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PLS 135 & 212 Course Playbook

Resources for research in political science, government, and international relations.

Assignment: Book Review

For this assignment, you will write a book review. Read the assignment instructions provided by your instructor to learn more about the specific book you will be reviewing.

A book review is not a book report.

A book review is a critical essay that goes beyond summarizing the book; it also provides an analysis and evaluation of the merits and flaws of the book. The word "critical" refers to the analysis and evaluation/assessment part. Your essay must show not only that you have read the whole book, but also that you have interacted with the contents in a critical/analytical way. Your analysis and conclusions must be based on evidence from the book itself.

A book review evaluates someone else's work, so the focus should be on them. To keep your review focused on the work, do not use the "I" voice. Examples:

  • Instead of "I think this book would be useful reading in high school," write "This book would be useful reading in high school."
  • Instead of "My impression is that the authors propose many theories to explain the issue, but they fail to provide credible evidence," write "The authors propose many theories to explain the issue, but they fail to provide credible evidence."

How to Write the Book Review

Purpose

The purpose of your book review will be to

  • inform the reader about the content of the book and
  • provide your own evaluation of the book's quality, its merits, and its flaws if any

The Introduction

The introduction should include

  • a short general summary of the gist of the book and
  • a short summary of your general judgment

Example:

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari recounts how humans have developed from brutes to demigods in the course of their evolutionary history: a grand narrative, one would think, but he perceives it as a comic-tragedy, and details it with mordant humor. (Source of this example: Michael Saler, "Star Stuff?" A review of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity, by Yuval Noah Harari).


The Summary

Your summary should

  • occupy less than a third of the total essay
  • discuss the book's major points, arguments, ideas, themes, and concepts -- do not write a chapter-by-chapter summary
  • be in your own words, though you can use quotes very sparingly. When using quotes
    • remember to cite the page number in parentheses
    • you do not need to put the author's name in the parentheses, since you are reviewing a single work.

Example:

Whether in writing or in conversation, Lincoln "carefully avoided the sectional names Puritan and Cavalier" (5).


The Main Body of the Essay

The body of the essay should

  • provide a critique of the book: your thoughts, reactions, and responses, whether positive, negative, or a mixture
  • justify and support your position with evidence from the source
  • address a series of questions (refer to the assignment instructions to see them).  
    • Note that you are not being asked to literally reply to each question separately; you are asked to address  (deal with) these questions, and it should be obvious from the essay that you have, in fact, addressed them. The answers should be part of a carefully constructed, unified essay, one that uses topic sentences and clear transitions and makes it clear that you have addressed all the questions without you listing the actual questions.

Example:

One of the questions you are asked to address is  "How are the author's main points presented, explained, and supported?" A paragraph addressing this question might look something like this:

The authors take their time to present their points carefully and deliberately, as though they want to make sure we understand what they are talking about. Several paragraphs are dedicated to explaining each point clearly, with some repetition of the concepts. However, they seem to have lost some steam when it came to the evidence supporting these points, in that their so-called evidence comes across as nothing but opinion and belief, with connections that seem forced and at times illogical.


The Conclusion
Don't forget to bring your essay to a close by providing a well constructed conclusion.

What is a conclusion?

A conclusion

  • rounds off a presentation (essay, speech, PowerPoint, video, etc.)
  • recaps/summarizes all the central points or arguments made in the rest of the presentation, without repeating the same words, and
  • gives the audience a sense of closure.  

A conclusion is not

  • a repeat or rephrasing of your introduction
  • just a summary of the previous content
  • a place to add new content, arguments, or points.

A conclusion should tie everything together in a meaningful way, with simple but powerful words that will leave a lasting impression on your audience. Think of your conclusion as your parting shot, your last chance to impress and enlighten your audience. Make it count by not repeating what you've said before, but by finding ways of enhancing the content and creating closure. And do not start your conclusion with "in conclusion." Your conclusion should feel like a conclusion without you announcing it is.

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