Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments
- Annotated Bibliography
- Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
- Group Presentations
- Dealing with Nervousness
- Using Visual Aids
- Grading Someone Else's Paper
- Types of Structured Group Activities
- Group Project Survival Skills
- Leading a Class Discussion
- Multiple Book Review Essay
- Reviewing Collected Works
- Writing a Case Analysis Paper
- Writing a Case Study
- About Informed Consent
- Writing Field Notes
- Writing a Policy Memo
- Writing a Reflective Paper
- Writing a Research Proposal
- Generative AI and Writing
A book review is a thorough description, critical analysis, and/or evaluation of the quality, meaning, and significance of a book, often written in relation to prior research on the topic. Reviews generally range from 500-2000 words, but may be longer or shorter depends on several factors: the length and complexity of the book being reviewed, the overall purpose of the review, and whether the review examines two or more books that focus on the same topic. Professors assign book reviews as practice in carefully analyzing complex scholarly texts and to assess your ability to effectively synthesize research so that you reach an informed perspective about the topic being covered.
There are two general approaches to reviewing a book:
- Descriptive review: Presents the content and structure of a book as objectively as possible, describing essential information about a book's purpose and authority. This is done by stating the perceived aims and purposes of the study, often incorporating passages quoted from the text that highlight key elements of the work. Additionally, there may be some indication of the reading level and anticipated audience.
- Critical review: Describes and evaluates the book in relation to accepted literary and historical standards and supports this evaluation with evidence from the text and, in most cases, in contrast to and in comparison with the research of others. It should include a statement about what the author has tried to do, evaluates how well you believe the author has succeeded in meeting the objectives of the study, and presents evidence to support this assessment. For most course assignments, your professor will want you to write this type of review.
Book Reviews. Writing Center. University of New Hampshire; Book Reviews: How to Write a Book Review. Writing and Style Guides. Libraries. Dalhousie University; Kindle, Peter A. "Teaching Students to Write Book Reviews." Contemporary Rural Social Work 7 (2015): 135-141; Erwin, R. W. “Reviewing Books for Scholarly Journals.” In Writing and Publishing for Academic Authors . Joseph M. Moxley and Todd Taylor. 2 nd edition. (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 1997), pp. 83-90.
How to Approach Writing Your Review
NOTE: Since most course assignments require that you write a critical rather than descriptive book review, the following information about preparing to write and developing the structure and style of reviews focuses on this approach.
I. Common Features
While book reviews vary in tone, subject, and style, they share some common features. These include:
- A review gives the reader a concise summary of the content . This includes a description of the research topic and scope of analysis as well as an overview of the book's overall perspective, argument, and purpose.
- A review offers a critical assessment of the content in relation to other studies on the same topic . This involves documenting your reactions to the work under review--what strikes you as noteworthy or important, whether or not the arguments made by the author(s) were effective or persuasive, and how the work enhanced your understanding of the research problem under investigation.
- In addition to analyzing a book's strengths and weaknesses, a scholarly review often recommends whether or not readers would value the work for its authenticity and overall quality . This measure of quality includes both the author's ideas and arguments and covers practical issues, such as, readability and language, organization and layout, indexing, and, if needed, the use of non-textual elements .
To maintain your focus, always keep in mind that most assignments ask you to discuss a book's treatment of its topic, not the topic itself . Your key sentences should say, "This book shows...,” "The study demonstrates...," or “The author argues...," rather than "This happened...” or “This is the case....”
II. Developing a Critical Assessment Strategy
There is no definitive methodological approach to writing a book review in the social sciences, although it is necessary that you think critically about the research problem under investigation before you begin to write. Therefore, writing a book review is a three-step process: 1) carefully taking notes as you read the text; 2) developing an argument about the value of the work under consideration; and, 3) clearly articulating that argument as you write an organized and well-supported assessment of the work.
A useful strategy in preparing to write a review is to list a set of questions that should be answered as you read the book [remember to note the page numbers so you can refer back to the text!]. The specific questions to ask yourself will depend upon the type of book you are reviewing. For example, a book that is presenting original research about a topic may require a different set of questions to ask yourself than a work where the author is offering a personal critique of an existing policy or issue.
Here are some sample questions that can help you think critically about the book:
- Thesis or Argument . What is the central thesis—or main argument—of the book? If the author wanted you to get one main idea from the book, what would it be? How does it compare or contrast to the world that you know or have experienced? What has the book accomplished? Is the argument clearly stated and does the research support this?
- Topic . What exactly is the subject or topic of the book? Is it clearly articulated? Does the author cover the subject adequately? Does the author cover all aspects of the subject in a balanced fashion? Can you detect any biases? What type of approach has the author adopted to explore the research problem [e.g., topical, analytical, chronological, descriptive]?
- Evidence . How does the author support their argument? What evidence does the author use to prove their point? Is the evidence based on an appropriate application of the method chosen to gather information? Do you find that evidence convincing? Why or why not? Does any of the author's information [or conclusions] conflict with other books you've read, courses you've taken, or just previous assumptions you had about the research problem?
- Structure . How does the author structure their argument? Does it follow a logical order of analysis? What are the parts that make up the whole? Does the argument make sense to you? Does it persuade you? Why or why not?
- Take-aways . How has this book helped you understand the research problem? Would you recommend the book to others? Why or why not?
Beyond the content of the book, you may also consider some information about the author and the general presentation of information. Question to ask may include:
- The Author: Who is the author? The nationality, political persuasion, education, intellectual interests, personal history, and historical context may provide crucial details about how a work takes shape. Does it matter, for example, that the author is affiliated with a particular organization? What difference would it make if the author participated in the events they wrote about? What other topics has the author written about? Does this work build on prior research or does it represent a new or unique area of research?
- The Presentation: What is the book's genre? Out of what discipline does it emerge? Does it conform to or depart from the conventions of its genre? These questions can provide a historical or other contextual standard upon which to base your evaluations. If you are reviewing the first book ever written on the subject, it will be important for your readers to know this. Keep in mind, though, that declarative statements about being the “first,” the "best," or the "only" book of its kind can be a risky unless you're absolutely certain because your professor [presumably] has a much better understanding of the overall research literature.
NOTE: Most critical book reviews examine a topic in relation to prior research. A good strategy for identifying this prior research is to examine sources the author(s) cited in the chapters introducing the research problem and, of course, any review of the literature. However, you should not assume that the author's references to prior research is authoritative or complete. If any works related to the topic have been excluded, your assessment of the book should note this . Be sure to consult with a librarian to ensure that any additional studies are located beyond what has been cited by the author(s).
Book Reviews. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Book Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (July 2006): 1194–1207; Motta-Roth, D. “Discourse Analysis and Academic Book Reviews: A Study of Text and Disciplinary Cultures.” In Genre Studies in English for Academic Purposes . Fortanet Gómez, Inmaculada et al., editors. (Castellò de la Plana: Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I, 1998), pp. 29-45. Writing a Book Review. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Book Reviews. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Suárez, Lorena and Ana I. Moreno. “The Rhetorical Structure of Academic Journal Book Reviews: A Cross-linguistic and Cross-disciplinary Approach .” In Asociación Europea de Lenguas para Fines Específicos, María del Carmen Pérez Llantada Auría, Ramón Plo Alastrué, and Claus Peter Neumann. Actas del V Congreso Internacional AELFE/Proceedings of the 5th International AELFE Conference . Zaragoza: Universidad de Zaragoza, 2006.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Bibliographic Information
Bibliographic information refers to the essential elements of a work if you were to cite it in a paper [i.e., author, title, date of publication, etc.]. Provide the essential information about the book using the writing style [e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago] preferred by your professor or used by the discipline of your major . Depending on how your professor wants you to organize your review, the bibliographic information represents the heading of your review. In general, it would look like this:
[Complete title of book. Author or authors. Place of publication. Publisher. Date of publication. Number of pages before first chapter, often in Roman numerals. Total number of pages]. The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History . By Jill Lepore. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. xii, 207 pp.)
Reviewed by [your full name].
Begin your review by telling the reader not only the overarching concern of the book in its entirety [the subject area] but also what the author's particular point of view is on that subject [the thesis statement]. If you cannot find an adequate statement in the author's own words or if you find that the thesis statement is not well-developed, then you will have to compose your own introductory thesis statement that does cover all the material. This statement should be no more than one paragraph and must be succinctly stated, accurate, and unbiased.
If you find it difficult to discern the overall aims and objectives of the book [and, be sure to point this out in your review if you determine that this is a deficiency], you may arrive at an understanding of the book's overall purpose by assessing the following:
- Scan the table of contents because it can help you understand how the book was organized and will aid in determining the author's main ideas and how they were developed [e.g., chronologically, topically, historically, etc.].
- Why did the author write on this subject rather than on some other subject?
- From what point of view is the work written?
- Was the author trying to give information, to explain something technical, or to convince the reader of a belief’s validity by dramatizing it in action?
- What is the general field or genre, and how does the book fit into it? If necessary, review related literature from other books and journal articles to familiarize yourself with the field.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author's style? Is it formal or informal? You can evaluate the quality of the writing style by noting some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, accurate use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, and fluidity [i.e., quality of the narrative flow].
- How did the book affect you? Were there any prior assumptions you had about the subject that were changed, abandoned, or reinforced after reading the book? How is the book related to your own personal beliefs or assumptions? What personal experiences have you had related to the subject that affirm or challenge underlying assumptions?
- How well has the book achieved the goal(s) set forth in the preface, introduction, and/or foreword?
- Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?
III. Note the Method
Support your remarks with specific references to text and quotations that help to illustrate the literary method used to state the research problem, describe the research design, and analyze the findings. In general, authors tend to use the following literary methods, exclusively or in combination.
- Description : The author depicts scenes and events by giving specific details that appeal to the five senses, or to the reader’s imagination. The description presents background and setting. Its primary purpose is to help the reader realize, through as many details as possible, the way persons, places, and things are situated within the phenomenon being described.
- Narration : The author tells the story of a series of events, usually thematically or in chronological order. In general, the emphasis in scholarly books is on narration of the events. Narration tells what has happened and, in some cases, using this method to forecast what could happen in the future. Its primary purpose is to draw the reader into a story and create a contextual framework for understanding the research problem.
- Exposition : The author uses explanation and analysis to present a subject or to clarify an idea. Exposition presents the facts about a subject or an issue clearly and as impartially as possible. Its primary purpose is to describe and explain, to document for the historical record an event or phenomenon.
- Argument : The author uses techniques of persuasion to establish understanding of a particular truth, often in the form of addressing a research question, or to convince the reader of its falsity. The overall aim is to persuade the reader to believe something and perhaps to act on that belief. Argument takes sides on an issue and aims to convince the reader that the author's position is valid, logical, and/or reasonable.
IV. Critically Evaluate the Contents
Critical comments should form the bulk of your book review . State whether or not you feel the author's treatment of the subject matter is appropriate for the intended audience. Ask yourself:
- Has the purpose of the book been achieved?
- What contributions does the book make to the field?
- Is the treatment of the subject matter objective or at least balanced in describing all sides of a debate?
- Are there facts and evidence that have been omitted?
- What kinds of data, if any, are used to support the author's thesis statement?
- Can the same data be interpreted to explain alternate outcomes?
- Is the writing style clear and effective?
- Does the book raise important or provocative issues or topics for discussion?
- Does the book bring attention to the need for further research?
- What has been left out?
Support your evaluation with evidence from the text and, when possible, state the book's quality in relation to other scholarly sources. If relevant, note of the book's format, such as, layout, binding, typography, etc. Are there tables, charts, maps, illustrations, text boxes, photographs, or other non-textual elements? Do they aid in understanding the text? Describing this is particularly important in books that contain a lot of non-textual elements.
NOTE: It is important to carefully distinguish your views from those of the author so as not to confuse your reader. Be clear when you are describing an author's point of view versus expressing your own.
V. Examine the Front Matter and Back Matter
Front matter refers to any content before the first chapter of the book. Back matter refers to any information included after the final chapter of the book . Front matter is most often numbered separately from the rest of the text in lower case Roman numerals [i.e. i - xi ]. Critical commentary about front or back matter is generally only necessary if you believe there is something that diminishes the overall quality of the work [e.g., the indexing is poor] or there is something that is particularly helpful in understanding the book's contents [e.g., foreword places the book in an important context].
Front matter that may be considered for evaluation when reviewing its overall quality:
- Table of contents -- is it clear? Is it detailed or general? Does it reflect the true contents of the book? Does it help in understanding a logical sequence of content?
- Author biography -- also found as back matter, the biography of author(s) can be useful in determining the authority of the writer and whether the book builds on prior research or represents new research. In scholarly reviews, noting the author's affiliation and prior publications can be a factor in helping the reader determine the overall validity of the work [i.e., are they associated with a research center devoted to studying the problem under investigation].
- Foreword -- the purpose of a foreword is to introduce the reader to the author and the content of the book, and to help establish credibility for both. A foreword may not contribute any additional information about the book's subject matter, but rather, serves as a means of validating the book's existence. In these cases, the foreword is often written by a leading scholar or expert who endorses the book's contributions to advancing research about the topic. Later editions of a book sometimes have a new foreword prepended [appearing before an older foreword, if there was one], which may be included to explain how the latest edition differs from previous editions. These are most often written by the author.
- Acknowledgements -- scholarly studies in the social sciences often take many years to write, so authors frequently acknowledge the help and support of others in getting their research published. This can be as innocuous as acknowledging the author's family or the publisher. However, an author may acknowledge prominent scholars or subject experts, staff at key research centers, people who curate important archival collections, or organizations that funded the research. In these particular cases, it may be worth noting these sources of support in your review, particularly if the funding organization is biased or its mission is to promote a particular agenda.
- Preface -- generally describes the genesis, purpose, limitations, and scope of the book and may include acknowledgments of indebtedness to people who have helped the author complete the study. Is the preface helpful in understanding the study? Does it provide an effective framework for understanding what's to follow?
- Chronology -- also may be found as back matter, a chronology is generally included to highlight key events related to the subject of the book. Do the entries contribute to the overall work? Is it detailed or very general?
- List of non-textual elements -- a book that contains numerous charts, photographs, maps, tables, etc. will often list these items after the table of contents in the order that they appear in the text. Is this useful?
Back matter that may be considered for evaluation when reviewing its overall quality:
- Afterword -- this is a short, reflective piece written by the author that takes the form of a concluding section, final commentary, or closing statement. It is worth mentioning in a review if it contributes information about the purpose of the book, gives a call to action, summarizes key recommendations or next steps, or asks the reader to consider key points made in the book.
- Appendix -- is the supplementary material in the appendix or appendices well organized? Do they relate to the contents or appear superfluous? Does it contain any essential information that would have been more appropriately integrated into the text?
- Index -- are there separate indexes for names and subjects or one integrated index. Is the indexing thorough and accurate? Are elements used, such as, bold or italic fonts to help identify specific places in the book? Does the index include "see also" references to direct you to related topics?
- Glossary of Terms -- are the definitions clearly written? Is the glossary comprehensive or are there key terms missing? Are any terms or concepts mentioned in the text not included that should have been?
- Endnotes -- examine any endnotes as you read from chapter to chapter. Do they provide important additional information? Do they clarify or extend points made in the body of the text? Should any notes have been better integrated into the text rather than separated? Do the same if the author uses footnotes.
- Bibliography/References/Further Readings -- review any bibliography, list of references to sources, and/or further readings the author may have included. What kinds of sources appear [e.g., primary or secondary, recent or old, scholarly or popular, etc.]? How does the author make use of them? Be sure to note important omissions of sources that you believe should have been utilized, including important digital resources or archival collections.
VI. Summarize and Comment
State your general conclusions briefly and succinctly. Pay particular attention to the author's concluding chapter and/or afterword. Is the summary convincing? List the principal topics, and briefly summarize the author’s ideas about these topics, main points, and conclusions. If appropriate and to help clarify your overall evaluation, use specific references to text and quotations to support your statements. If your thesis has been well argued, the conclusion should follow naturally. It can include a final assessment or simply restate your thesis. Do not introduce new information in the conclusion. If you've compared the book to any other works or used other sources in writing the review, be sure to cite them at the end of your book review in the same writing style as your bibliographic heading of the book.
Book Reviews. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Book Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Gastel, Barbara. "Special Books Section: A Strategy for Reviewing Books for Journals." BioScience 41 (October 1991): 635-637; Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (July 2006): 1194–1207; Lee, Alexander D., Bart N. Green, Claire D. Johnson, and Julie Nyquist. "How to Write a Scholarly Book Review for Publication in a Peer-reviewed Journal: A Review of the Literature." Journal of Chiropractic Education 24 (2010): 57-69; Nicolaisen, Jeppe. "The Scholarliness of Published Peer Reviews: A Bibliometric Study of Book Reviews in Selected Social Science Fields." Research Evaluation 11 (2002): 129-140;.Procter, Margaret. The Book Review or Article Critique. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reading a Book to Review It. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Scarnecchia, David L. "Writing Book Reviews for the Journal Of Range Management and Rangelands." Rangeland Ecology and Management 57 (2004): 418-421; Simon, Linda. "The Pleasures of Book Reviewing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 27 (1996): 240-241; Writing a Book Review. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Book Reviews. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University.
Always Read the Foreword and/or the Preface
If they are included in the front matter, a good place for understanding a book's overall purpose, organization, contributions to further understanding of the research problem, and relationship to other studies is to read the preface and the foreword. The foreword may be written by someone other than the author or editor and can be a person who is famous or who has name recognition within the discipline. A foreword is often included to add credibility to the work.
The preface is usually an introductory essay written by the author or editor. It is intended to describe the book's overall purpose, arrangement, scope, and overall contributions to the literature. When reviewing the book, it can be useful to critically evaluate whether the goals set forth in the foreword and/or preface were actually achieved. At the very least, they can establish a foundation for understanding a study's scope and purpose as well as its significance in contributing new knowledge.
Distinguishing between a Foreword, a Preface, and an Introduction . Book Creation Learning Center. Greenleaf Book Group, 2019.
Locating Book Reviews
There are several databases the USC Libraries subscribes to that include the full-text or citations to book reviews. Short, descriptive reviews can also be found at book-related online sites such as Amazon , although it's not always obvious who has written them and may actually be created by the publisher. The following databases provide comprehensive access to scholarly, full-text book reviews:
- ProQuest [1983-present]
- Book Review Digest Retrospective [1905-1982]
Some Language for Evaluating Texts
It can be challenging to find the proper vocabulary from which to discuss and evaluate a book. Here is a list of some active verbs for referring to texts and ideas that you might find useful:
- account for
Examples of usage
- "The evidence indicates that..."
- "This work assesses the effect of..."
- "The author identifies three key reasons for..."
- "This book questions the view that..."
- "This work challenges assumptions about...."
Paquot, Magali. Academic Keyword List. Centre for English Corpus Linguistics. Université Catholique de Louvain.
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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. It allows you to enter into dialogue and discussion with the work’s creator and with other audiences. 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.
Typically, reviews are brief. In newspapers and academic journals, they rarely exceed 1000 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: what strikes you as noteworthy, whether or not it was effective or persuasive, and how it enhanced your understanding of the issues at hand.
- Finally, in addition to analyzing the work, a review often suggests whether or not the audience would appreciate it.
Becoming an expert reviewer: three short examples
Reviewing can be a daunting task. Someone has asked for your opinion about something that you may feel unqualified to evaluate. Who are you to criticize Toni Morrison’s new book if you’ve never written a novel yourself, much less won a Nobel Prize? 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. Nobody expects you to be the intellectual equal of the work’s creator, but your careful observations can provide you with the raw material to make reasoned judgments. 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:
Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600, investigates how women used to brew and sell the majority of ale drunk in England. Historically, ale and beer (not milk, wine, or water) were important elements of the English diet. Ale brewing was low-skill and low status labor that was complimentary to women’s domestic responsibilities. In the early fifteenth century, brewers began to make ale with hops, and they called this new drink “beer.” This technique allowed brewers to produce their beverages at a lower cost and to sell it more easily, although women generally stopped brewing once the business became more profitable.
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: the author’s argument, the student’s appraisal of the book and its argument, and whether or not the student would recommend the book. 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:
Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 was a colossal disappointment. I wanted to know about the rituals surrounding drinking in medieval England: the songs, the games, the parties. 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 book was divided into eight long chapters, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to read it.
There’s no shortage of judgments in this review! But the student does not display a working knowledge of the book’s argument. 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 several 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:
One of feminism’s paradoxes—one that challenges many of its optimistic histories—is how patriarchy remains persistent over time. While Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 recognizes medieval women as historical actors through their ale brewing, it also shows that female agency had its limits with the advent of beer. I had assumed that those limits were religious and political, but Bennett shows how a “patriarchal equilibrium” shut women out of economic life as well. Her analysis of women’s wages in ale and beer production proves that a change in women’s work does not equate to a change in working women’s status. Contemporary feminists and historians alike should read Bennett’s book and think twice when they crack open their next brewsky.
This student’s review avoids the problems of the previous two examples. It combines balanced opinion and concrete example, a critical assessment based on an explicitly stated rationale, and a recommendation to a potential audience. The reader gets a sense of what the book’s author intended to demonstrate. 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.
Developing an assessment: before you write
There is no definitive method to writing a review, although some critical thinking about the work at hand is necessary before you actually begin writing. Thus, writing a review is a two-step process: developing an argument about the work under consideration, and making that argument as you write an organized and well-supported draft. See our handout on argument .
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. Don’t feel obligated to address each of the questions; some will be more relevant than others to the book in question.
- 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? Does any of the author’s information (or conclusions) conflict with other books you’ve read, courses you’ve taken or just previous assumptions you had of the subject?
- 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? Why or why not?
- How has this book helped you understand the subject? Would you recommend the book to your reader?
Beyond the internal workings of the book, you may also consider some information about the author and the circumstances of the text’s production:
- 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. Does it matter, for example, that the biographer was the subject’s best friend? What difference would it make if the author participated in the events she writes about?
- What is the book’s genre? 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. If you are reviewing the first book ever written on the subject, it will be important for your readers to know. Keep in mind, though, that naming “firsts”—alongside naming “bests” and “onlys”—can be a risky business unless you’re absolutely certain.
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 . Then, outline the arguments that support your thesis.
Your arguments should develop the thesis in a logical manner. That logic, unlike more standard academic writing, may initially emphasize the author’s argument while you develop your own in the course of the review. The relative emphasis depends on the nature of the review: if readers may be more interested in the work itself, you may want to make the work and the author more prominent; if you want the review to be about your perspective and opinions, then you may structure the review to privilege your observations over (but never separate from) those of the work under review. What follows is just one of many ways to organize a review.
Since most reviews are brief, many writers begin with a catchy quip or anecdote that succinctly delivers their argument. But you can introduce your review differently depending on the argument and audience. The Writing Center’s handout on introductions can help you find an approach that works. In general, you should include:
- The name of the author and the book title and the main theme.
- Relevant details about who the author is and where he/she stands in the genre or field of inquiry. You could also link the title to the subject to show how the title explains the subject matter.
- The context of the book and/or your review. Placing your review in a framework that makes sense to your audience alerts readers to your “take” on the book. 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. But identifying the book’s particular novelty, angle, or originality allows you to show what specific contribution the piece is trying to make.
- Your thesis about the book.
Summary of content
This should be brief, as analysis takes priority. In the course of making your assessment, you’ll hopefully be backing up your assertions with concrete evidence from the book, so some summary will be dispersed throughout other parts of the review.
The necessary amount of summary also depends on your audience. Graduate students, beware! If you are writing book reviews for colleagues—to prepare for comprehensive exams, for example—you may want to devote more attention to summarizing the book’s contents. 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. Remember that you can state many of the author’s points in your own words.
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. This paragraph needs to balance the book’s strengths and weaknesses in order to unify your evaluation. Did the body of your review have three negative paragraphs and one favorable one? What do they all add up to? The Writing Center’s handout on conclusions can help you make a final assessment.
Finally, a few general considerations:
- Review the book in front of you, not the book you wish the author had written. You can and should point out shortcomings or failures, but don’t criticize the book for not being something it was never intended to be.
- 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. You’re entitled—and sometimes obligated—to voice strong agreement or disagreement. 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.
- 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.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Drewry, John. 1974. Writing Book Reviews. Boston: Greenwood Press.
Hoge, James. 1987. Literary Reviewing. Charlottesville: University Virginia of Press.
Sova, Dawn, and Harry Teitelbaum. 2002. How to Write Book Reports , 4th ed. Lawrenceville, NY: Thomson/Arco.
Walford, A.J. 1986. Reviews and Reviewing: A Guide. Phoenix: Oryx Press.
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Blog – Posted on Friday, Mar 29
17 book review examples to help you write the perfect review.
It’s an exciting time to be a book reviewer. Once confined to print newspapers and journals, reviews now dot many corridors of the Internet — forever helping others discover their next great read. That said, every book reviewer will face a familiar panic: how can you do justice to a great book in just a thousand words?
As you know, the best way to learn how to do something is by immersing yourself in it. Luckily, the Internet (i.e. Goodreads and other review sites , in particular) has made book reviews more accessible than ever — which means that there are a lot of book reviews examples out there for you to view!
In this post, we compiled 17 prototypical book review examples in multiple genres to help you figure out how to write the perfect review . If you want to jump straight to the examples, you can skip the next section. Otherwise, let’s first check out what makes up a good review.
Are you interested in becoming a book reviewer? We recommend you check out Reedsy Discovery , where you can earn money for writing reviews — and are guaranteed people will read your reviews! To register as a book reviewer, sign up here.
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What must a book review contain?
Like all works of art, no two book reviews will be identical. But fear not: there are a few guidelines for any aspiring book reviewer to follow. Most book reviews, for instance, are less than 1,500 words long, with the sweet spot hitting somewhere around the 1,000-word mark. (However, this may vary depending on the platform on which you’re writing, as we’ll see later.)
In addition, all reviews share some universal elements, as shown in our book review templates . These include:
- A review will offer a concise plot summary of the book.
- A book review will offer an evaluation of the work.
- A book review will offer a recommendation for the audience.
If these are the basic ingredients that make up a book review, it’s the tone and style with which the book reviewer writes that brings the extra panache. This will differ from platform to platform, of course. A book review on Goodreads, for instance, will be much more informal and personal than a book review on Kirkus Reviews, as it is catering to a different audience. However, at the end of the day, the goal of all book reviews is to give the audience the tools to determine whether or not they’d like to read the book themselves.
Keeping that in mind, let’s proceed to some book review examples to put all of this in action.
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Book review examples for fiction books
Since story is king in the world of fiction, it probably won’t come as any surprise to learn that a book review for a novel will concentrate on how well the story was told .
That said, book reviews in all genres follow the same basic formula that we discussed earlier. In these examples, you’ll be able to see how book reviewers on different platforms expertly intertwine the plot summary and their personal opinions of the book to produce a clear, informative, and concise review.
Note: Some of the book review examples run very long. If a book review is truncated in this post, we’ve indicated by including a […] at the end, but you can always read the entire review if you click on the link provided.
Examples of literary fiction book reviews
Kirkus Reviews reviews Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man :
An extremely powerful story of a young Southern Negro, from his late high school days through three years of college to his life in Harlem.
His early training prepared him for a life of humility before white men, but through injustices- large and small, he came to realize that he was an "invisible man". People saw in him only a reflection of their preconceived ideas of what he was, denied his individuality, and ultimately did not see him at all. This theme, which has implications far beyond the obvious racial parallel, is skillfully handled. The incidents of the story are wholly absorbing. The boy's dismissal from college because of an innocent mistake, his shocked reaction to the anonymity of the North and to Harlem, his nightmare experiences on a one-day job in a paint factory and in the hospital, his lightning success as the Harlem leader of a communistic organization known as the Brotherhood, his involvement in black versus white and black versus black clashes and his disillusion and understanding of his invisibility- all climax naturally in scenes of violence and riot, followed by a retreat which is both literal and figurative. Parts of this experience may have been told before, but never with such freshness, intensity and power.
This is Ellison's first novel, but he has complete control of his story and his style. Watch it.
Lyndsey reviews George Orwell’s 1984 on Goodreads:
YOU. ARE. THE. DEAD. Oh my God. I got the chills so many times toward the end of this book. It completely blew my mind. It managed to surpass my high expectations AND be nothing at all like I expected. Or in Newspeak "Double Plus Good." Let me preface this with an apology. If I sound stunningly inarticulate at times in this review, I can't help it. My mind is completely fried.
This book is like the dystopian Lord of the Rings, with its richly developed culture and economics, not to mention a fully developed language called Newspeak, or rather more of the anti-language, whose purpose is to limit speech and understanding instead of to enhance and expand it. The world-building is so fully fleshed out and spine-tinglingly terrifying that it's almost as if George travelled to such a place, escaped from it, and then just wrote it all down.
I read Fahrenheit 451 over ten years ago in my early teens. At the time, I remember really wanting to read 1984, although I never managed to get my hands on it. I'm almost glad I didn't. Though I would not have admitted it at the time, it would have gone over my head. Or at the very least, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate it fully. […]
The New York Times reviews Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry :
Three-quarters of the way through Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, “Asymmetry,” a British foreign correspondent named Alistair is spending Christmas on a compound outside of Baghdad. His fellow revelers include cameramen, defense contractors, United Nations employees and aid workers. Someone’s mother has FedExed a HoneyBaked ham from Maine; people are smoking by the swimming pool. It is 2003, just days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, and though the mood is optimistic, Alistair is worrying aloud about the ethics of his chosen profession, wondering if reporting on violence doesn’t indirectly abet violence and questioning why he’d rather be in a combat zone than reading a picture book to his son. But every time he returns to London, he begins to “spin out.” He can’t go home. “You observe what people do with their freedom — what they don’t do — and it’s impossible not to judge them for it,” he says.
The line, embedded unceremoniously in the middle of a page-long paragraph, doubles, like so many others in “Asymmetry,” as literary criticism. Halliday’s novel is so strange and startlingly smart that its mere existence seems like commentary on the state of fiction. One finishes “Asymmetry” for the first or second (or like this reader, third) time and is left wondering what other writers are not doing with their freedom — and, like Alistair, judging them for it.
Despite its title, “Asymmetry” comprises two seemingly unrelated sections of equal length, appended by a slim and quietly shocking coda. Halliday’s prose is clean and lean, almost reportorial in the style of W. G. Sebald, and like the murmurings of a shy person at a cocktail party, often comic only in single clauses. It’s a first novel that reads like the work of an author who has published many books over many years. […]
Emily W. Thompson reviews Michael Doane's The Crossing on Reedsy Discovery :
In Doane’s debut novel, a young man embarks on a journey of self-discovery with surprising results.
An unnamed protagonist (The Narrator) is dealing with heartbreak. His love, determined to see the world, sets out for Portland, Oregon. But he’s a small-town boy who hasn’t traveled much. So, the Narrator mourns her loss and hides from life, throwing himself into rehabbing an old motorcycle. Until one day, he takes a leap; he packs his bike and a few belongings and heads out to find the Girl.
Following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and William Least Heat-Moon, Doane offers a coming of age story about a man finding himself on the backroads of America. Doane’s a gifted writer with fluid prose and insightful observations, using The Narrator’s personal interactions to illuminate the diversity of the United States.
The Narrator initially sticks to the highways, trying to make it to the West Coast as quickly as possible. But a hitchhiker named Duke convinces him to get off the beaten path and enjoy the ride. “There’s not a place that’s like any other,”  Dukes contends, and The Narrator realizes he’s right. Suddenly, the trip is about the journey, not just the destination. The Narrator ditches his truck and traverses the deserts and mountains on his bike. He destroys his phone, cutting off ties with his past and living only in the moment.
As he crosses the country, The Narrator connects with several unique personalities whose experiences and views deeply impact his own. Duke, the complicated cowboy and drifter, who opens The Narrator’s eyes to a larger world. Zooey, the waitress in Colorado who opens his heart and reminds him that love can be found in this big world. And Rosie, The Narrator’s sweet landlady in Portland, who helps piece him back together both physically and emotionally.
This supporting cast of characters is excellent. Duke, in particular, is wonderfully nuanced and complicated. He’s a throwback to another time, a man without a cell phone who reads Sartre and sleeps under the stars. Yet he’s also a grifter with a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude that harms those around him. It’s fascinating to watch The Narrator wrestle with Duke’s behavior, trying to determine which to model and which to discard.
Doane creates a relatable protagonist in The Narrator, whose personal growth doesn’t erase his faults. His willingness to hit the road with few resources is admirable, and he’s prescient enough to recognize the jealousy of those who cannot or will not take the leap. His encounters with new foods, places, and people broaden his horizons. Yet his immaturity and selfishness persist. He tells Rosie she’s been a good mother to him but chooses to ignore the continuing concern from his own parents as he effectively disappears from his old life.
Despite his flaws, it’s a pleasure to accompany The Narrator on his physical and emotional journey. The unexpected ending is a fitting denouement to an epic and memorable road trip.
The Book Smugglers review Anissa Gray’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls :
I am still dipping my toes into the literally fiction pool, finding what works for me and what doesn’t. Books like The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray are definitely my cup of tea.
Althea and Proctor Cochran had been pillars of their economically disadvantaged community for years – with their local restaurant/small market and their charity drives. Until they are found guilty of fraud for stealing and keeping most of the money they raised and sent to jail. Now disgraced, their entire family is suffering the consequences, specially their twin teenage daughters Baby Vi and Kim. To complicate matters even more: Kim was actually the one to call the police on her parents after yet another fight with her mother. […]
Examples of children’s and YA fiction book reviews
The Book Hookup reviews Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give :
♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: 5 stars! I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to tackle the voice of a movement like Black Lives Matter, but I do know that Thomas did it with a finesse only a talented author like herself possibly could. With an unapologetically realistic delivery packed with emotion, The Hate U Give is a crucially important portrayal of the difficulties minorities face in our country every single day. I have no doubt that this book will be met with resistance by some (possibly many) and slapped with a “controversial” label, but if you’ve ever wondered what it was like to walk in a POC’s shoes, then I feel like this is an unflinchingly honest place to start.
In Angie Thomas’s debut novel, Starr Carter bursts on to the YA scene with both heart-wrecking and heartwarming sincerity. This author is definitely one to watch.
♥ Review: The hype around this book has been unquestionable and, admittedly, that made me both eager to get my hands on it and terrified to read it. I mean, what if I was to be the one person that didn’t love it as much as others? (That seems silly now because of how truly mesmerizing THUG was in the most heartbreakingly realistic way.) However, with the relevancy of its summary in regards to the unjust predicaments POC currently face in the US, I knew this one was a must-read, so I was ready to set my fears aside and dive in. That said, I had an altogether more personal, ulterior motive for wanting to read this book. […]
The New York Times reviews Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood :
Alice Crewe (a last name she’s chosen for herself) is a fairy tale legacy: the granddaughter of Althea Proserpine, author of a collection of dark-as-night fairy tales called “Tales From the Hinterland.” The book has a cult following, and though Alice has never met her grandmother, she’s learned a little about her through internet research. She hasn’t read the stories, because her mother, Ella Proserpine, forbids it.
Alice and Ella have moved from place to place in an attempt to avoid the “bad luck” that seems to follow them. Weird things have happened. As a child, Alice was kidnapped by a man who took her on a road trip to find her grandmother; he was stopped by the police before they did so. When at 17 she sees that man again, unchanged despite the years, Alice panics. Then Ella goes missing, and Alice turns to Ellery Finch, a schoolmate who’s an Althea Proserpine superfan, for help in tracking down her mother. Not only has Finch read every fairy tale in the collection, but handily, he remembers them, sharing them with Alice as they journey to the mysterious Hazel Wood, the estate of her now-dead grandmother, where they hope to find Ella.
“The Hazel Wood” starts out strange and gets stranger, in the best way possible. (The fairy stories Finch relays, which Albert includes as their own chapters, are as creepy and evocative as you’d hope.) Albert seamlessly combines contemporary realism with fantasy, blurring the edges in a way that highlights that place where stories and real life convene, where magic contains truth and the world as it appears is false, where just about anything can happen, particularly in the pages of a very good book. It’s a captivating debut. […]
James reviews Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight, Moon on Goodreads:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is one of the books that followers of my blog voted as a must-read for our Children's Book August 2018 Readathon. Come check it out and join the next few weeks!
This picture book was such a delight. I hadn't remembered reading it when I was a child, but it might have been read to me... either way, it was like a whole new experience! It's always so difficult to convince a child to fall asleep at night. I don't have kids, but I do have a 5-month-old puppy who whines for 5 minutes every night when he goes in his cage/crate (hopefully he'll be fully housebroken soon so he can roam around when he wants). I can only imagine! I babysat a lot as a teenager and I have tons of younger cousins, nieces, and nephews, so I've been through it before, too. This was a believable experience, and it really helps show kids how to relax and just let go when it's time to sleep.
The bunny's are adorable. The rhymes are exquisite. I found it pretty fun, but possibly a little dated given many of those things aren't normal routines anymore. But the lessons to take from it are still powerful. Loved it! I want to sample some more books by this fine author and her illustrators.
Publishers Weekly reviews Elizabeth Lilly’s Geraldine :
This funny, thoroughly accomplished debut opens with two words: “I’m moving.” They’re spoken by the title character while she swoons across her family’s ottoman, and because Geraldine is a giraffe, her full-on melancholy mode is quite a spectacle. But while Geraldine may be a drama queen (even her mother says so), it won’t take readers long to warm up to her. The move takes Geraldine from Giraffe City, where everyone is like her, to a new school, where everyone else is human. Suddenly, the former extrovert becomes “That Giraffe Girl,” and all she wants to do is hide, which is pretty much impossible. “Even my voice tries to hide,” she says, in the book’s most poignant moment. “It’s gotten quiet and whispery.” Then she meets Cassie, who, though human, is also an outlier (“I’m that girl who wears glasses and likes MATH and always organizes her food”), and things begin to look up.
Lilly’s watercolor-and-ink drawings are as vividly comic and emotionally astute as her writing; just when readers think there are no more ways for Geraldine to contort her long neck, this highly promising talent comes up with something new.
Examples of genre fiction book reviews
Karlyn P reviews Nora Roberts’ Dark Witch , a paranormal romance novel , on Goodreads:
4 stars. Great world-building, weak romance, but still worth the read.
I hesitate to describe this book as a 'romance' novel simply because the book spent little time actually exploring the romance between Iona and Boyle. Sure, there IS a romance in this novel. Sprinkled throughout the book are a few scenes where Iona and Boyle meet, chat, wink at each, flirt some more, sleep together, have a misunderstanding, make up, and then profess their undying love. Very formulaic stuff, and all woven around the more important parts of this book.
The meat of this book is far more focused on the story of the Dark witch and her magically-gifted descendants living in Ireland. Despite being weak on the romance, I really enjoyed it. I think the book is probably better for it, because the romance itself was pretty lackluster stuff.
I absolutely plan to stick with this series as I enjoyed the world building, loved the Ireland setting, and was intrigued by all of the secondary characters. However, If you read Nora Roberts strictly for the romance scenes, this one might disappoint. But if you enjoy a solid background story with some dark magic and prophesies, you might enjoy it as much as I did.
I listened to this one on audio, and felt the narration was excellent.
Emily May reviews R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy Wars , an epic fantasy novel , on Goodreads:
“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.”
Holy hell, what did I just read??
➽ A fantasy military school
➽ A rich world based on modern Chinese history
➽ Shamans and gods
➽ Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters
➽ Adorable, opium-smoking mentors
That's a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that The Poppy War will be one of my best reads of 2018.
Isn't it just so great when you find one of those books that completely drags you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and demands that you sit on the edge of your seat for every horrific, nail-biting moment of it? This is one of those books for me. And I must issue a serious content warning: this book explores some very dark themes. Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you are particularly sensitive to scenes of war, drug use and addiction, genocide, racism, sexism, ableism, self-harm, torture, and rape (off-page but extremely horrific).
Because, despite the fairly innocuous first 200 pages, the title speaks the truth: this is a book about war. All of its horrors and atrocities. It is not sugar-coated, and it is often graphic. The "poppy" aspect refers to opium, which is a big part of this book. It is a fantasy, but the book draws inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanking.
Crime Fiction Lover reviews Jessica Barry’s Freefall , a crime novel:
In some crime novels, the wrongdoing hits you between the eyes from page one. With others it’s a more subtle process, and that’s OK too. So where does Freefall fit into the sliding scale?
In truth, it’s not clear. This is a novel with a thrilling concept at its core. A woman survives plane crash, then runs for her life. However, it is the subtleties at play that will draw you in like a spider beckoning to an unwitting fly.
Like the heroine in Sharon Bolton’s Dead Woman Walking, Allison is lucky to be alive. She was the only passenger in a private plane, belonging to her fiancé, Ben, who was piloting the expensive aircraft, when it came down in woodlands in the Colorado Rockies. Ally is also the only survivor, but rather than sitting back and waiting for rescue, she is soon pulling together items that may help her survive a little longer – first aid kit, energy bars, warm clothes, trainers – before fleeing the scene. If you’re hearing the faint sound of alarm bells ringing, get used to it. There’s much, much more to learn about Ally before this tale is over.
Kirkus Reviews reviews Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One , a science-fiction novel :
Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles.
The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three.
Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.
Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.
Book review examples for non-fiction books
Nonfiction books are generally written to inform readers about a certain topic. As such, the focus of a nonfiction book review will be on the clarity and effectiveness of this communication . In carrying this out, a book review may analyze the author’s source materials and assess the thesis in order to determine whether or not the book meets expectations.
Again, we’ve included abbreviated versions of long reviews here, so feel free to click on the link to read the entire piece!
The Washington Post reviews David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon :
The arc of David Grann’s career reminds one of a software whiz-kid or a latest-thing talk-show host — certainly not an investigative reporter, even if he is one of the best in the business. The newly released movie of his first book, “The Lost City of Z,” is generating all kinds of Oscar talk, and now comes the release of his second book, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the film rights to which have already been sold for $5 million in what one industry journal called the “biggest and wildest book rights auction in memory.”
Grann deserves the attention. He’s canny about the stories he chases, he’s willing to go anywhere to chase them, and he’s a maestro in his ability to parcel out information at just the right clip: a hint here, a shading of meaning there, a smartly paced buildup of multiple possibilities followed by an inevitable reversal of readerly expectations or, in some cases, by a thrilling and dislocating pull of the entire narrative rug.
All of these strengths are on display in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Around the turn of the 20th century, oil was discovered underneath Osage lands in the Oklahoma Territory, lands that were soon to become part of the state of Oklahoma. Through foresight and legal maneuvering, the Osage found a way to permanently attach that oil to themselves and shield it from the prying hands of white interlopers; this mechanism was known as “headrights,” which forbade the outright sale of oil rights and granted each full member of the tribe — and, supposedly, no one else — a share in the proceeds from any lease arrangement. For a while, the fail-safes did their job, and the Osage got rich — diamond-ring and chauffeured-car and imported-French-fashion rich — following which quite a large group of white men started to work like devils to separate the Osage from their money. And soon enough, and predictably enough, this work involved murder. Here in Jazz Age America’s most isolated of locales, dozens or even hundreds of Osage in possession of great fortunes — and of the potential for even greater fortunes in the future — were dispatched by poison, by gunshot and by dynamite. […]
Stacked Books reviews Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers :
I’ve heard a lot of great things about Malcolm Gladwell’s writing. Friends and co-workers tell me that his subjects are interesting and his writing style is easy to follow without talking down to the reader. I wasn’t disappointed with Outliers. In it, Gladwell tackles the subject of success – how people obtain it and what contributes to extraordinary success as opposed to everyday success.
The thesis – that our success depends much more on circumstances out of our control than any effort we put forth – isn’t exactly revolutionary. Most of us know it to be true. However, I don’t think I’m lying when I say that most of us also believe that we if we just try that much harder and develop our talent that much further, it will be enough to become wildly successful, despite bad or just mediocre beginnings. Not so, says Gladwell.
Most of the evidence Gladwell gives us is anecdotal, which is my favorite kind to read. I can’t really speak to how scientifically valid it is, but it sure makes for engrossing listening. For example, did you know that successful hockey players are almost all born in January, February, or March? Kids born during these months are older than the others kids when they start playing in the youth leagues, which means they’re already better at the game (because they’re bigger). Thus, they get more play time, which means their skill increases at a faster rate, and it compounds as time goes by. Within a few years, they’re much, much better than the kids born just a few months later in the year. Basically, these kids’ birthdates are a huge factor in their success as adults – and it’s nothing they can do anything about. If anyone could make hockey interesting to a Texan who only grudgingly admits the sport even exists, it’s Gladwell. […]
Quill and Quire reviews Rick Prashaw’s Soar, Adam, Soar :
Ten years ago, I read a book called Almost Perfect. The young-adult novel by Brian Katcher won some awards and was held up as a powerful, nuanced portrayal of a young trans person. But the reality did not live up to the book’s billing. Instead, it turned out to be a one-dimensional and highly fetishized portrait of a trans person’s life, one that was nevertheless repeatedly dubbed “realistic” and “affecting” by non-transgender readers possessing only a vague, mass-market understanding of trans experiences.
In the intervening decade, trans narratives have emerged further into the literary spotlight, but those authored by trans people ourselves – and by trans men in particular – have seemed to fall under the shadow of cisgender sensationalized imaginings. Two current Canadian releases – Soar, Adam, Soar and This One Looks Like a Boy – provide a pointed object lesson into why trans-authored work about transgender experiences remains critical.
To be fair, Soar, Adam, Soar isn’t just a story about a trans man. It’s also a story about epilepsy, the medical establishment, and coming of age as seen through a grieving father’s eyes. Adam, Prashaw’s trans son, died unexpectedly at age 22. Woven through the elder Prashaw’s narrative are excerpts from Adam’s social media posts, giving us glimpses into the young man’s interior life as he traverses his late teens and early 20s. […]
Book Geeks reviews Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love :
WRITING STYLE: 3.5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3.5/5
“Eat Pray Love” is so popular that it is almost impossible to not read it. Having felt ashamed many times on my not having read this book, I quietly ordered the book (before I saw the movie) from amazon.in and sat down to read it. I don’t remember what I expected it to be – maybe more like a chick lit thing but it turned out quite different. The book is a real story and is a short journal from the time when its writer went travelling to three different countries in pursuit of three different things – Italy (Pleasure), India (Spirituality), Bali (Balance) and this is what corresponds to the book’s name – EAT (in Italy), PRAY (in India) and LOVE (in Bali, Indonesia). These are also the three Is – ITALY, INDIA, INDONESIA.
Though she had everything a middle-aged American woman can aspire for – MONEY, CAREER, FRIENDS, HUSBAND; Elizabeth was not happy in her life, she wasn’t happy in her marriage. Having suffered a terrible divorce and terrible breakup soon after, Elizabeth was shattered. She didn’t know where to go and what to do – all she knew was that she wanted to run away. So she set out on a weird adventure – she will go to three countries in a year and see if she can find out what she was looking for in life. This book is about that life changing journey that she takes for one whole year. […]
Emily May reviews Michelle Obama’s Becoming on Goodreads:
Look, I'm not a happy crier. I might cry at songs about leaving and missing someone; I might cry at books where things don't work out; I might cry at movies where someone dies. I've just never really understood why people get all choked up over happy, inspirational things. But Michelle Obama's kindness and empathy changed that. This book had me in tears for all the right reasons.
This is not really a book about politics, though political experiences obviously do come into it. It's a shame that some will dismiss this book because of a difference in political opinion, when it is really about a woman's life. About growing up poor and black on the South Side of Chicago; about getting married and struggling to maintain that marriage; about motherhood; about being thrown into an amazing and terrifying position.
I hate words like "inspirational" because they've become so overdone and cheesy, but I just have to say it-- Michelle Obama is an inspiration. I had the privilege of seeing her speak at The Forum in Inglewood, and she is one of the warmest, funniest, smartest, down-to-earth people I have ever seen in this world.
And yes, I know we present what we want the world to see, but I truly do think it's genuine. I think she is someone who really cares about people - especially kids - and wants to give them better lives and opportunities.
She's obviously intelligent, but she also doesn't gussy up her words. She talks straight, with an openness and honesty rarely seen. She's been one of the most powerful women in the world, she's been a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, she's had her own successful career, and yet she has remained throughout that same girl - Michelle Robinson - from a working class family in Chicago.
I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book.
Hopefully, this post has given you a better idea of how to write a book review. You might be wondering how to put all of this knowledge into action now! Many book reviewers start out by setting up a book blog. If you don’t have time to research the intricacies of HTML, check out Reedsy Discovery — where you can read indie books for free and review them without going through the hassle of creating a blog. To register as a book reviewer , go here .
And if you’d like to see even more book review examples, simply go to this directory of book review blogs and click on any one of them to see a wealth of good book reviews. Beyond that, it's up to you to pick up a book and pen — and start reviewing!
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10 Fantastic World War II Books by Female Authors
This post was contributed by Reedsy Discover reviewer Lou Hurrell. Come September it will be 80 years...
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How to Write a Book Review: Awesome Guide
A book review allows students to illustrate the author's intentions of writing the piece, as well as create a criticism of the book — as a whole. In other words, form an opinion of the author's presented ideas. Check out this guide from EssayPro — dissertation writing service to learn how to write a book review successfully.
What Is a Book Review?
You may prosper, “what is a book review?”. Book reviews are commonly assigned students to allow them to show a clear understanding of the novel. And to check if the students have actually read the book. The essay format is highly important for your consideration, take a look at the book review format below.
Book reviews are assigned to allow students to present their own opinion regarding the author’s ideas included in the book or passage. They are a form of literary criticism that analyzes the author’s ideas, writing techniques, and quality. A book analysis is entirely opinion-based, in relevance to the book. They are good practice for those who wish to become editors, due to the fact, editing requires a lot of criticism.
Book Review Template
The book review format includes an introduction, body, and conclusion.
- Describe the book cover and title.
- Include any subtitles at this stage.
- Include the Author’s Name.
- Write a brief description of the novel.
- Briefly introduce the main points of the body in your book review.
- Avoid mentioning any opinions at this time.
- Use about 3 quotations from the author’s novel.
- Summarize the quotations in your own words.
- Mention your own point-of-view of the quotation.
- Remember to keep every point included in its own paragraph.
- In brief, summarize the quotations.
- In brief, summarize the explanations.
- Finish with a concluding sentence.
- This can include your final opinion of the book.
- Star-Rating (Optional).
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How to Write a Book Review: Step-By-Step
Writing a book review is something that can be done with every novel. Book reviews can apply to all novels, no matter the genre. Some genres may be harder than others. On the other hand, the book review format remains the same. Take a look at these step-by-step instructions from our professional writers to learn how to write a book review in-depth.
Step 1: Planning
Create an essay outline which includes all of the main points you wish to summarise in your book analysis. Include information about the characters, details of the plot, and some other important parts of your chosen novel. Reserve a body paragraph for each point you wish to talk about.
Consider these points before writing:
- What is the plot of the book? Understanding the plot enables you to write an effective review.
- Is the plot gripping? Does the plot make you want to continue reading the novel? Did you enjoy the plot? Does it manage to grab a reader’s attention?
- Are the writing techniques used by the author effective? Does the writer imply factors in-between the lines? What are they?
- Are the characters believable? Are the characters logical? Does the book make the characters are real while reading?
- Would you recommend the book to anyone? The most important thing: would you tell others to read this book? Is it good enough? Is it bad?
- What could be better? Keep in mind the quotes that could have been presented better. Criticize the writer.
Step 2: Introduction
Presumably, you have chosen your book. To begin, mention the book title and author’s name. Talk about the cover of the book. Write a thesis statement regarding the fictitious story or non-fictional novel. Which briefly describes the quoted material in the book review.
Step 3: Body
Choose a specific chapter or scenario to summarise. Include about 3 quotes in the body. Create summaries of each quote in your own words. It is also encouraged to include your own point-of-view and the way you interpret the quote. It is highly important to have one quote per paragraph.
Step 4: Conclusion
Write a summary of the summarised quotations and explanations, included in the body paragraphs. After doing so, finish book analysis with a concluding sentence to show the bigger picture of the book. Think to yourself, “Is it worth reading?”, and answer the question in black and white. However, write in-between the lines. Avoid stating “I like/dislike this book.”
Step 5: Rate the Book (Optional)
After writing a book review, you may want to include a rating. Including a star-rating provides further insight into the quality of the book, to your readers. Book reviews with star-ratings can be more effective, compared to those which don’t. Though, this is entirely optional.
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Here is the list of tips for the book review:
- A long introduction can certainly lower one’s grade: keep the beginning short. Readers don’t like to read the long introduction for any essay style.
- It is advisable to write book reviews about fiction: it is not a must. Though, reviewing fiction can be far more effective than writing about a piece of nonfiction
- Avoid Comparing: avoid comparing your chosen novel with other books you have previously read. Doing so can be confusing for the reader.
- Opinion Matters: including your own point-of-view is something that is often encouraged when writing book reviews.
- Refer to Templates: a book review template can help a student get a clearer understanding of the required writing style.
- Don’t be Afraid to Criticize: usually, your own opinion isn’t required for academic papers below Ph.D. level. On the other hand, for book reviews, there’s an exception.
- Use Positivity: include a fair amount of positive comments and criticism.
- Review The Chosen Novel: avoid making things up. Review only what is presented in the chosen book.
- Enjoyed the book? If you loved reading the book, state it. Doing so makes your book analysis more personalized.
Writing a book review is something worth thinking about. Professors commonly assign this form of an assignment to students to enable them to express a grasp of a novel. Following the book review format is highly useful for beginners, as well as reading step-by-step instructions. Writing tips is also useful for people who are new to this essay type. If you need a book review or essay, ask our book report writing services ' write paper for me ' and we'll give you a hand asap!
We also recommend that everyone read the article about essay topics . It will help broaden your horizons in writing a book review as well as other papers.
Book Review Examples
Referring to a book review example is highly useful to those who wish to get a clearer understanding of how to review a book. Take a look at our examples written by our professional writers. Click on the button to open the book review examples and feel free to use them as a reference.
Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’
Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ is a novel aimed at youngsters. The plot, itself, is not American humor, but that of Great Britain. In terms of sarcasm, and British-related jokes. The novel illustrates a fair mix of the relationships between the human-like animals, and wildlife. The narrative acts as an important milestone in post-Victorian children’s literature.
Dr. John’s ‘Pollution’
Dr. John’s ‘Pollution’ consists of 3 major parts. The first part is all about the polluted ocean. The second being about the pollution of the sky. The third part is an in-depth study of how humans can resolve these issues. The book is a piece of non-fiction that focuses on modern-day pollution ordeals faced by both animals and humans on Planet Earth. It also focuses on climate change, being the result of the global pollution ordeal.
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How to Write a Book Review
A book review is a description, critical analysis, and an evaluation on the quality, meaning, and significance of a book, not a retelling. It should focus on the book's purpose, content, and authority. A critical book review is not a book report or a summary. It is a reaction paper in which strengths and weaknesses of the material are analyzed. It should include a statement of what the author has tried to do, evaluates how well (in the opinion of the reviewer) the author has succeeded, and presents evidence to support this evaluation.
There is no right way to write a book review. Book reviews are highly personal and reflect the opinions of the reviewer. A review can be as short as 50-100 words, or as long as 1500 words, depending on the purpose of the review.
The following are standard procedures for writing book reviews; they are suggestions, not formulae that must be used.
- Write a statement giving essential information about the book: title, author, first copyright date, type of book, general subject matter, special features (maps, color plates, etc.), price and ISBN.
- Why did the author write on this subject rather than on some other subject?
- From what point of view is the work written?
- Was the author trying to give information, to explain something technical, to convince the reader of a belief’s validity by dramatizing it in action?
- What is the general field or genre, and how does the book fit into it? (Use outside sources to familiarize yourself with the field, if necessary.) Knowledge of the genre means understanding the art form. and how it functions.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author's style? Is it formal or informal? Evaluate the quality of the writing style by using some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, correct use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, fluidity. Does it suit the intended audience?
- Scan the Table of Contents, it can help understand how the book is organized and will aid in determining the author's main ideas and how they are developed - chronologically, topically, etc.
- How did the book affect you? Were any previous ideas you had on the subject changed, abandoned, or reinforced due to this book? How is the book related to your own course or personal agenda? What personal experiences you've had relate to the subject?
- How well has the book achieved its goal?
- Would you recommend this book or article to others? Why?
- Theme: The theme is the subject or topic. It is not necessarily the title, and it is usually not expressed in a complete sentence. It expresses a specific phase of the general subject matter.
- Thesis: The thesis is an author’s generalization about the theme, the author’s beliefs about something important, the book’s philosophical conclusion, or the proposition the author means to prove. Express it without metaphor or other figurative language, in one declarative sentence. Example Title: We Had it Made General Subject Matter: Religious Intolerance Theme: The effects of religious intolerance on a small town Thesis: Religious intolerance, a sickness of individuals, contaminates an entire social group
- Description: The author presents word-pictures of scenes and events by giving specific details that appeal to the five senses, or to the reader’s imagination. Description presents background and setting. Its primary purpose is to help the reader realize, through as many sensuous details as possible, the way things (and people) are, in the episodes being described.
- Narration: The author tells the story of a series of events, usually presented in chronological order. In a novel however, chronological order may be violated for the sake of the plot. The emphasis in narration, in both fiction and non-fiction, is on the events. Narration tells what has happened. Its primary purpose is to tell a story.
- Exposition: The author uses explanation and analysis to present a subject or to clarify an idea. Exposition presents the facts about a subject or an issue as clearly and impartially as possible. Its primary purpose is to explain.
- Argument: The author uses the techniques of persuasion to establish the truth of a statement or to convince the reader of its falsity. The purpose is to persuade the reader to believe something and perhaps to act on that belief. Argument takes sides on an issue. Its primary purpose is to convince.
- Evaluate the book for interest, accuracy, objectivity, importance, thoroughness, and usefulness to its intended audience. Show whether the author's main arguments are true. Respond to the author's opinions. What do you agree or disagree with? And why? Illustrate whether or not any conclusions drawn are derived logically from the evidence. Explore issues the book raises. What possibilities does the book suggest? What has the author omitted or what problems were left unsolved? What specific points are not convincing? Compare it with other books on similar subjects or other books by the same as well as different authors. Is it only a reworking of earlier books; a refutation of previous positions? Have newly uncovered sources justified a new approach by the author? Comment on parts of particular interest, and point out anything that seems to give the book literary merit. Relate the book to larger issues.
- Try to find further information about the author - reputation, qualifications, influences, biographical, etc. - any information that is relevant to the book being reviewed and that would help to establish the author's authority. Can you discern any connections between the author's philosophy, life experience and the reviewed book?
- If relevant, make note of the book's format - layout, binding, typography, etc. Are there maps, illustrations? Do they aid understanding?
- Check the back matter. Is the index accurate? Check any end notes or footnotes as you read from chapter to chapter. Do they provide important additional information? Do they clarify or extend points made in the body of the text? Check any bibliography the author may provide. What kinds of sources, primary or secondary, appear in the bibliography? How does the author make use of them? Make note of important omissions.
- Summarize (briefly), analyze, and comment on the book’s content. State your general conclusions. Pay particular attention to the author's concluding chapter. Is the summary convincing? List the principal topics, and briefly summarize the author’s ideas about these topics, main points, and conclusions. Use specific references and quotations to support your statements. If your thesis has been well argued, the conclusion should follow naturally. It can include a final assessment or simply restate your thesis. Do not introduce new material at this point.
Some Considerations When Reviewing specific genres:
Fiction (above all, do not give away the story)
- From what sources are the characters drawn?
- What is the author's attitude toward his characters?
- Are the characters flat or three-dimensional?
- Does character development occur?
- Is character delineation direct or indirect?
- What is/are the major theme(s)?
- How are they revealed and developed?
- Is the theme traditional and familiar, or new and original?
- Is the theme didactic, psychological, social, entertaining, escapist, etc. in purpose or intent?
- How are the various elements of plot (eg, introduction, suspense, climax, conclusion) handled?
- What is the relationship of plot to character delineation?
- To what extent, and how, is accident employed as a complicating and/or resolving force?
- What are the elements of mystery and suspense?
- What other devices of plot complication and resolution are employed?
- Is there a sub-plot and how is it related to the main plot?
- Is the plot primary or secondary to some of the other essential elements of the story (character, setting, style, etc.)?
- What are the "intellectual qualities" of the writing (e.g., simplicity, clarity)?
- What are the "emotional qualities" of the writing (e.g., humour, wit, satire)?
- What are the "aesthetic qualities" of the writing (e.g., harmony, rhythm)?
- What stylistic devices are employed (e.g., symbolism, motifs, parody, allegory)?
- How effective is dialogue?
- What is the setting and does it play a significant role in the work?
- Is a sense of atmosphere evoked, and how?
- What scenic effects are used and how important and effective are they?
- Does the setting influence or impinge on the characters and/or plot?
- Does the book give a "full-length" picture of the subject?
- What phases of the subject's life receive greatest treatment and is this treatment justified?
- What is the point of view of the author?
- How is the subject matter organized: chronologically, retrospectively, etc.?
- Is the treatment superficial or does the author show extensive study into the subject's life?
- What source materials were used in the preparation of the biography?
- Is the work documented?
- Does the author attempt to get at the subject's hidden motives?
- What important new facts about the subject's life are revealed in the book?
- What is the relationship of the subject's career to contemporary history?
- How does the biography compare with others about the same person?
- How does it compare with other works by the same author?
History and other Nonfiction
- with what particular subject or period does the book deal?
- How thorough is the treatment?
- What were the sources used?
- Is the account given in broad outline or in detail?
- Is the style that of reportorial writing, or is there an effort at interpretive writing?
- What is the point of view or thesis of the author?
- is the treatment superficial or profound?
- For what group is the book intended (textbook, popular, scholarly, etc.)?
- What part does biographical writing play in the book?
- Is social history or political history emphasized?
- Are dates used extensively, and if so, are they used intelligently?
- Is the book a revision? How does it compare with earlier editions?
- 1Are maps, illustrations, charts, etc. used and how are these to be evaluated?
- Is this a work of power, originality, and individuality?
- What kind of poetry is under review (epic, lyrical, elegiac, etc.)?
- What poetical devices have been used (rhyme, rhythm, figures of speech, imagery, etc.), and to what effect?
- What is the central concern of the poem and is it effectively expressed?
Subject headings used in the catalog:
Book reviewing Criticism
Book reviewing: a guide to writing book reviews for newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. Boston. The Writer, 1978 PN98.B7 B6
Drewry, John. Writing Book Reviews. Boston: The Writer, 1974. PN98.B7 D7 1974
Teitelbaum, Harry. How to Write Book Reports. New York: Monarch Press, 1975. LB2369 .T4
Miller, Walter James. How to write book reports: -- analyzing and evaluating fiction, drama, poetry, and non-fiction New York. Arco Pub., 1984. LB2369 .M46 1984
Sources of Book Reviews
Book Review Digest 1985+ INDEX Z1219 .C96
Book Review Index 1965+ INDEX Z1035.A1 B6
Contemporary Authors REFERENCE Z1224 .C5
How to Write a Book Review. Stauffer Library. http://library.queensu.ca/inforef/bookreview/wri.htm Writing Book Reviews. University of Waterloo Library. http://library.uwaterloo.ca/libguides/1-12.html How to Write a Book Review. Dalhousie University Libraries. http://www.library.dal.ca/How/Guides/BookReview/ Writing Book Reports & Book Reviews. Internet Public Library. http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/bookreportFARQ.html
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Book reviews are documents that people see in different fields, including educational institutions and professional roles in an industry or organization, centering on providing feedback. Use book reviews to help middle school kids to college students construct proper formats for their next activity or project in literature , writing according to APA styles.
Table of Content
Book review definition & meaning, what is a book review, 10 types of book reviews, book review uses, purpose, importance, what’s in a book review parts, how to design a book review, book review vs. summary, what’s the difference between a book review, essay, & review, book review sizes, book review ideas & examples, fiction book review.
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Increase book sales, engage with readers, improve writing skills, build an author’s brand, introduction, content summary, book analysis and evaluation.
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What must a book review include?
What are the three elements of a book review, what makes a good book review, what are the phases of writing a book review, what is the aim of a book review, how does the book review begin, is a book review the same as a summary, what do you understand by book review, what are the criteria for reviewing a book, what are the two guidelines for writing a book review, more in documents.
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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts
Writing a Book Review
Welcome to the Purdue OWL
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This resource discusses book reviews and how to write them.
Book reviews typically evaluate recently-written works. They offer a brief description of the text’s key points and often provide a short appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
Readers sometimes confuse book reviews with book reports, but the two are not identical. Book reports commonly describe what happens in a work; their focus is primarily on giving an account of the major plot, characters, and/or main idea of the work. Most often, book reports are a K-12 assignment and range from 250 to 500 words. If you are looking to write a book report, please see the OWL resource, Writing a Book Report.
By contrast, book reviews are most often a college assignment, but they also appear in many professional works: magazines, newspapers, and academic journals. They typically range from 500-750 words, but may be longer or shorter. A book review gives readers a sneak peek at what a book is like, whether or not the reviewer enjoyed it, and details on purchasing the book.
Before You Read
Before you begin to read, consider the elements you will need to included in your review. The following items may help:
- Author: Who is the author? What else has s/he written? Has this author won any awards? What is the author’s typical style?
- Genre: What type of book is this: fiction, nonfiction, romance, poetry, youth fiction, etc.? Who is the intended audience for this work? What is the purpose of the work?
- Title: Where does the title fit in? How is it applied in the work? Does it adequately encapsulate the message of the text? Is it interesting? Uninteresting?
- Preface/Introduction/Table of Contents: Does the author provide any revealing information about the text in the preface/introduction? Does a “guest author” provide the introduction? What judgments or preconceptions do the author and/or “guest author” provide? How is the book arranged: sections, chapters?
- Book Jacket/Cover/Printing: Book jackets are like mini-reviews. Does the book jacket provide any interesting details or spark your interest in some way? Are there pictures, maps, or graphs? Do the binding, page cut, or typescript contribute or take away from the work?
As You Read
As you read, determine how you will structure the summary portion or background structure of your review. Be ready to take notes on the book’s key points, characters, and/or themes.
- Characters: Are there characters in the work? Who are the principal characters? How do they affect the story? Do you empathize with them?
- Themes/Motifs/Style: What themes or motifs stand out? How do they contribute to the work? Are they effective or not? How would you describe this author’s particular style? Is it accessible to all readers or just some?
- Argument: How is the work’s argument set up? What support does the author give for her/findings? Does the work fulfill its purpose/support its argument?
- Key Ideas: What is the main idea of the work? What makes it good, different, or groundbreaking?
- Quotes: What quotes stand out? How can you demonstrate the author’s talent or the feel of the book through a quote?
When You Are Ready to Write
Begin with a short summary or background of the work, but do not give too much away. Many reviews limit themselves only to the first couple of chapters or lead the reader up to the rising action of the work. Reviewers of nonfiction texts will provide the basic idea of the book’s argument without too much detailed.
The final portion of your review will detail your opinion of the work. When you are ready to begin your review, consider the following:
- Establish a Background, Remember your Audience: Remember that your audience has not read the work; with this in mind, be sure to introduce characters and principles carefully and deliberately. What kind of summary can you provide of the main points or main characters that will help your readers gauge their interest? Does the author’s text adequately reach the intended audience? Will some readers be lost or find the text too easy?
- Minor principles/characters: Deal only with the most pressing issues in the book. You will not be able to cover every character or idea. What principles/characters did you agree or disagree with? What other things might the author have researched or considered?
- Organize: The purpose of the review is to critically evaluate the text, not just inform the readers about it. Leave plenty room for your evaluation by ensuring that your summary is brief. Determine what kind of balance to strike between your summary information and your evaluation. If you are writing your review for a class, ask your instructor. Often the ratio is half and half.
- Your Evaluation: Choose one or a few points to discuss about the book. What worked well for you? How does this work compare with others by the same author or other books in the same genre? What major themes, motifs, or terms does the book introduce, and how effective are they? Did the book appeal to you on an emotional or logical way?
- Publisher/Price: Most book reviews include the publisher and price of the book at the end of the article. Some reviews also include the year published and ISBN.
When making the final touches to your review, carefully verify the following:
- Double-check the spelling of the author name(s), character names, special terms, and publisher.
- Try to read from the vantage point of your audience. Is there too much/enough summary? Does your argument about the text make sense?
- Should you include direct quotes from the reading? Do they help support your arguments? Double-check your quotes for accuracy.
A book review addresses the subject matter of a literary work, and assesses effectiveness and value. Book reviews keep publishers and the public aware of what is being thought and written in a wide range of subjects. When a new book is issued, copies are sent to reviewers; subsequent reviews appear in literary magazines, academic journals, newspapers, and other periodicals. People everywhere depend on book reviews to direct them in their reading; many readers buy what commentators give particular attention. Competent reviewers are the best counselors for readers attempting to keep up with intellectual and aesthetic developments in the literary arts.
Scope: What a Book Review Is and Is Not
Book reviews vary widely. A review does not simply summarize book material, and should not be substituted for the original book. The purpose of a book review is to make known what a literary work purports to do and be, as a publication for both general and specialized readers. Essential components to be taken into account include concerns of subject matter and style. A review is a critical essay, a report and an analysis. Whether favorable or unfavorable in its assessment, it should seem authoritative. The reviewer's competence must be convincing and satisfying. As with any form of writing, the writer of a book review is convincing through thorough study and understanding of the material, and opinions supported by sound reasoning; the reviewer achieves reader satisfaction upon by giving justice to the subject, the book being reviewed, and connecting it with vital human concerns. A review may be limited in its scope due to length requirements, whether those are set by an instructor or an editor. How thoroughly and with respect to what aspects a book is reviewed also depends on instructor or editor preferences, or simply the attitudes and qualifications of the reviewer.
A book review should address three issues:
- Contents, or what is said in the book.
- Style, or how it is said.
- Assessment, or analysis of how true and significant the book is.
The most essential preparation for review writing is of course a complete, thoughtful reading of the book. After reading, the reviewer should have a sound, integrated idea of the book contents, and begin to develop attitudes toward style, purpose, and value. As the reviewer forms ideas for the review, certain influences and motives should be considered:
- The interests, general or special, of the readers: Are they looking to the review for an elementary, informational report? A more advanced, technical, scholarly address?
- The reviewer's own particular interests and purposes: Does the reviewer want to remain primarily a fact-finding reporter? Or are there more specialized ideas and principles of art and ideology the reviewer wants to advance?
- Contemporary social, economic, political, and aesthetic issues: Do one or more of these affect the aim or emphasis of the book review? How does the incorporation and interpretation of these issues in the book review further discussion of the book's contents and style?
- Required treatment and length requirements: What requirements for the review, emphasis and length, have been set by the instructor or editor?
Material for the Review
As the reviewer decides the scope and content of the review, there are various critical considerations to keep in mind. In addition to content and style, information about the publication and category of the book, and the author and author purpose, may be helpful with analysis. Not all material needs to be included in the final review, but the reviewer should be aware of any relevant issues.
Bibliographical data includes the publisher, place and date of publication, and book price. This information is important for readers who want to buy the book. It may also raise questions: Is the book newly issued? Or is it being reissued? If reissued, is it only a new printing or has it been revised? If revised, what is the nature of the revision? Answers to these questions often can be found in a preface to the book by the author. Consult the front matter of the book, the title and copyright pages, for basic publication information. Often, price, publisher, and page count are listed separately at the beginning or end of a book review; this is the case with the example reviews accompanying this guide.
There are various categories, or genres, to which a book is assigned: fiction, poetry, travel and adventure, mystery, children's literature, biography, history, and contemporary thought, among others. A reviewer analyzes a book's conformity to a genre with attention to the author's approaches, methods, materials and coverage, and the outcomes of the book as to information, judgments, or interest value. For example, in her review of John D'Agata's Halls of Fame , Wendy Rawlings discusses how D'Agata experiments with the form of the essay: "If you're accustomed to reading essays organized around a clearly articulated theme and guided by a single narrative voice that signposts its intentions along the way, D'Agata's methods may frustrate. His essays are disjunctive agglomerations of excerpts from texts of all sorts (literary and otherwise), lists, transcripts from tape-recorded conversations, and, often, long passages of direct quotes from people he meets . . . Reading D'Agata's essays, I felt the strain of someone experimenting with the democratization of a form that, in America, has perhaps been colonized, or at least overpopulated by the ironic and the smug." Rawlings further compares and contrasts D'Agata's methods to those of David Foster Wallace, another contemporary writer of essays. When analyzing a writer's approach to form, some questions to consider are: How does the book differ from previous works in the same field? Has the author written previous books, in this genre or others? How has the author changed or developed? To what extent does the book being reviewed offer anything new its genre? How might it influence later works in the same genre?
Author and Author Purpose
Depending on the genre of the book, the background and purpose of the author may be relevant to the analysis of the book. Refer to the book jacket and biographical notes on the author. Further research may be helpful; read interviews, essays, and, if available, previously written biographies. In John Calderazzo's review of Ken Lamberton's Wilderness and Razor Wire , biographical data about Lamberton proves relevant: "Lamberton had an uncommon resume for someone doing serious jail time: no grinding poverty, no drugs or violence. He grew up in Arizona as an avid collector of wild things, a self-taught naturalist . . . He earned a bachelor's degree in biology, married Karen, a fellow lover of the wild, had kids, and decided to share his passions for science and nature in the public schools . . . He became infatuated with a student and, incredibly, ran off with her to Colorado. Soon someone from Mesa recognized them in Aspen and called the police." This background information provides the reason for Lamberton's incarceration as well as the basis for Calderazzo's discussion of the writer's "microscopically detailed prose" and "the single-mindedness of his gaze." The following is a list of possible biographical data about an author to reference in a review:
- Race, nationality, and origins-social, cultural, religious, economic, political, environmental.
- Training and affiliations-literary, scholastic, religious, political, etc.
- Schooling, travel, or other formative influences.
- Personal experiences-general or specific.
- Career and/or professional position.
- Other literary or scholastic works.
- Stimulus or occasion for writing.
- Special writing aids-illustrations, photographs, diagrams, etc.
- General attitude-objective/subjective, formal/informal, authoritative/speculative, etc.
- Purpose-as described in a preface or other formal statement, or in some key phrase.
- Audience-who the writer hopes will read the book.
The subject of a book is what the book is about, an idea or ideas explored in the book's contents. In a nonfiction book, the subject should be fairly explicit, in the author's own words. With fiction, however, a reviewer must interpret the subject through analysis of character, setting, plot, and symbolism. A discussion of the subject of a book might begin with its title: From where did the author derive the title? What is the title's meaning or suggestiveness? Is the title an adequate heading for the contents of the book? Or is it ambiguous or false in some way? Other questions regarding the exploration of a book's subject by its author include: What areas of the subject are covered? (In fiction, areas of subject may be considered character concerns, setting, and plot.) What areas of the subject are left uncovered? Is this intentional, or the result of oversight or failure, on the author's part? To what degree is the author thorough or negligent in addressing the subject? In his review of Wilderness and Razor Wire , John Calderazzo comments that writer Ken Lamberton avoids discussion of personal motivation: "Perhaps to spare his wife further humiliation and pain, Lamberton has decided not to belabor his motive for his one act of insanity. He talks vaguely of immaturity, but that's about it . . . [T]he single-mindedness of his gaze [has] implications he either doesn't recognize or won't fully discuss . . . Fixating on the near at hand may be a necessary metaphor and an undeniable fact of prison life, a way to cope with an existence that certainly scares the hell out of me. Maybe, though, Lamberton's fierce gaze derives from something he'll always carry within him: this edgy and impulsive but obviously grateful husband who knows he's not free to teach again for a living . . ."
The contents of a book revolve around the subject, and develop one or more central ideas. For nonfiction, a reviewer analyzes how well the contents of a book address the central idea, the strength or weakness of supporting ideas, and the relevancy of collateral ideas or implications. In fiction, themes develop through character, setting, and plot; a reviewer evaluates the relative success or lack thereof of these fictional elements. Think about these questions: What is the setting, or place and time, of the story? Does the setting reflect or contrast with characters and plot? Are characters fully or minimally developed? Does character development increase or deteriorate as the action proceeds? Is the plot sequenced chronologically, or otherwise? Does tension build or deflate as the story progresses? Note how David Milofsky discusses the effectiveness of the contents of Reynolds Price's Noble Norfleet : "Although there are spots of lyricism-and for the first third of the book, Price's narrative has the drive and tension of some of his better work-overall, Noble Norfleet sags beneath its unlikely premise and even more unlikely hero . . . It seems likely that Price was trying to say something here about the relationship between sexuality and madness, about the necessity not only of nursing others but of caring for oneself, of showing Noble as some kind of paradigm, hence his name. But, sadly, the novel succeeds in none of these aims." Remember that details about the plot and characters in a book are revealed by the reviewer only to support the purpose of the review. Certainly, a review should not give away a book's ending, nor should it be a simple summary of events and characters. The reviewer's job is not only to report highlights but also to respond to the ideas and techniques evident in the book.
Style refers to how an author relates content through writing. This is an important aspect of a book to review. While initially reading the book, and in any subsequent reads, a reviewer should mark passages of particular resonance and reflection of the author's style. These passages help the reviewer form ideas as to whether or not the style is effective in conveying content, and pleasing to the reader. One or more of these passages may be cited within the review itself in order to both exemplify the author's style and provide basis for the reviewer's response. The following is excerpted from Wendy Rawlings' discussion of John D'Agata's poetic, associative essay-writing style in Halls of Fame: "Juxtaposing so many voices and kinds of language . . . can allow the reader to create exciting associative links between texts and ideas, but it can also, when overused, begin to feel somewhat arbitrary. In the book's title essay, for instance, single sentences and sentence fragments form choppy narratives composed of statements that seem, at times, cruelly separated from each other by the portentous silence of white space. This narrative strategy prevails throughout most of the twenty-four sections of the essay, and as a result, the sentences take on a stilted self-importance, like a poem written by someone as yet unschooled in enjambment." A passage from the essay follows this description. When responding to a literary work, consider these aspects of style:
- Logical and reasoned (objective), or imagined and emotional (subjective).
- Dramatic and gripping, or pedestrian and level.
- Epic and far-reaching, or lyrical and infused with personal poetic emotion.
- Solemn and serious, or comic and entertaining.
- Spiritual or vulgar or both.
- Formal, or familiar, informal.
- Simple, or complex.
- Broad, or specific.
- Abstract, or concrete.
- Direct, or implicational.
- Figurative, or literal.
- Use of detail, sense appeal-the look, sound, smell, taste, feel.
- Balance, parallelism, and contrast of exposition, scene, and dialogue.
- Allusions, quotations, aphorisms, etc.
- To the subject.
- To the purpose of the author.
- To the reader.
Form and Technique
An author carefully chooses the form and various writing techniques to use to develop ideas. A book reviewer decides whether or not these choices are appropriate and effective. Do certain techniques aid or impede the author's purpose? What passages from the book best exemplify these techniques?
Form and Technique in Nonfiction
- Use of source material and authority.
- Use of definition; illustrations and examples; comparison and contrast; cause and effect.
- Use of generalization and subsequent conclusions.
- Tone; authority; approach to subject and audience.
- Degree of convincingness.
- Worth of proposal; practicality; need.
- Comparison with other possible policies.
- Costs or difficulties involved.
- Ultimate promise, solution, or plan
- Methods of deduction or induction.
- Synthesis; formation of separate elements into a coherent whole.
- Syllogism; major premise, minor premise, and conclusion.
- Dialectics; arrival at truth through conversation involving question and answer.
- Casuistry; determination of right and wrong by applying generalized ethics principles.
- Fallacy; begging the question, ignoring the question, etc.
Form and Technique in Fiction
- Dominant impression; vividness of final impression.
- Selection of details to support a single effect.
- Appeal to sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel; imagery.
- Directness; implication and suggestion.
- Point of view; first, second, third; limited or omniscient.
- Establishment of setting.
- Smoothness of transitions in time sequence.
- Use of flashback.
- How presented or introduced.
- Motivations; sources for feeling and/or drives to action.
- How described; direct or implied; revealed through description or dialogue.
- Purposes; heroic or villainous; tragic inner flaws; revealing traits.
- How credible and consistent.
- Opening situation and/or conflict.
- Obstacles and complications.
- Tension and suspense.
- Turning point, or climax.
- Degree of inventiveness and/or plausibility.
- Final philosophy or view of life derived from characters and action.
Depending on the author's purpose, a book's realism, or truth to life, may need assessment. If a book of fiction is meant to be realistic fiction-is it? Is it logical, natural, plausible? To what extent does the author rely on coincidence or accident to propel the plot? Is there adequate evidence of character motivation? Or a lack of sufficient urges and drives? Is the story infused with a quality of normalcy, or abnormality? Remember, if a book of fiction is to be successful according to a reviewer, it is not necessarily realistic fiction; a book's realism, or lack thereof, need be addressed by a reviewer only as it compares to the author's intention for the story. See here how David Milofsky addresses the realism of William Trevor's novel The Story of Lucy Gault : "It seems unlikely, to say the least, that longtime residents of a place (going back several generations, we're told) would cut off contact so completely as the Gaults do, but, of course, if this isn't the case there would be no novel. Similarly, it's hard to believe that the lawyer wouldn't be able to contrive a way to contact the absent parents . . . It's a tribute to Trevor's genius that these objections are largely overridden and storytelling takes over."
Form and Technique in Poetry
- Received (given) forms; sonnet, quatrain, villanelle, sestina, haiku, etc.
- Free verse forms.
- Lyric; narrative; dramatic; prose; ballad (folk, literary, popular).
- Point of view; persona or apparently personal.
- Dramatic monologue.
- Tone; irony, satire, etc.
- Intensity, atmosphere, mood.
- Concrete or abstract.
- Denotation, connotation, implication.
- Vulgar, colloquial/informal, formal.
- Syntax, or sentence structure.
- Amount and type of sensory detail.
- Metaphor; simile; personification; allusion.
- Synesthesia; describing a sense impression using words that normally describe another.
- Hyperbole or understatement.
- Metonymy; substituting one word/phrase for another, closely associated word/phrase.
- Synecdoche; using a part to refer to the whole, or the whole to refer to a part.
- Alliteration; repetition of an initial sound in two or more words of a phrase.
- Assonance (repetition of vowels) and/or consonance (repetition of consonants).
- Onomatopoeia; using a word that is defined through both its sound and meaning.
- Euphony (smooth, pleasant sound) vs. cacophony (rough, harsh sound).
- Rhythm (pattern of beats in a stream of sound)-appeals t
- The line; end-stopped (self-enclosed) or enjambed.
- Feet; iambs, trochees, anapests, dactylics, etc.
- Meter; mono-, di-, tri-, tetra-, penta-, hexa-, etc.
- Rhyme (corresponding terminal sounds)-appeals t
- True; words sound nearly identical and rhyme on one stressed syllable.
- Slant (near/off); words do not exactly rhyme, but almost rhyme.
- End rhyme (at end of line) and/or internal rhyme (similar sounds within one line).
- Masculine (lines end w/ stressed syllable); feminine (lines end w/ unstressed syllable).
View of Life
It is common for an author to express a view of life through ideas and themes developed in a book. A reviewer identifies and comments on the author's stance. Does the book hold to and/or further develop views apparent in past works? Or make a new statement? Below is a list of popular attitudes, or schools of thought:
- Idealism-emphasis on enduring spirituality as opposed to transient values of materialism.
- Romanticism-focus on emotion and imagination as freedom from the strictly logical.
- Classicism-intellectuality; dominance of the whole over its parts, and form over impulse.
- Realism-adherence to actualities, the logistics of everyday life; objectivity.
- Impressionism-intuition; sense responses to aesthetic objects.
- Naturalism-humans as part of nature; adaption to external environment.
In response to Wilderness and Razor Wire , John Calderazzo discusses the importance of nature in Ken Lamberton's life and writing: "[I]n the prison of his days (to paraphrase W. H. Auden), Lamberton is helped . . . by nature, by the winds and dust and sweet-smelling raindrops that blow down from the nearby mountains, which he sees framed in barbed wire. This is nature unbound, not just out there beyond the walls but slipping in through the bars, swirling around his cell, penetrating even his skin . . . [Swallows] migrate, then return to raise new young in their mud-packed homes, lending solace-and spice-to the impossibly slow turning of the seasons . . . The swallows and many other break-ins from the natural world are also resources of rehabilitation, which Lamberton says is absent from all other aspects of prison life." If comparisons are to be made between a book being reviewed and its predecessors, a reviewer should be familiar with the basic forms and techniques prevalent in works expressing similar viewpoints. Further research and reading are necessary for the reviewer to form intelligent analysis of views of life expressed through writing.
Value and Significance
Often a book review comments on the significance of a new work. This value may be measured in relation to other books in the same genre, works addressing the same subject matter, past and contemporary authors with a similar style, and/or previous works by the same author. In his review of William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault , David Milofsky compares the novel to Trevor's past works, and comments on its place in literature in general: "[Trevor]'s been called the Irish Chekhov, but that's not really adequate, since Chekhov never really wrote novels. The truth is that Trevor is sui generis, in a class by himself. While his stories (collected a few years ago in an omnibus volume) are brilliant, novels like The Old Boys and Felicia's Journey are lasting contributions to our literature. He's a literary treasure and never less than interesting reading . . . The Story of Lucy Gault may not be the most accomplished novel of Trevor's distinguished career, but that still places it far beyond most of the fiction that will be written in English this year. It's highly recommended reading." Value is also determined by the universality of application-how and to whom the work applies. Are the book's contents of universal interest? Or does the subject matter limit the book's appeal to a narrow field of individuals? Determining the value and significance of a book depends largely on the knowledge and subjectivity of the reviewer; familiarity with comparable books and authors is required to draw conclusions of this nature.
A book's format, or physical make-up, reflects the ideas of both its author and its publisher. A book reviewer might mention characteristics of format, in relation to suitability and aesthetics. Is the book's size convenient? Is the binding durable? Is the print type legible? Do illustrations, diagrams, and maps, if any, aid the reader's understanding of the material? Is the index correct and complete? Are bibliographies and reference lists present? In response to artwork present in Ken Lamberton's Wilderness and Razor Wire , John Calderazzo comments on both the exactness of the drawings and the possible meaning of this detail-orientedness to Lamberton's life: "[J]ournal entries and small essays [are] complemented by drawings of tarantulas, conenose beetles, horned lizards, and other desert creatures in almost photo-realistic close-up. This is why I suggested that Lamberton may not find himself any closer to 'nature' when he's finally free. How can he get more intimate? . . . All of his drawings, in fact, are rendered in extreme close-up, like visual infatuations writ large. Nothing seems to exist in the distance, which makes me wonder if anything ever does for Lamberton, or ever will."
Planning and Writing
A book review should meet the requirements of any good composition. Clarity, correctness, readability, and interest are very important. A review should give its readers not only an understanding of the reviewer's intellectual response to a book but also an awareness of the basis for this response, through example and analysis. Specific passages from the book are used to exemplify the reviewer's points regarding elements of style, form, and technique. There is no strict pattern for writing book reviews. Guiding the book reviewer's writing process, however, are the three essential objectives of relating what is said in the book, how it is said, and how true and significant it is. As with the planning of a composition, make a list of possible material to use in the review-ideas, responses, information, examples. Study this material to decide what to include in the book review and what proves extraneous. Put the items to include in a suitable order-for instance, from greater to lesser importance. Once the material is organized, a controlling idea for the review emerges; this controlling idea may form the topic sentence of the review, and provides guidance for achieving coherence and focus throughout. Use the topic sentence, in varied forms, in the beginning and end of the review. Once the book reviewer has chosen the proper and adequate material, organized this material effectively, and decided on the main idea and focus to be developed, it is time to write the review.
Like writing the introduction of a composition, there several possible strategies to use for beginning a book review. One type of strategic beginning is prompt definition-assigning meaning to terms in the title of the book, for example, or giving the scope of the review as it relates to the subject and the reviewer's response to the book. Another effective approach is to highlight the origins and past history of the subject treated in the book; this technique may also be used to introduce ideas about genre, style, or view of life, depending on what the reviewer has chosen as the focus of the review. A statement of exclusion shows what will not be addressed in a review and focuses attention on what really will be discussed. At the beginning of his review of Reynold Price's Noble Norfleet , David Milofsky uses a comparison between Price's newest novel and his previous works: "It would be nice to report that Reynolds Price, the distinguished author of more than thirty books, including A Long and Happy Life and Surface of Earth , has added significantly to his oeuvre with his new novel, but such is not the case. Not by a long shot." A reviewer might also quickly catch reader attention by appealing to human interest-perhaps a personal reference or brief anecdote. The anecdote should connect to or exemplify the main focus of the book review. Note the anecdotal technique Wendy Rawlings uses in the introduction of her review of John D'Agata's Halls of Fame : "While on a recent trip to England, I witnessed a cultural exchange that struck me as emblematic of John D'Agata's book of essays, Halls of Fame . An American friend who has spent the past year tolerating a chilly flat in a London suburb for the sake of his British fiancée wanted me to guess the height of the World's Largest Pencil. 'I don't know-eight, nine feet tall?' I said. 'See? See? I knew it!' my friend shouted. He explained that when asked the same question, an English friend had guessed the height of the world's largest pencil to be 'perhaps a foot high, or two.' His modest expectations compared to my great ones (I could not but visualize the World's Largest Pencil as at least a foot taller than an NBA All-Star) represented to my friend something essential about the differences between British and American sensibilities."
The primary focus of a book review is supplied in the beginning paragraph. After this main idea is established, it needs to be developed and justified. Using an organized list of material, the reviewer details the reasons behind the response to the book. References to past history, causes and effects, comparisons and contrasts, and specific passages from the book help illustrate and exemplify this main idea. Personal philosophy and moralization should be kept to a minimum, if included at all; the reader of a book review is interested in unbiased, thoughtful, reasonable, and well-developed ideas pertaining to the book in question. The bulk of a review consists of the development of the reviewer's main idea, the response to the book and the reasons for it. In each of the example reviews that accompany this guide, the reviewers develop their ideas through references to comparable past and contemporary works, analysis of aspects of form and technique, and inclusion of notable passages from the books being reviewed.
The conclusion reflects the focus of the rest of the review, and leaves the reader with a clearly articulated, well-justified final assessment. A restatement of the topic sentence is better than a cursory inspection of less important matters like book format and mechanical make-up. Main emphasis should remain primarily on the qualities and materials of the book being reviewed. At the end of Wendy Rawlings' review of John D'Agata's Halls of Fame , Rawlings summarizes previously stated ideas: "When D'Agata doesn't find the balance, the lyricism borrowed from poetry seems not quite, yet, to fit. I don't wish for D'Agata to join the legions of the smug and ironic, but at certain moments, I begin to wish for authorial presence that will assert itself less forcefully in terms of the arrangement of words on the page, which are often blasted into squadrons separated by asterisks, white space, or unhelpful section headings, and more forcefully on the level of the sentence, as D'Agata does in 'Notes toward the making of a whole human being . . . ,' a five-page essay composed of a single, breathtakingly constructed sentence." The conclusion statement cements the reviewer's recommendation, or lack thereof, of the book. Clearly, this is David Milofsky's aim in the conclusion of his review of Reynold Price's Noble Norfleet : "Even with a failure, it is interesting to read as accomplished a writer as Price, but his new novel cannot be recommended on any other grounds." The final sentence of a review should be both memorable and thought-provoking to the reader. As at the end of John Calderazzo's review of Ken Lamberton's Wilderness and Razor Wire , this final thought might be put in the form of a question: "[R]eading about Lamberton's flawed but exhilarating life makes me wonder about temptation and impetuousness. In light of losing everything, how many of us are still tempted to pursue, just once, some nearby object of desire? And will this constant risk be the prison of all of our days, our lives a landscape of wilderness and razor wire?"
Reviewing Specific Types of Books
The type of book being reviewed raises special considerations as to how to approach the review. Information specific to the categories of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry can be found under the "Form and Technique" heading of this guide. Below are further questions to consider, based on a book's category:
- Does the book give a full-length picture of the subject? Focus on only a portion of life?
- What phases of the subject's life receive greatest space? Is there justification for this?
- What is the point of view of the author?
- Are idiosyncrasies and weaknesses omitted? Treated adequately? Overplayed?
- Does the author endeavor to get at hidden motives?
- What important new facts about the subject's life are revealed in the book?
- Is the subject of the biography still living?
- What source materials were used in the preparation of the book?
- What training has the author had for this kind of work?
- What particular historical period does the book address?
- Is the accound given in broad outline, or in detail?
- Is the style that of reportorial writing, or is there an effort at interpretation?
- Is emphasis on traditional matter, like wars, kings, etc.? Or is it a social history?
- Are dates used extensively and/or intelligently?
- Is the book likely to be out of date soon? Or is it intended to stand the test of time?
- Are maps, illustrations, charts, etc., helpful to the reader?
- o Who is the author, and what right does he/she have to be writing on the subject? o What contributions to knowledge and understanding are made by the book?
- Is the author credible? What is the author's purpose for writing the book?
- Does the book contribute to knowledge of geography, government, folklore, etc.?
- Does the book have news value?
- How effective are plot, pace, style, and characterization? Strengths? Weaknesses?
- Is the ending worthwhile? Predictable?
- o Children's Literature
- o What is the age/interest group for which the book is intended?
- o What is the overall experience/feeling of reading the book?
- o Is the book illustrated? How? By whom?
There is a good market for the newcomer in book reviewing. Many editors, including those of big-name magazines, do not like to use the same reviewer too often, and this means unknown, unpublished reviewers have good opportunities to break into the field. Send query letters to editors to find out what their publication needs are. Try smaller, special-interest publications first (ethnic, feminist, religious, etc.); if the reviewer has knowledge or affiliation relevant to the publication, it may increase the chances of a positive response from the editor. Stay current with new books, and read other book reviews. Once an assignment for a review is given, produce timely, quality work, specific to requirements set by the editor. Build publication credits with a variety of periodicals; pursue possibilities of starting a regular column for a single newspaper or magazine. Book reviewing is not generally a highly profitable venture, but money can be made, depending on a reviewer's qualifications, reputation, and dedication to the field.
Cress, Janell. (2003). Book Reviews. Writing@CSU . Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=49