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How do I write a book review?

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What is a book review?

A book review is a short, fair critical evaluation of a book's strengths and weaknesses. While a book review contains a summary of the book, the summary should be brief and focused, and the majority of the review should examine the book's content and provide a critical analysis, using evidence from the book itself.

Things to remember:

  • A book review is different from a book report.  In college you will write book reviews, not reports.
  • "Critical" refers to the evaluation of the books merits and flaws (if any). It does not mean negative.
  • A book review is usually  around 1000 words.
  • You are expected to read the whole book before you can write a book review.

How to Write a 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,
  • a mention of the book's author and title, 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
  • provide a concise summary of the book that includes
    • the author’s general topic
    • the author’s viewpoint and purpose for writing the book
    • any aspects of the author’s background that would enhance understanding for the book
    • the main point (that is, the thesis) and a general summary of your judgement of the book.
    •  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 specific evidence from the book
  • evaluate the strength and validity of the author's arguments and use of evidence
  • evaluate how effectively the author addresses opposing viewpoints and counter-evidence

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," "in summary," or similar expressions. Your conclusion should feel like a conclusion without you announcing it is.

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