DOING BOOK REVIEWS
Book reviews require close attention to purpose. Students know that instructors require them
to write reviews to demonstrate that they have read the material. Consequently, they write
detailed summaries as evidence of their reading. However, a good written review must
evaluate the material to give readers a quick grasp of both the book’s purpose and content.
Students should also be able to judge the success with which the author achieved his/her
purposes. Keep both of these objectives in mind as you proceed through the following steps.
1. Choose an appropriate book from the suggested reading material. You may choose a book
from the bibliographies provided in the “Course Documents” folder, the bibliographies at
the back of each chapter of your textbook, or any of the suggested books in the
The first step is critical to the overall success of the assignment. A good selection will
facilitate your work by offering two incentives: the knowledge that the work will help you in
the course ( it is, after all, an important way of learning history), and the pleasure of reading
useful and interesting material. When choosing a reading assignment, appraise the alternatives
carefully. First skim for any introductory information, e.g the preface of a book. Skim concluding
sections or paragraphs to find the author’s general purposes and themes. Read the table of
contents if one is available to decipher organization and the extent of the author’s treatment of
the material. Read a passage or several paragraphs to discover the author’s style. Continue the
process for each book until you find one that best matches your purposes and tastes.
2. Read the book - Again, keep summary and evaluation in mind while reading the book. Careful
reading will decrease your workload. Lazy reading will require constant, time consuming
references back to the reading assignment for material missed the first time. Begin by
reading the preface, introduction, and first and last chapters, then return to the other parts of the
book. Skim a chapter for ideas and their relationships, organize your reading around questions
raised by skimming, and read to answer those important questions. Take preliminary notes while
reading the chapter, but limit them to concise phrases or sentences that point to the main ideas.
Writing lengthy sentences while reading will produce far more material than you need. Be sure to
include page numbers for the material summarized in each section of your notes. Mark quotes and
keep page numbers for them as well.
Arrange your notes as a topic outline that will guide the writing of your review. The author’s
major points provide the major headings of the outline; supporting details and examples provide
subheadings. Remember to include evaluation of the author’s work. It is a good idea to read book
reviews from scholarly journals or other sources if they are available. Reading w...