History Writing Center, Smith 210-C, 543-5692
Guidelines for Writing a Book Review
When you have been assigned to write a book review, also called a critical review essay, you will find it helpful to recall the words of William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose: “Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry.” This is what distinguishes a book review from a book report: the purpose of a review is not simply to report on the contents of a book (although this will comprise a small part of the review), but rather to evaluate it and provide a critical commentary on its contents. Format of the Book Review The format of a review is generally as follows, although you should always consult your professor of Teaching Assistant about any specific requirements. 1. Introduction: Identify the book you are going to review. The author, title, date and place of publication may be placed at the beginning of the essay in the form of a bibliographic citation. Then state what the author’s goal was in writing the book.Why did the author write on this specific subject? What contribution to our understanding of history did the author intend to make? 2. Brief Summary: In the main body of the review, you should begin by briefly describing the content and organization of the book, along with the most important evidence used. Do not get bogged down in details here; this section is only intended to prepare the reader for the critical assessment to follow. 3. Critical Assessment: Evaluate the book’s contribution to our understanding of history. There are several things you should look for: a) Identify the author's central argument, or thesis. The thesis is not the topic of the book but the specific argument that the author has made about her or his subject. Sometimes, the author states the thesis in the book’s introduction, sometimes in the conclusion. Feel free to read these sections of the book first to determine the author’s main argument....
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