How do i write a book review
Book Reviews 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. 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.
See our handout on argument. Typically, reviews are brief. In newspapers and academic journals, they rarely exceed 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: Finally, in addition to analyzing the work, a review often suggests whether or not the audience would appreciate it. Becoming an expert reviewer: Someone has asked for your opinion about something that you may feel unqualified to evaluate. 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. 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: Historically, ale and beer not milk, wine, or water were important elements of the English diet. 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: 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: I wanted to know about the rituals surrounding drinking in medieval England: 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 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 click here 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: It combines balanced opinion and concrete example, a critical assessment based on an explicitly stated rationale, and a recommendation to a potential audience.
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.
- In writing a review of The Scarlet Letter, it would be useful to consider why Hawthorne did this, and how it relates back to the book's overall theme of sin.
- What follows is just one of many ways to organize a review.
- Once you have identified several books, locate copies and skim them.
Thus, writing a review is a two-step process: 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.
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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?
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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? How has this book helped you understand the subject? Would you recommend the book to your reader? 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. What difference would it make if the author participated in the events she writes about? 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.
- This e-mail need not be longer than two sentences:
- Given the argument you want to make, you can organize your paragraphs more usefully by themes, methods, or other elements of the book.
- Be sure, however, to cite specific examples to back up your assertions carefully.
If you are reviewing the first book ever written on the subject, it will be important for your readers to know. 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.
Review the book you read -- not the book you wish the author had written. Don't give away important details or reveal the ending of the book in your summary, and don't go into detail about what happens from the middle of the book onwards. If we were to use the Scarlett Letter again, it would be important to note that Hawthorne chose the adulterer and sinner Hester Prynne as his protagonist, and placed the religious, anti sin Reverend Wilson in the role of antagonist. Your recommendation Would you recommend this book to another person? Do the binding, page cut, or typescript contribute or take away from the work? Leave plenty room for your evaluation by ensuring that your summary is brief.
Then, outline the arguments that support your thesis. Your arguments should develop the thesis in a logical manner. The relative emphasis depends on the nature of the review: What follows is just one of many ways to organize a review. Introduction Since most reviews are brief, many writers begin with a catchy quip or anecdote that succinctly delivers their argument.
Classic book review structure is as follows: Does it persuade you? Read those academic journals that list books recently received for review or recently published in their area. As well, noticing any well developed elements of the book will help you create good points for your review. You could also link the title to the subject to show how the title explains click subject matter. Your conclusion should summarize, perhaps include a final assessment.
But you can introduce your review differently depending on the argument and audience. In general, you should include: The name of the author and the book title and the main theme.
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You could also link the title to the subject to show how the title explains the subject matter. 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.
Your thesis about the book. Summary of content This should be brief, as analysis takes priority. The necessary amount of summary also depends on your audience. 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. Conclusion 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. Did the body of your review have three negative paragraphs and one favorable one? What do they all add up to? In review Finally, a few general considerations: Review the book in front of you, not the book you wish the author had written. 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.
Given the argument you want to make, you can organize your paragraphs more usefully by themes, methods, or other elements of the book. In newspapers and academic journals, they rarely exceed words, although you may encounter lengthier assignments and extended commentaries. If you are reviewing fiction, this may be difficult since novels, plays, and short stories rarely have explicit arguments. It is best to aim for about 1, words, as you can say a fair amount in 1, words without getting bogged down. How to Write Book Reports. Book jackets are like mini-reviews. Publishers frequently send books for review straight to journals or, if the xo editor directly contacts them, straight to you.
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. For further reading 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.
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