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How to do a Book Review

INSTRUCTIONS FOR BOOK REVIEWS

The book review and/or book critique is one of the most common and useful literary forms. Book reviews help readers choose which of the hundreds of new titles would be worth reading. Reviews are used in a variety of other matters; you might be required to review data, markets, companies, patients, and so on. As such, the general rules below are, essentially, applicable to all reviews. A good review provides both a summary and evaluation of the book in question. There is no single “correct” way on how to present these two parts. You can do so in two distinct and separate sections or mix them.

What is the book about? What specific topics does the book cover? Early in the review, you should provide the reader with a capsule summary of the essential contents of the book. You do not, however, want your review to become merely a condensed version of the book itself. Do not rehash the entire contents of the book—you are examining the book’s primary theme and focus, not writing an abbreviated paper on the same material the author has already covered.

What is the author’s main point or thesis—overall, what is the author trying to say? Make sure to clarify the primary theme(s) that hold the book together.

How does the author support his/her thesis? What types of evidence, arguments, and examples are used? Does the author make convincing arguments or not?

What global or international issues are raised in the book and how significant are those issues? In other words, how important is this subject matter in the overall study of world politics? Always look for broader themes.

Can you discern if the author has a bias or a particular point of view? If so, how might the author’s bias influence the book’s themes and conclusions?

What did you learn about the world from reading this book? Every book should teach you something about broader international and global forces and themes.

Do you know anything about the author? Is he/she a scholar, journalist, or freelance researcher? Is he/she qualified to write about this subject? Has this author written other books? If you do not know anything about the author, you should try to find out.

How well was the book written? Was it easy to read? Does jargon mar the text? In short, was this a good read or was it ponderous?

Opinions: I do want to hear your opinions not only about the book itself; but opinions and sentiments you have about the subject of the book. In other words, reading a book should make you think about things. Remember, you can go off on a tangent if that tangent was originally raised by topics in the book! However, anything that you state must be supported by information and knowledge gained in this and other courses you had. In short, I expect scholarly opinion.

Sources: This is an important measure of a good monograph. At some point in your review, you should briefly describe and evaluate the sources used by the author. The basic question to ask is whether the author used the best available evidence (primary sources), or did the author merely repeat what others have written (secondary sources)?

Criticisms: Make sure to offer your personal evaluation of the book. It is not enough to simply say you liked or did not like the book. What did you like/dislike about it? What specifically was interesting/boring? What were its best/worst parts and why? Was the book well written and clear? Was it easy to understand? Direct your comments at those who might know little about the subject and its themes. Would you suggest these people read the book? Overall, let the reader know if the author succeeded and if the book is worth reading.

Before writing the review: You might consider reading some reviews of other political books. Most Sunday newspapers have brief reviews and the New York Times has an excellent Sunday book review section that includes longer, comprehensive reviews of many current titles. Most academic journals contain book reviews. Consult your syllabus about course related journals for titles.

Length, form: Your reviews should be approximately 4 – 5 pages in length. Papers must be typed (double-spaced with standard margins and fonts). I expect no spelling errors and proper grammar and punctuation throughout the review. So please edit and proofread your work before submission. And please, do not place your review in any sort of fancy cover or folder or use cover pages.

Heading: The author, title, and full publication data of the book (publisher, place of publication, date, and number of pages) should appear at the beginning of your review. All this information can be placed at the top of your first page; (I repeat) a separate title sheet is not necessary.

Grades: Papers will be graded and evaluated on the following:
• your understanding of the book’s content and specific details
• your understanding and knowledge of the book’s broad themes
• your understanding of the book’s sources
• your ability to analyze and critique the book
• your ability to offer your own sentiments and opinions on the book
• writing style, literacy, and grammar
• overall breadth and depth of understanding you have for the primary themes and arguments of the book

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