A book review is a formal piece of writing that critically evaluates a particular book or source of information. The review may also explain how that book compares to similar books on the same topic.
An academic book review is different from a book report. While a book report merely provides a summary of a book, the book review offers a detailed analysis. When you review a book, you have to analyze the key arguments made by the author and also explain how the author validates those arguments. A good review should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the book.
In a book report, you often write whether you liked the book. The book review is not about your likes or dislikes. It is about the merits and problems of the book. While in a book report, you only have to state whether a particular work is good, bad or excellent, in a book review you have to evaluate all those factors that make it so. That means a review is a detailed analysis whereas a report is nothing more than a synopsis.
Things to consider while writing an academic book review
Many students find the prospect of writing a book review quite daunting. It does not have to be. With some preparation, you can complete this task successfully.
Before you start writing the review, you have to read the book critically. That is important. It is impossible to write a good review without reading the book thoroughly. Take notes while reading the book. When you prepare notes in your own words, you can avoid regurgitating the exact same words from the book in your review.
While reading the book try to find answers to the following questions
- What is the main theme or issue addressed by the book?
- What is the argument presented by the author?
- What is the organization of the chapters? Are they ordered thematically or chronologically?
Making an Evaluation
This is the hardest part for most students. They feel daunted by the reputation of the author and doubt their ability to critique the work of an accomplished writer. Remember that there is a difference between thinking critically about a book and simply criticizing it. While reviewing a book you may agree or disagree with the author and his/her treatment of the subject. Whether you agree or disagree, make sure that the review is an objective analysis of the work. There is no room for bias or prejudice in an honest review. Evaluate the main points of the book and find out how well the author presents and supports them in the book. You should also evaluate how the presentation of the arguments helps the reader to understand the book.
Here are some more questions to ask yourself while reading the book
- Does the book help the reader to learn more about a particular issue or a period of time?
- Does the author provide enough evidence to support his/her arguments?
- Does the book achieve its objective?
- Does the author acknowledge all the available evidence to support his claims?
- What makes this book different from or similar to other books on the same topic?
- Is the book convincing enough?
Structure of an academic book review
Like any other piece of writing, an academic book review has a specific structure.
The review must have a short and crisp introduction. The introduction must have two elements – the background and the thesis. The background part includes the name of the book and the author you are reviewing. You may also want to make a brief reference to the background of the book. Towards the end of the thesis, you should provide a short and clear analysis of the work. This analysis is your thesis statement.
The introduction should be followed by a summary of the main arguments. Make sure that you are not simply repeating every point mentioned in the book. Instead, identify the important arguments in the book and summarize them.
The evaluation should constitute the lion’s share of your review. Here you have to develop the points you made in the thesis. You may use quotations and/or examples from the book. Ask your professor if it is okay to include quotations in the review.
Provide a crisp summary of the review in the conclusion. In a few words explain what contribution this particular book makes to its field. You should also identify its limitations.
- Problems that students face
Book reviews are different from other kinds of essays in many ways. It takes a considerable amount of time and preparation to write a convincing review.
Here are some problems that students face while preparing a book review.
Instead of analyzing and evaluating the main arguments of the author, many students simply summarize every piece of information given in the book. Keep in mind that you are not preparing a summary. In a book review, you only have to discuss the main arguments and evidence that support them.
Some students simply prepare a report on the event, instead of interpreting the event discussed in the book. Remember that your focus is the book and not the topic discussed in it. Your concern must be analyzing the author’s treatment of the subject.
Some students commit an even bigger mistake. They start writing the review even before reading the book. This results in a review that lacks depth. So read and reflect on the book before reviewing it.
Keeping it simple
Like any piece of academic writing, a book review should have a clear and logical structure. The thesis should give some clues to what topics you are going to discuss and in what order.
You also need to ensure that your review is not based on your personal opinions. Just because you found the book boring, it doesn’t mean that it is boring. Dig deeper and find out why it is boring, interesting, good or bad. You need to have opinions about the work but it is equally important to base those opinions on a careful evaluation of the work.