Skip to Main Content

Writing Book Reviews

This guide offers techniques for writing critical reviews of academic books.

Research the Author

It is important to understand the author’s background, which informs their perspective and their authority on the subject. Your review should include a brief section on the author’s credentials and previous work. To find this, you may look at:

  • Personal websites: Some authors will keep personal websites that summarize their academic career, talk about their current research interests, and compile their previous publications and achievements.
  • Academic websites: Universities may have profiles on their faculty. If the author currently teaches at a university, this can speak to their authority and credentials, as well as their other work.
  • Curriculum Vitae: Academic authors may have a detailed curriculum vitae (CV) that can be found online. More in depth than a resume, this will likely include all of their past research and all of the academic institutions they have worked at.
  • Other published works: Other books and articles written by the author tell the story of their career. Search the Library website to see if you can find what else the author has written.

Understand the Subject

You should also understand the subject the author is writing in, including the current state of knowledge, generally accepted paradigms, and requirements of writing in the genre. Your course readings and educational background will likely prepare you for this. Knowing the subject helps you determine what the book’s unique contribution to the subject is, which parts are generally accepted or controversial, and whether the author is accepting or challenging the current state of affairs.

Read the Book

Writing a book review requires close reading. Read with a critical eye, but don’t be overly harsh. Read the book the author wrote, not the one you wish they wrote: this means evaluating whether the book meets the author’s own goals and adequately proves the thesis.

First, you should determine the author’s purpose, their thesis, and the scope of the book. The title, preface and introduction should offer a sense of all three. The author may also give explicit information about their theoretical assumptions and the state of the topic about which they are writing.

Read the table of contents for information about the main points dealt with in each chapter and the overall structure of the book. Is it divided chronologically, by topic, or in some other way?

As you read, keep detailed, chapter-by-chapter notes. Summarize the author’s argument and write down quotes you will use in your review. Also, write down your reactions and critiques, keeping them clearly separated from the author’s ideas.

As you read, think about:

  • the evidence used and thoroughness of the research: is the evidence comprehensive or anecdotal? Are sources authoritative? Is there bias in the selection of material?
  • The methodology used in research: is this a common and accepted methodology in the field? Is it well suited to the sort of information the author draws on? Does the author make any errors?
  • The presuppositions: every book contains some assumptions. Are these made explicit? Are the assumptions plausible? Does the author consider other points of view?
  • The arguments the author uses to support their points: Could the evidence used support other conclusions? Is the reasoning logical and sound? Does the author address counterarguments?
  •  The style: is the writing clear? Is it engaging to read or dry? Does the author use emotional language to attempt to persuade? Is the book accessible to non-expert readers, or does it contain advanced vocabulary and technical jargon? Does the writing suit the level of the subject matter and the intended audience?

In additions to the main contents of the book, consider the bibliography—this is a good measure of the type and number of sources used—and any understanding aids like visual information like charts and graphs, indexes, etc. Are these effective? Are they accurate? Are they presented in a way that could lead to false conclusions?