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Education Library Guide: Book Reviews

A guide for Education students

Hints on writing a book review

A book review is a description as well as a critical evaluation of book, looking at the book’s purpose, contents and authority.    Not only does one provides a summary of the content and an analysis of the structure of the book, but also assess the value of a book and its usefulness (or not) to other readers. 


Why read book reviews?

• Keep up with what’s going on

• To find out if a particular book is interesting enough for you to want to read it

•To find out what the reviewer thinks of the book and what you think of the review


What writing  a book review teaches?

• The necessity of re-reading -  one can’t understand or form an opinion without re-reading the text often more than once

• You need to summarize the contents before you can evaluate

•  Analysing parts of the book and knowing where they fit into the whole

•Understand an academic argument -  finding the hypothesis/main claim, the evidence and the assumption

• Evaluating an academic argument critically - 

• Learn how to plan and write a review -  the process of generating an *informed* opinion of a book takes time.


Why write book reviews?

• Introduction to the field and discover how scholars write about their areas of interest

• Help develop an interest in the research in the field

• To become a practitioners in the scholarly debate in the field


Things to consider …

• Title  -  what does the title suggest?


•Get a general overview of the central focus of the book by first reading the preface and introduction , table of contents.  Provides information on the author’s purpose and will help you determine whether this was a success.  Table of contents will indicate how the book is organised and will assist in determining the author’s main ideas and how they are developed. 


• Read and re-read the main text with an open mind  -  restate the key ideas in your own words.  (May mean looking up facts, words, concepts etc)


• Summarise the argument or analysis accurately and fairly.  Be neutral -  no evaluations or interpretations at this stage.      Don’t get lost in the details, rather focus on the key points.      You’re trying to compile a brief summary of the book.


• Ask questions about purpose, audience, structure …   why did the author write the book and what purpose is it meant to serve …   who is the intended audience?  Specialists? Students? General Public?    Does it suite the intended audience?  Limited to a narrow area or is a survey of the subject?


• Ask questions abut the analysis or argument. -  is it specific and informative? Is it presented within a relevant context? How is the material treated?  Is it even?  Areas covered/not covered or left unexplored?



• Author’s assumptions stated or inferred?  Do you agree with them?   Evidence presented – is it complete, accurate, verifiable, relevant, up-to-date …   reasoning logically;  does the author inform about viewpoints that contradict his own.


• Ask questions about the way the analysis is communicated to the intended audience -  clear, articulate language;  illustrations, examples.  


• If relevant, make note of the book’s format – layout, binding, typography, maps,, illustrations   


• Check the back matter…  index, list of references and so on.  What sources were used?  Primary or secondary?  Anything missing?   Also helps indicate audience


• Does the book raise issues or topics for discussions?


• You may need to consult additional sources to find further info about the author to help establish credentials etc…   how authorative is the author in the field?


• Compare this book with other books or articles you have read on the same topic.   Read up a bit more about the author – reputation, qualifications, influences -  anything that would assist in establishing the author’s credentials


 And as you are working, record your impressions as you read, noting down passages for quoting.  


 And then the actual writing of the book review

A suggestion of a format :-

•    Bibliographic information 

•  Background information about the author to show credentials…  which can include any interesting circumstances that led to the writing of the book

•  Subject or Thesis statement.  Brief, accurate and comprehensive

•  You must also point out the organisation of subsidiary ideas and how they fit into the main statement to one another  

•  Summary of contents -  based on your reading notes …

• Critical comments (which should form the bulk of the book review)supported by evidence from the text

• Conclusion