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Writing Book Reviews

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

General Structure

Book reviews follow a format similar to academic essays: they begin with an introduction, have structured content in the middle, and end on a conclusion that sums up and points to areas for further research. Below is a suggested outline for writing your review.

Introduction

The introduction should both give an overview of the book and make your overall assessment clear. In your introduction, you should clearly indicate:

  • The subject area and specific topic to which the author is contributing.
  • The author’s background, insofar as it speaks to their authority and approach to the book
  • The author’s purpose in writing the book; the problem the book addresses
  • The author’s main thesis
  • Your own thesis regarding the value of the book, it’s strengths and weaknesses, and whether the author sufficiently proves their thesis and addresses the problem

Following this, you should clearly lay out the structure of the book and the main points the author makes. You will address these points in depth in the body of your review.

Body

In the body, you address each of the major points the author makes. A book review is meant to be brief, so you shouldn’t reiterate every single point: Instead, identify the key points of the book: which are essential to the overall structure and argument? Which points does the author emphasize?

There are two common structures that you may use for the body of your review.

  • One possible structure summarizes all of the book’s main points without adding your opinion, then offer your critique separately.
  • An alternate structure integrates the summaries and critiques, while still clearly separating the book’s points from your own: in this structure, you summarize one point, critique it, then move on to the next.

Your critiques of the author’s points may consider

  • the evidence they used,
  • the strength of their reasoning,
  • the plausibility of any solutions to problems they suggest,
  • the author’s bias or assumptions
  • The clarity of the writing

 In addition to summarizing the points, you should explain how the points relate to each other to form the overall argument of the book.

Conclusion

In the conclusion, reiterate your position on the book and synthesize the specific critiques you made in the body. This is where you can offer your overall impression of the quality of the book and its value to the intended readers. This is also a place to emphasize the book’s unique contribution to the literature on the subject and in the author’s own trajectory. Finally, you may want to draw attention to topics the book didn’t cover and suggest areas for further investigation.