples written by our professional writers. Click on the button to open the book review examples and feel free to use them as a reference.
Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’
Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ is a novel aimed at youngsters. The plot, itself, is not American humor, but that of Great Britain. In terms of sarcasm, and British-related jokes. The novel illustrates a fair mix of the relationships between the human-like animals, and wildlife. The narrative acts as an important milestone in post-Victorian children’s literature.
Dr. John’s ‘Pollution’
Dr. John’s ‘Pollution’ consists of 3 major parts. The first part is all about the polluted ocean. The second being about the pollution of the sky. The third part is an in-depth study of how humans can resolve these issues. The book is a piece of non-fiction that focuses on modern-day pollution ordeals faced by both animals and humans on Planet Earth. It also focuses on climate change, being the result of the global pollution ordeal.
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Oxford University Press's Academic Insights for the Thinking World
How to write a compelling book review
Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology
- By Edwin Battistella
- August 11 th 2015
Summer is a time when many of us have a little extra time for reading. For me, that means Go Set a Watchman , some Haruki Murukami and James Lee Burke, plus summer mysteries and thrillers. It means catching up on what local authors and friends have published. And it means reading new books in my field and writing book reviews.
Book reviews are an essential but unappreciated genre. Reviewing is much more than service journalism. Book reviews are the first thing I look at in the Sunday paper, the first section I turn to when I get the latest issue of an academic journal. For publishers, reviews are an important way of getting the word out about books they believe in. For authors, reviews are much needed feedback, giving them both a sense of how their peers view their argument and validation that their work has not gone unread. For book reviewers themselves, writing reviews is an exercise in thinking about other peoples’ thinking and writing about other peoples’ writing.
How do you review several hundred pages of someone’s blood, sweat, and tears in just the 500 or 1,000 words allotted to you by an editor? Of course, it depends on the book—novels, anthologies, nonfiction, and reference books all have different constraints. But there are some general principles that will make reviewing something you can look forward to.
- First, pay attention to the deadline and length guidelines. Authors and publishers count on timely reviews—reviews that appear when the book is new. And editors have space limitations, even online, so you can speed things along by following guidelines.
- Leave yourself plenty of time, so that you can read the book a couple of times. Give it a quick skim, then a careful perusing (in the older sense of the word), carefully reading a chapter a day and taking notes. That gives you plenty of time to form an impression and think your evaluation through. What is the author’s point and who else cares about it? Did the author win your confidence? Overexplain? Preach? Drift? Was the exposition at the right level, well-supported and exemplified? Was the narrative propulsive and the characters and dialogue convincing? Pro tip: As I read nonfiction, I also take notes about things I might want to mention in classes or research ideas to follow up on later.
- Your job is to create a relationship between the reviewer, the book’s author, and potential readers. To do that, you need to establish some context for the book. The best reviews quickly situate a book against some social, scientific, cultural, or disciplinary backdrop. A clever title or opening line helps, but it’s more than that. What important ideas or questions does this book address? Who would be interested in the book and why? A good review can amplify that background for readers and may even cause the author to think about the work in a new way. The opening of a Washington Post review of Allan Metcalf’s book, OK: The Improbable History of America’s Greatest Word reads: “Probably there are as many theories about the origins of ‘OK’ as there are theorists to expound them…” If I am interested in that question, I’ll read on.
- Keep in mind that a review is also part summary. Sometimes a chapter-by-chapter summary is helpful, especially when the book is organized as an unfolding nonfiction exposition, historically or thematically. But often chapters can be grouped together more holistically (as you would in summarizing a fictional narrative), allowing you to more quickly focus on the cross-chapter theme an author raises rather than strictly on the exposition.
- As you summarize, try to fit the best examples from the book into the review, rather than just relying on a retelling of an author’s points. Try to refer to the material that brought the book alive for you, juxtaposing different examples to reinforce your reading of the book. Ben Zimmer’s New York Times review of Green’s Dictionary of Slang gives the flavor of the work itself by including the following examples in his piece: booze, crib, punk, and skeeve . Similarly, if you review an anthology or collection of essays, you have just enough space to discuss a few pieces in depth and will need to briskly note most of the others.
- Summary, however it is handled, should be combined with your evaluation of the book. This is your honest judgement of what parts of the book are the strongest and the weakest. Where does the writing sparkle? Where does it lose its way? What might there be more of, or less? What is innovative and what is missing? Who is this book intended for, and who should pass it by? Give the reasons for your judgement, insofar as you can, and avoid being snarky. One of my professors, the late Samuel Levin, joked that he once wanted to begin a review saying, “This book creates a great void in the field.” But he didn’t. Book reviews are not the place for gratuitous put-downs (for example, “This is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force” or “The covers of this book are too far apart.”)
- Book reviews are the time to practice the art of brevity and to polish your own writing. You will probably only have a few hundred words, so make each one count. Engage your readers by getting their attention and winning their confidence, by moving briskly through what you have to say, and helping them to decide if they want to read the book for themselves.
- Book reviews can lead to other review-like writing. You may find yourself asked to do a longer review article, basically a review of two or three books on the same topic. That’s your opportunity to put similar books in touch with one another and offer a more extended discussion on both the books and the topic. Another opportunity is the bibliographic essay, like those of Oxford Bibliographies . Here, writers survey the literature of an entire area: phonetics, dialectology, aphasia, you name it. The summary and evaluation aspects are concise annotations, while the background context takes place in paragraph-long overviews. For the bibliographic essay, the exciting challenge is to share your expertise with those who may be new to something, helping them to see the whole and establish a plan for further reading.
Following directions. Planning. Context. Summary. Evaluation. Your best writing. Those are the fundamentals. Book reviewing, like book writing, is a lot of work. But it matters to writers, readers, and publishers, and it is well worth the effort. Even in the dog days of summer.
Image Credit: “Library” by Stewart Butterfield. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr .
Edwin L. Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he has served as a dean and as interim provost. He is the author of Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology (OUP, 2014), Do You Make These Mistakes in English? (OUP, 2009), Bad Language (OUP, 2005), and The Logic of Markedness (OUP, 1996).
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[…] Oxford University Press – How to Write a Compelling Book Review (article by Edwin Battistella): https://blog.oup.com/2015/08/how-write-book-review/ […]
A very helpful article. Thank you. I am enriched
Writing a book review is a very hectic job specially for students.After reading this blog, i think that this is very helpful blog for students. The writer summarize each steps very clearly. If students would follow this steps then definitely they can easliy write a book review without taking so much time.
Terri Miao – Media writer at https://collegepaperworld.com
It’s so hard to put all of your impressions into a small format of book review. Thanks for the great tips!
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Effective advice to writing a book. I really appreciate the author.
I wanna ask the format of the review. Actually I ve read many reviews but havent got fruitful results .So want the subheadings to be added in critical review.
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Helen vendler, more online by helen vendler.
- In Memoriam: Stratis Haviaras (1935–2020)
On Book Reviewing
By helen vendler.
On December 6, 1990, Harvard professor and eminent literary critic Helen Vendler gave a talk on book reviewing. Somehow the text of this talk found its way into a copy of Erato/Harvard Book Review , where it was discovered twenty-six years later by a Harvard Review staff member who was packing up boxes to send to the University Archives. We are delighted to be able to share these notes and hope you enjoy Professor Vendler’s insights into the duties of a book reviewer.
Writing a book review is a difficult task: it requires us to describe an object that is invisible, to recreate it for someone who has never seen it.
Who is the reader of a review? It is someone coming for the first time to a work—often a work that no one knows very much about. The reviewer needs to know something about the readers: are they experts in the field, interested amateurs, the general public that doesn’t know much about the field or the particular work? Am I writing for my optometrist, my dentist, my taxi driver? What can I assume about them? What do they need to know in order to read my review? One can think about two classes of readers: those who read the review because they think they will want to read the book, and those who read the review because they know they won’t want to read it. Reviewers must be mindful of both groups as they write.
Reviewers are responsible for selecting the important elements of a book and explaining their importance. Though they must be as inclusive as possible, reviewers must learn not to report everything; they must compress. Deftness will help—the insertion of a qualifying phrase, an aside, will set the scene or reveal a trait of character. Try to tuck things into the body of the review; use lists if they will help. Try reducing chapters, even whole books, to a sentence. Then take that reduced statement and decide how to expand it. Remember that publishers set a page limit, and use that limit to help yourself select the central issue, the significant details, the quotations. The first draft is almost always too long; learn to cut without destroying the work.
Where to begin the review: in the Garden of Eden, the English Civil War, or the first lines of Paradise Lost ? “Where do you put in your wedge?” It is useful to think of the development curve of the book. How does it move from A to B, from preface to concluding chapter? Following this curve may help plan the shape of the review.
Reviewers can plot the curve in part by making extracts. Isolate passages that you might want to quote because they illustrate the best and worst characteristics of the book. Compile an anthology, a mini-book. Then reread the quotations. Why did they attract you? What do they illustrate? Which can you use to start the review or to end it? Which will you use to illuminate what points?
What are the desiderata: what would we want or expect to learn from this book? What does the book claim to do? What do we find? Were we disappointed? We can trace for ourselves the curve of expectation and match it to the jagged line of reality, sometimes above, sometimes below that curve. Does the book exceed our expectations or disappoint? Does it make us irritable? How shall we measure or explain the difference between promise and performance?
A review has three main parts: a description of the book, an evaluation, and a defense of the evaluation. Fitting those parts together will vary from review to review.
The first task is to describe, to produce a taxonomy of the book: what kind of book is it? Reviewers should describe the whole and its parts economically. Give readers the big picture, then focus on one piece. Use comparisons and contrasts to give readers a sense of the whole work without describing it in excessive detail. “Unlike Jane Austen, this author …. ”
In most books there’s a slough of despond waiting to trap reviewers: a chapter they don’t want to discuss. (Often this is because the author didn’t much like writing that chapter.) Be fair to the author; recognize the “flabby connective tissue,” but don’t let that weakness overwhelm the book or the review.
Turning to the evaluation of the book, reviewers ask about its context. How does it fit into its era, its nation, the ideological patterns of which it is a witness? Situate the book. How is the topic under discussion seen nowadays; does this book fit the paradigm or does it propose a new model? Ask about its ancestors and about what books it might generate. Books make other books happen. What would we like to see next? What evidence, devices does it use; does it use them well?
These questions reveal the reviewer’s criteria as well as the nature of the book. What framework does the reviewer use to measure the book? What are the standards, the measures by which the curve of expectation was drawn?
There’s one ethical rule for reviewers: read every word, including every footnote, the index, the bibliography, the captions of the pictures. And another rule: don’t review what you don’t feel competent to review.
Writing a book review is like giving oneself a mini-seminar. One has to know an enormous amount about the matter of the book to understand it and be properly critical. Preparing to write is a process of self-education; it involves experience and self-awareness. Critics who are too young haven’t read enough; those who are too old may have lost touch with the center of a generation.
Published on May 24, 2016
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Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology Hardcover – October 4, 2022
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- Print length 464 pages
- Language English
- Publisher Scribner
- Publication date October 4, 2022
- Dimensions 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- ISBN-10 1982172002
- ISBN-13 978-1982172008
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- Publisher : Scribner (October 4, 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1982172002
- ISBN-13 : 978-1982172008
- Item Weight : 1.42 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- #2 in National & International Security (Books)
- #4 in Economic History (Books)
- #4 in International Economics (Books)
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About the author
Chris Miller teaches International History at Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is also Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a director at Greenmantle, a macroeconomic and geopolitical consultancy. He is regularly quoted in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, is featured on CNBC and NPR, and writes for publications like Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. He is author of three books: Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia, The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy and We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia from Peter the Great to Putin. He received his PhD and MA from Yale University and his AB in history from Harvard University. For more information, see www.christophermiller.net
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