An analytic or critical review of a book or article is not primarily a summary; rather, it comments on and evaluates the work in the light of specific issues and theoretical concerns in a course. (To help sharpen your analytical reading skills, see our file on Critical Reading.) The literature review puts together a set of such commentaries to map out the current range of positions on a topic; then the writer can define his or her own position in the rest of the paper. Keep questions like these in mind as you read, make notes, and write the review
- What is the specific topic of the book or article? What overall purpose does it seem to have? For what readership is it written? (The preface, acknowledgements, bibliography and index can be helpful in answering these questions. Don’t overlook facts about the author’s background and the circumstances of the book’s creation and publication.)
- Does the author state an explicit thesis? Does he or she noticeably have an axe to grind? What are the theoretical assumptions? Are they discussed explicitly? (Again, look for statements in the preface, etc. and follow them up in the rest of the work.)
- What exactly does the work contribute to the overall topic of your course? What general problems and concepts in your discipline and course does it engage with?
- What kinds of material does the work present (e.g. primary documents or secondary material, literary analysis, personal observation, quantitative data, biographical or historical accounts)?
- How is this material used to demonstrate and argue the thesis? (As well as indicating the overall structure of the work, your review could quote or summarize specific passages to show the characteristics of the author’s presentation, including writing style and tone.)
- Are there alternative ways of arguing from the same material? Does the author show awareness of them? In what respects does the author agree or disagree?
- What theoretical issues and topics for further discussion does the work raise?
- What are your own reactions and considered opinions regarding the work?
Browse in published scholarly book reviews to get a sense of the ways reviews function in intellectual discourse. Look at journals in your discipline or general publications such as the London Review of Books or the New York Review of Books
Some reviews summarize the book’s content and then evaluate it; others integrate these functions, commenting on the book and using summary only to give examples. Choose the method that seems most suitable according to your professor’s directions
To keep your focus, remind yourself that your assignment is primarily to discuss the book’s treatment of its topic, not the topic itself. Your key sentences should therefore say “This book shows…the author argues” rather than “This happened…this is the case.
A book review is a descriptive and critical/evaluative account of a book. It provides a summary of the content, assesses the value of the book, and recommends it (or not) to other potential readers.
A book report is an objective summary of the main ideas and arguments that the book's author has presented. The purpose of the report is to give enough information to help decide whether the book will be of use or interest to any potential readers.
Common points that both book reviews and book reports share are presented below. The last point, Critical Comments, is intended only for those writing book reviews.
Give the author's name; full title of book including subtitle; editor, if any; place, publisher and date of publication; edition, if necessary; and the number of pages - all this in the appropriate bibliographical style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) under the title of the review or report.
Supply any information about the author which shows their credentials for writing in this field or which reveals any influences which may have affected the author's point of view. Note any interesting circumstances that led to the writing of the book.
The author's intention may be apparent by the way the subject of the book is treated. Is the material meant for specialists, students, or the general public? Is it focused on a specific subject or is it a general survey of a wider subject? Several areas may provide clues: appendices, bibliographies and general indexes usually accompany scholarly works; prefaces and introductions often contain an author's explicit statement of intention; the content and style of expression will be a good indication of the intended audience.
Subject and thesis statement
What is the book about? Tell your reader not only the main concern of the book in its entirety (subject) but also what the author's particular point of view is on that subject (thesis statement). If you cannot find an adequate statement in the author's own words or if you feel that the stated thesis statement is not that which the book actually develops (make sure you check for yourself), then you will have to compose a thesis statement that does cover all the material. This statement must be brief (a sentence or a paragraph), accurate and comprehensive.
Summary of content
The summary is based on your reading notes, follows the author's order, and consists solely of the main ideas which advance the author's argument. It may be presented with the analysis of structure or discussed separately.
Critical comments (book reviews)
Critical comments should form the bulk of the 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 contribution does the book make to the field?
- Is the treatment of the subject matter objective?
- 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 alternate ends?
- Is the writing style clear and effective?
- Does the book raise issues or topics for discussion?
Support your evaluation with evidence from the text. In conclusion, you may want to state whether you liked or disliked the book.
Sources on writing book reviews
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Sources on writing book reports
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