Use the following checklist as a guide for writing critical book reviews. A good review should answer the following questions, not necessarily in the order listed.
1.What materials does the book cover? (Should be summarized briefly.)
2.What is the author’s thesis and major supporting arguments? How well does the author support the thesis? (The author’s use of evidence and the soundness of the author’s reasoning are relevant here.)
3.How is the book organized? (Chronologically or topically?)
4.What is the author’s “approach”? That is, would you classify the work as political history, social history, economic history, intellectual history, etc.? (Make sure you understand what is meant by economic history or intellectual history before using these terms!)
5.What are the literary qualities? Is the book well-written or does it read like a badly written insurance policy?
6.Who is the author and what are the author’s biases?
7.What did the book add to your understanding of the subject? Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?
8.If you have read other books on the same general topic, how does this book compare? Most important, how does the interpretation (thesis) of this book differ from that of the others?
Again, these questions need not be answered in any specific order, but all of them should be addressed, however briefly, somewhere in the review. They are very useful in helping you to properly organize your paper. Finally, a book review, like any piece of writing, should observe the basic requirements of literary discourse. There should be an introduction (in this case an overview of your thesis concerning the book you are reviewing—”This was a good book because…”), a middle section in which you develop your argument, and a brief conclusion. As always, clarity and grammatical precision are important if you want your reader to understand what you are saying.
BOOK REVIEW v. BOOK REPORT
Please remember that a Book Review is not a Book Report. A book report requires you to merely repeat the information you acquired from reading the book. In other words, a book report is what you did in grammar school when the instructor wanted to check and see if you actually read the book. You repeat the characters, their roles, and the plot without adding any interpretation or analysis. In a book review you should summarize the plot in less than two or three paragraphs. The remainder of the paper should be devoted to your interpretation and analysis of the characters, the plot and subplots, the author’s purpose and objectives and whether the book, in your opinion, was a good read. You will also want to tell how this book relates to what you are learning in the course. This same strategy should be used when writing your movie reviews. Do not simply tell me what the movie is about. Analyze the movie and tell me how it relates to what you have read in this course.