Suggestions for Writing a Book Review

Copyright MMIIII by Brian A. Pavlac

Introduction (1 paragraph): Tell the reader what you are going to say.

A. Exordium: What is the general topic? Introduce and ease into your particular book; perhaps provide background or discuss broader issues.

B. Subject: What is the book's purpose? Briefly describe the thesis or theme, assumptions, point-of-view or bias. Identify the book's intended audience (e.g., popular, professional, specialists). You might provide the author's credentials (background, training, other publications, reputation). The acknowledgements/ preface, reference works like Directory of American Scholars: Volume I: History, 20th Century Authors, Who's Who in America, International Who's Who, Dictionary of International Biography, American Women Writers, Contemporary Authors, The Writer's Directory, or other reviews can supply such information.

C. Direction: How are you going to review the book? Clearly state your specific major points. If possible, have your own unifying thesis for the review.

Summary (1-2 paragraphs): Describe the book.

A. Clarity: State in detail the book's argument which you are evaluating. Particularly note any theories of history or historiographical methodologies that influence the author. What kind of facts are included, what conclusions are reached?

B. Support: How does the author back up the argument? What kind of primary or secondary sources, footnotes, maps, pictures, charts or statistics are used? Were some important sources omitted?

C. Quotations: Quote sparingly; using your own words shows your mastery of the material. Be sure to explain the relevance of each quote and detail in your own words. There should be no quotes over three lines.

    Critical Analysis (3-5 paragraphs): Evaluate the book.

A. Strengths: What are the virtues of the book? Does the author succeed in his/her aims? Explain the positive aspects using specific examples. These can include style (from turgid to lively), narrative (from dull to fascinating), structure (from confused to logical), argumentation (from unconnected to convincing), use of sources (from slipshod to masterful), or selection of topics (narrow to comprehensive).

B. Weaknesses: What are problems with the book? Explain any flaws using specific examples. Include only major errors, not typographical ones, unless they significantly detract from the work.

C. Comparison: How does the book contribute to the field? Does the author take into account opposing viewpoints? Does it contradict other perspectives or your text?

Conclusion (1-2 paragraphs): Tell the reader what you said.

A. Closure: Have all important points been considered? Tie up any loose ends or questions. Are there any areas in the broader subject that might bear more investigation?

B. Review: What were the author's main points and your evaluation of them? Are the conclusions valid?

C. Evaluation: Was the book excellent or poor? Try to be fair and find a balance between any merits and faults. What are your recommendations to readers?


"Unfortunately, most scholarly reviews are written solely for scholars (i.e., specialists), and all too frequently the only point that is made is that the reviewer knows more about the subject, or thinks he does, than the author of the volume under discussion."

Hugh B. Hamett, "How to Write a Book Review: A Guide for Students," The Social Studies, 65, no. 6, Nov. 1974, pp. 263-265.

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