Format: At the top of the document, provide a full citation for the book. Develop your review in paragraphs. Provide the word count at the end of the document.
Genre: Book reviews are a vital genre for scholars of all kinds. They help readers remain abreast of developments in their field by discussing new scholarship in their field. A scholarly book review balances characterization of a book’s argument and methodology with a critical assessment of the work’s strengths and weaknesses. It locates the work within the broader scholarship, sometimes by naming specific scholars it responds to, sometimes by indicating the scholarly questions the book addresses.
Read sample reviews. Observe patterns in the kinds of information reviewers convey, the tone of their exchanges, the implicit imagined audience of the review, etc.
Review your book notes and the text itself. Decide what elements of the book are most important, what dimensions of the book that are most characteristic of its tone/methodology/argument. Reflect on your opinion of the books success and failures and what has led you to those conclusions.
Begin drafting your review.
It should have an introduction, which usually includes the author’s name and the book title, a brief overview, and an indication of your assessment.
The body paragraphs should summarize the book briefly, but the summary should not take up more than about a third of the review.
It also presents an argument about the quality of a book, and therefore needs to make its assessment clear and support it with evidence.
You may quote directly from the original source, but keep this to a minimum in order to highlight your own critical assessment, and be sure to provide page numbers in parentheses after any quotations.
Questions to consider in developing your review:
What is the main argument of the book? (note: it may be implicit rather than explicit, particularly when a book foregrounds narrative)
What goals does the author have for the book and how well does it meet them?
What kinds of evidence does the author use and how? Are there distinctive methodological approaches on display?
How is the book organized?
Does the author have unstated assumptions that are shaping the book in important ways? Particular biases that should be pointed out in the review?
How does the book fit into the larger scholarship? (Sometimes the author tells you this directly, sometimes you must rely on footnotes for clues, as well as your knowledge of the larger field).
Does the book address an important topic? Does it approach a familiar topic in a new way? Carve out a new area of inquiry?
Is this book worth reading or not? Why?
In addition to assessing the quality of the books analysis and research, a review will often address the quality of the writing.
For what audience(s) would the book be most appropriate? Only scholars? undergraduate readers? a general audience?
Guidelines for reviewers provided by the American Historical Review: http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/american-historical-review/book-review-guide (Links to an external site.)
For more detailed guides on writing scholarly book reviews in history, go to:
http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/writing/history/assignments/bookreviews.html#sample (Links to an external site.)
Extra notes from professor:
Engage with book, what is the author trying to do?
Engage with author, but you don’t have to agree, but have reasons!
Read into and conclusion for “I argue”
Brief summary (not more than 2 paragraphs) (broad, not detailed)
Sub-arguements that are interesting (no more than 2)
My Evaluation of book (worth reading or not?)
Audience for the book (author’s purpose)
In-text citations – use page # in parathensis I.e. (2) or (134), etc