How to Write a Book Review

What it is

A book review (or “critique”) is not a book report or summary but more of a reaction or evaluation paper. You must discuss the book’s strengths, weaknesses and relevance to you and to scholarly discourse.

How to write it

1. Start with a subheader that looks something like this:

Red Lights on the Prairies. James H. Gray. Toronto, Macmillan, 1971. pp.xvi, 207, maps, illus. $6.95

2. Have a descriptive section that covers some or all of the following:

  • Explain the title and subtitle in relation to the book’s subject, purpose & thesis
  • Give the author’s background that is pertinent to their perspective in the book
  • Are they an expert on the topic?
    How does their background/time/place affect the conclusions in the book?
    Is there any obvious bias?
    What is their point of view? (For this, check the preface, introduction, opening paragraphs, or sometimes the acknowledgments.)

3. Have an evaluative section that covers some or all of the following:

  • Why did the author write the book? What is their purpose?
  • Evaluate their argument and evidence
  • Explain the structure of the book and how it fits into a sustained argument
    Is it a cogent argument backed by evidence?
    Do they omit or mishandle (in your opinion) key issues?
    How reliable are the sources? Are they primary or secondary?
    How do the book’s format and style add to the book achieving its purpose?
    What are your (and other reviewers’) objections and contrary views?

4. Have a section explaining the relevance of the book and its thesis:

  • How does the book contribute to the period or topic?
  • How does it add to existing scholarship?
  • Does the author’s argument conflict with other voices (books, scholars) surrounding their topic?
  • Did the book alter your opinion? How?
  • How did the book relate to your course material? (Why do you think you were asked to read it?)
  • Would you recommend this book to others? Why?
  • How well did the book achieve its goals?

Top Tips for Writing a Book Review

  1. use examples from the book to support your evaluation

  2. find an effective opening
    “This book is…” will put your prof to sleep! Don’t use it. Try something more like:
    - brief anecdote or human interest item that connects with your book
    - use one of the points above that you think is key and lead with it
    - your opinion of the value or projected treatment of the book (but don’t cross the line of boring generalizations)

  3. have a strong conclusion
    - reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the book
    - tying in your comments from the opening

  4. ask your librarian to show you book reviews in the class’s area of discipline to get a sense of how reviews function in scholarly discourse.

This information was adapted from resources from the University of Kentucky, Bowdoin College, and Regent College.