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Book Reviews: Write your own book review

A guide for book lovers

Read the book

Every book makes different demands on the reviewer. No single approach is right for all books. Consider as many points that seem pertinent, but remain responsive to the book under consideration.

  • When you read, your critical faculty should be alert, but that doesn't mean you are poised for attack. You can do your best if you read in a spirit that is at once critical and sympathetic.

  • Take notes as you read. The list that follows will give you an idea of what to watch for. Taking notes also helps you stay alert as you read, and gives you the opportunity to mark effective passages for quoting.

Questions to ask as you read

  • What are the author's subject and the broad field into which the work fits?
  • What approach does the author take to the subject? What is the central thesis? What are the author's assumptions? What methodology is used?
  • What are the author's primary sources? How comprehensive is the research?
  • For whom is the book written? Fellow scholars? Non-academics? Is the book appropriate to its audience?
  • How is the book structured? Is its development orderly and logical? Is it clear?
  • Is the author's prose readable? Exceptionally good? Does the author have an intrusive style?
  • Does the book have illustrations? An index? Bibliography? What other features does it have? Are they effective and useful?
  • How appropriate is the book's title? Does it promise essentially what the book delivers?
  • Are you aware of factual errors in the book? Oversights? Faulty assumptions?
  • Why was the book written? Has the author met these objectives?
  • What is your personal response to the book? Is it satisfying to read? Is it enjoyable? Convincing? Why? If it isn't, why not?

Write the review

Writing a book review is much like writing any other short essay. There is no universal formula, but following a few basic guidelines can simplify the task.

Review your notes and list the points you'd like to make.

Arrange those points in a logical order. Time spent now on organization not only produces a strong, clear structure, but also allows you to concentrate on phrasing during the writing of the first draft. One possible way of setting up the essay is like this:

  • A brief description of the subject, aim, and scope of the book
  • An outline of its thesis and its bias
  • A detailed assessment of the author's main contentions
  • An evaluation of the book's major strengths and weaknesses
  • A survey of topics not yet covered (sources, illustrations, indexes, etc.)
  • An assessment of the book's place in the literature of its subject

Write the first draft, not stopping to fine tune the phrasing, but aiming to get onto the paper all that you have to say.

After some time has elapsed, read the draft critically, noting where it is ambiguous, incomplete, overwritten, etc.

Read the second draft, checking for errors in grammar and punctuation, and making sure that you have said just what you meant.

Type the final draft.

Proofread the typed copy, and correct as necessary to ensure that it is free from errors.

Tip:  Looking for some examples of book reviews? Browse H-Net Reviews, Nature Book Reviews, or other review sites.