Basics of the Book Review


Book report - An essay which summarizes the book and does little else. DO NOT DO THIS.
Book review - A critical analysis of the ideas, structure, and methodology (among other things) of a given book. This is your assignment.

Two-part Rough Guideline for doing a book review:

1. First, determine what the purpose of the book is. Does the book have a main ideas or ideas that it seeks to prove? A book called Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy is clearly suggesting that there is something special about the relationship between the two countries. You, the reviewer, must first determine what that "something" is.
2. Second, you must ask yourself two questions: (a) How does the author go about supporting the main idea(s) of the book? (b) How well does the author go about supporting those ideas? These two questions will form the meat and potatoes of your essay.

Answering questions (a) and (b).
There is no exact path to take at this point, for each book is different. The primary thing you must do is to follow the argument that the author makes, and to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of that argument. Because each argument is different, no two reviews will follow the same path. However, it is possible to suggest some things to look for:

1. What are the author's sources? Where does the author obtain his or her information? Look in the footnotes/endnotes and bibliography for this.
2. Is there an obvious bias? Does the author seem to have an ax to grind? Does the author omit obvious sources, for example? (A book about the Holocaust that didn't use survivors' accounts, for example, omits an obvious source.) As another example, are the author's political view obvious?
3. Does the author's logic make sense? Is there any logic to the author's main points? Does that logic flow naturally from the information presented?
4. Does the writing style and the structure of the book make is easy or hard to follow its points?
5. Finally, were you convinced, and did you learn anything new and/or valuable from reading this work?
[Note - if you can find no main idea or logic to the book, that's a valid point, and you would show that by following these same questions, and demonstrating the author's failures.]

Please put at the top of the first page a bibliographic citation so that I will know what you have read. The citation should look like this:

Author's Name. The Title of the Book. Place of publication: Name of the publishing company, Date of publication.

Arnold Toynbee. Mankind and Mother Earth: A Narrative History of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
(You may underline the title if you can not do italics.)