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Instructions for the Preparation of Book Reviews
I. The Critical Book Review: The purpose of a critical book review is twofold. The reviewer wishes, first, to inform the reader as to the nature and scope of the book under consideration. More important, the reviewer seeks to present an evaluation of the book. In so far as is possible, the review should be objective; it should be an evaluation based upon evidence and examples presented in the review and not upon such subjective criteria as personal likes and dislikes.
II. Reading the Book:
A. Begin with questions in your mind: Who wrote the book? Is he/she qualified to write on the subject chosen? What is the book about? Why did the author write the book? Does the book have a thesis? Does the title reveal the author's attitude toward his/her subject? If you ask yourself these and other pertinent questions before you begin to read, you will be in a good position to evaluate the book.
B. Read the preface, the introduction, and the acknowledgments. Valuable clues to the author's purpose and/or thesis may be found in one or all of these places.
C. Read the body of the work carefully, noting important passages.
III. Evaluation. While reading the book, attempt to identify the author's thesis - a thesis is an argument supported by evidence put forward by the author of the book. Once you have found the thesis, you must decide for yourself if it is valid. You must, in other words, discover what the author is trying to say and, then, evaluate what is said. In so doing, you may find the following questions helpful:
- What is the subject and scope of the book?
- How thorough is the author's treatment of his subject?
- What kind of sources (primary or secondary) does the author use?
- Does the book treat the subject in detail or in general terms?
- In what sort of style (i.e. popular, elegant, pedantic) is the book written?
- Is the book well organized and constructed?
- When was the book written?
- Is it the most recent in the field?
IV. Preparing to Write the Review: Once you have read the book and found its thesis or purpose, and once you have evaluated it, you are ready to write your review. Having decided on the point your review will make (i.e. this is a sound, well-documented, and carefully written book or this book is so poorly researched and so badly written that the publisher should not have wasted good paper on it or this is a fascinating book but it lacks the evidence to support the thesis-and so on). Write an introductory paragraph containing the title and author of the book, a sentence about the author, a brief description of the book's contents, and an indication of what your review will say. The following two or three paragraphs (i.e. the body of the review) will probably contain a statement of the author's argument, an evaluation of its validity, and the answers to such of the above questions as are pertinent to the book. When you have finished the review - an absolute maximum of five typed (or the equivalent in long-hand pages) - write a concluding paragraph in which a summary of your review's most important points is made.
V. Citation. At the top of the first page of your review, give a full citation for the book read.
Thomson, David. World History From 1914 to 1968. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
A book review discusses the main themes of a book, states the author's thesis (main point), describes the author's sources (evidence), assesses the author's use of the sources in arguing the thesis, and compares the author's work with other books on the same subject. If a book review offers an opinion on the merits of the book, it does so on the basis of the author's stated objectives, not on the basis of the reviewer's biases.
The word "critical" in "critical analysis" does not mean that you are obligated to produce an unfavorable review, nor that you should be disparaging in your remarks. It means that you should use critical reading skills to ask yourself what the author's objective is, what the author's thesis is, and how the author has used his or her sources to construct an argument using evidence that is persuasive. In the final analysis, has the author persuaded you--the reader--to agree with his or her interpretation of history?
Like every good piece of writing, your book review should be constructed with an introduction, the main body of the text (several paragraphs) in which you develop your analysis, and a conclusion.
Your book review should include the following elements:
Introduction: Identification of the author and title of the book you are reviewing.
Objective or purpose of the book as stated by the author, usually in preface
Thesis, main argument and secondary argument
Assessment of the author's use of evidence to support thesis
Is the author's interpretation convincing?
Provide examples to support your own position
Comparison with other books you have read on the same subject
Conclusion: Concluding evaluation
Your book review should be three to four pages in length, or 750 to 1000 words when printed double-spaced and in 12-point font.
If you want to include citations from the book you are reviewing, use quotation marks for the citations and insert page number on which the citation appears in parentheses immediately afterwards. If you choose to cite works other than the book you are reviewing, you should use the appropriate conventions of historical scholarship for footnotes and include a bibliography. A useful guide in this respect is Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 3rd ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001). This book is available in the reference section of the Bartle Library.
Before you begin writing your book review, you should take a look at some examples of good reviews. I suggest you look at The Historian, a journal published by Phi Alpha Theta, the History Honor Society. You will find it shelved in the Bartle Library. Reviews are always published at the back of the journal. History majors or graduate students in History wrote many of the reviews you will read there. You are expected to follow the general format of the reviews. You are not expected to meet their level of sophistication.
Books of historical scholarship are not novels or works of fiction. They are described as "non-fiction" and are interpretations of events and phenomena in the past. Historians "argue" their case. They make claims and assertions about the past, but most historians do not claim to be able to "prove" what happened in the past. You should therefore avoid the words "prove" and "proof." You should also avoid referring to actors in the past as "we." "We" are actors in our own time, but we could not act before we were born. Once you have properly identified actors in the past, the appropriate pronoun to use is "they."Book List for Book Review: HISTORY 1110/1120 * denotes fictionChinua AchebeThings Fall Apart*No Longer at Ease*A Man of the People*Kamala MarkandayaNectar in a Sieve*A Handful of Rice*Bernard LewisWhat Went Wrong?The Muslim Discovery of EuropeKen FollettPillars of the Earth*William ManchesterThe Arms of KruppPeter DuusFeudalism in JapanNorman IzkowitzOttoman Empire and Islamic TraditionCarlo CipollaBefore the Industrial RevolutionGuns, Sails and EmpiresFrederick W. MoteIntellectual Foundations of ChinaDaniel HeadrickTools of EmpireFrances Gies, Joseph GiesCathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle AgesFrank TannenbaumSlave and CitizenByron Farwell
Instructions for the Preparation of Book Reviews
I. The Critical Book Review: The purpose of a critical book review is twofold. The reviewer wishes, first, to inform the reader as to the nature and scope of the book under consideration. More important, the reviewer seeks to present an evaluation of the book.