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Write a Book Review

What is a book review?

A book review describes, analyzes, and evaluates a book by examining its purpose and its contribution.

A book review should address the following:

  • Purpose: What was the aim of the book?
    • What are the authors trying to accomplish? What is their argument?
  • Audience: Who was this book written for?
    • Who is the author trying to convince?
  • Strategy/Approach: How does the book attempt to achieve its aim?
    • What strategies and evidence did you see in the book?
  • Evaluation: Is the book successful in accomplishing its aim?
    • To what extent are you convinced by the book? To whom (if anyone) would you recommend this book?

Your professor may specify additional instructions or objectives for their book review assignment. Therefore, be sure to read the assignment instructions carefully.

How do I structure a book review?

In many ways, your book review can be structured like a typical essay, using an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Introduction

Like other introductions, the book review introduction should move from broad (the topic of the book) to narrow (your specific argument or purpose statement).

Your reader will expect you to do the following in your introduction:

  • Introduce the topic of the book (what is the issue at hand, and why should we care?)
  • Introduce the title and author of the book
  • State the purpose of the book (including the author’s thesis or major findings)
  • State your thesis (or the purpose of your review)

Thesis

The thesis of your book review may vary depending on the assignment.

  • If you are given a specific task (e.g., to relate the book to course themes), that task will likely form the basis of your review.
  • If you are asked to evaluate the book’s contribution to a specific field, that evaluation will be the backbone of your thesis.

Example thesis relating the book to course themes:

George Orwell’s 1984 provides insight into three course themes: critical thinking as a form of resistance, the role of misinformation in totalitarian societies, and the connection between privacy and personal freedom. The review that follows argues that the novel’s engagement with these themes can deepen our understanding of these themes in the course context by illustrating their interconnections.

Example thesis evaluating the book’s contribution to the field:

Sara Jaquette Ray’s The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture is an important contribution to environmental justice scholarship because it offers a nuanced account of how environmental discourse has positioned people with disabilities, immigrants, and Native Americans as environmental outsiders. At the same time, it suggests how environmental activists can frame their arguments with greater inclusivity and care.

Body

​Content

In your body paragraphs, you will describe, analyze, and evaluate the book. Your reader will expect you to do the following in the body of your review:

  • Summarize the major points of the author’s argument
  • Discuss the author’s engagement with larger themes
  • Identify key strengths and weaknesses
  • Evaluate the author’s contribution to the field
  • Support your claims with evidence from the text
  • Suggest how the book extends, complicates, or overturns arguments from other sources

Paragraph Order

In the body of your book review, you will support your thesis with reference to specific examples from the text. Although you may organize this material in a number of different ways, three common patterns of organization are thematic, chronological, and evaluative.

  • Thematic:
    • If you are tasked with relating a book to course themes, use these themes to structure your review.
    • You can devote each section of the body to one theme.
    • Use topic sentences and transitions to show your reader when you are moving from one theme to the next.
    • This structure can help you discuss the author’s engagement with a set of issues.
  • Chronological:
    • The structure of your review can mirror the structure of the book itself.
    • You can discuss topics in the same order as the author, providing an evaluation that moves from chapter to chapter or section to section.
    • This structure can help you emphasize the thoroughness of your review.
  • Evaluative:
    • Many published academic reviews begin by highlighting the strengths of the book under discussion and then move toward a critique of the weaknesses.
    • This structure can help you assert your own critical voice as a scholar.

Conclusion

Rather than summarizing the book or restating your thesis, use the conclusion to provide your final thoughts. Consider the following questions:

  • What have you learned from reviewing the book?
  • What is your overall assessment of the book’s importance?
  • Who might benefit most from reading it?
  • How can future researchers build on this book?
  • Does the book make space for new kinds of research within its field?

The conclusion is your last chance to add analysis to your book review, so be sure to address the book’s overall significance.

Try using signal words like ‘ultimately’ or ‘overall’ instead of ‘in conclusion’ to help you frame your conclusion through an analytical lens while also telling the reader that they should pay special attention to what follows.

The assignment’s instructions may also provide clues for material that you could include in the conclusion.

Resources to Help with Writing Your Essay

Guide: Write a University EssayGuide: Study Effectively: Reading CriticallyGuide: Cite Your Sources

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