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          Matthew O'Gara
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Home       •        Curriculum Vitae       •        Term Paper Guide       •        Critical Reading       •        Analyzing Fiction       •        Writing Book Reviews


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?

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. 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.

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. Use the following format:

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. Include a very brief overview of the contents of the book, the purpose or audience for the book, and your reaction and evaluation.

Next, the review gives a summary of the main points of the book, quoting and paraphrasing key phrases from the author. This will be the bulk of your paper (roughly 2/3 of its content). In this section you want to keep it descriptive -- grant the book its points, and present them as you imagine the author would like them summarized.

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, and
* what specific points are not convincing.

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 no set formula, but a general rule of thumb is that the first two-thirds of the review should summarize the author's main ideas and one-third should evaluate the book.


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.



NOTE: This material was taken from several other sources and modified to suit my courses. Original source(s) unknown.




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