The book review is not a summary. The book review will be two pages in length, double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 points.
A book review is not a “book report.” A report is a statement or announcement. By definition, statements do not show through description and examples. They tell. And, frankly, nobody likes to be told anything very much. (Did you like that last sentence? Probably not. Why? Because I was telling you something.)
But we do like to be shown how things work using description and examples. So, how does the book you have chosen to review “work”? What does the author do to construct the book’s meaning? Why should a prospective reader even spend time reading the book you are reviewing? You have to show the potential reader why they would want to read the book — or not!
To review means something rather different than report. Review means to “look at or over again.” And, if you look at the first definitions that appear at the link at the beginning of this paragraph, you can see that a review is a more interesting thing, I think, than a report as you are meant to provide a “critical evaluation.”
Criticism is an art. And it is closely aligned with scholarly writing, particularly the type of writing we are meant to be teaching you at the University.
Reading critical reviews is a crucial practice in educated culture.
Well written or composed critical reviews help a person (a reader, a member of an audience, a listener, a viewer) understand the importance and significance of a work, helping them rationalize whether it is worth their time, whether it will expose them to some new way of looking at something.
Capable, competent reviews help a person understand where a work came from, how a work was composed, and what the work amounts to.
Reviews are not vehicles for engaging in ad hominem expressions of opinion. Reviews, and this is really important, always take the work seriously that is under review. This means taking the author or creator seriously, not discounting what they are trying to create or show, but understanding the origin of the work, the method the work uses, and its significance.
What should you be doing in a book (or any other type of) review. Here are some guidelines that I have adapted from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
All good pieces of scholarly writing should have an introduction, and book reviews are no exception. Open with a general description of the topic and/or problem addressed by the work in question. Think, if possible, of a hook to draw your readers in. that hook should be about the book (and not anything else).
Summary of argument
Your review should, as concisely as possible, summarize the book’s argument. Even edited collections and textbooks will have particular features intended to make them distinctive in the proverbial marketplace of ideas. What, ultimately, is this book’s reason for being? If there is an identifiable thesis statement, you may consider quoting it directly.
About the author(s)
Some basic biographical information about the author(s) or editor(s) of the book you are reviewing is necessary. Who are they? What are they known for? What particular sorts of qualifications and expertise do they bring to the subject? How might the work you are reviewing fit into a wider research or career trajectory?
Summary of contents.
A reasonably thorough indication of the research methods used (if applicable) and of the range of substantive material covered in the book should be included.
Identify one particular area in which you think the book does well. This should, ideally, be its single greatest strength as a scholarly work. Usually this would be about the new understanding(s) that the book advances. Every book is an achievement: what type of achievement is it?
Identify one particular area in which you think the book could be improved. While this weakness might be related to something you actually believe to be incorrect, it is more likely to be something that the author omitted, or neglected to address in sufficient detail.
End your review with a concluding statement summarizing the book’s significance. You should also explicitly identify a range of audiences whom you think would appreciate reading or otherwise benefit from the book.
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