Writing the Book Review

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The book review is one of the most common, and most commonly misunderstood, assignments in college. All too often students simply summarize the contents of a book. A good book review should provide critical commentary on the quality of the book: the thesis and major arguments, the organization and style, the scholarly apparatus, the author's values and assumptions.

A good book review does, of course, indicate (briefly!) what the book covers—i.e., the contents. The review should pay far more attention, however, to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the book. The book review should ultimately answer the question: "Is this a good book that would be worth reading?

Use the following checklist as a guide for writing critical book reviews.

  1. What does the book cover? (Summarize briefly. When reviewing fiction, never give away the ending or the intricacies of plot that are meant to surprise the reader.)
  2. Who is the author and what are his or her biases?
  3. What are the major points that the author makes in the book?
  4. Do you think these ideas are correct? Do you accept them? Why or why not?
    Specifically: (a) Does the author substantiate his or her points satisfactorily with information, logic, examples, etc.? (b) Do the author's ideas agree with your experience and knowledge?
  5. Are there special features about this book which interest or disturb you, such as unusual information or new ways of looking at an issue?
  6. Are there questions raised for you in this book which the author does not answer?
  7. If you have read other books on the same general topic, how does this book compare? More important, how does the interpretation (thesis) of this book differ from that of the others?
  8. Are there additional comments you should include in order to make the essence of this book understood by someone reading your review?

These questions may be answered in any order, but all of them should be addressed, however briefly. Remember, also, that a book review, like any other piece of writing, should observe the basic requirements of literary discourse. There should be an introduction that includes either a thesis or a premise from which your thesis will later emerge, a middle section in which you give a brief synopsis of the book and develop your arguments, and a brief conclusion. As always, clarity and grammatical precision are