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How to Write a Critical Book Review

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How to Write a Critical Book Review

The book review of The Business of Women should have two primary goals: first, to provide the reader with a summary of the contents of the book, and second, to provide your personal evaluation of the book’s quality.

The summary section of your review—which should be between six and seven pages in length—should consist of an overview of the major arguments, features, themes, and characteristics of the book.  While you may use direct quotes from the book, the practice of quoting extensively in your summary section should be avoided.  My evaluation of your summary section will be based on your ability to provide an overview of the book’s contents in your own words.

The analytic section of your review—which should be between four and five pages in length—should provide a thoughtful critique of the strengths and weaknesses of The Business of Women.  I am not interested in whether you have a positive or negative opinion of the book that matches my own.  What I am interested in is whether you can support your personal position in an effective fashion.

Here are a number of questions you can consider when you begin to write your review.  You do not need to address all of them, but your review should at least attempt to answer some of these questions.

  1. What is your general opinion of the book and how has this opinion been formulated?  Tell the reader of your review what you think and how you arrived at this judgment.  What did you expect to learn when you began reading the book?  Were your expectations met?  Did you nod in agreement with the points being made by the author or did you nod off to sleep?  Amplify upon and explain your reactions to what you read.
  2. Were there underlying themes running through the entire book or did the book appear to be a collection of unrelated chapters with no fundamental relationships with each other?  If a specific thesis or theme is missing from the book, why do you think this might be?  Provide examples from the book to back up your assertions.
  3. How effectively does the author draw conclusions from the material being presented?  What conclusions does the author reach and how clearly are they stated?  How effectively does the book hang together?
  4. Identify the assumptions made by the author in the presentation of his material.  What prior knowledge is a reader expected to possess?  What assumptions do you think should not have been made?
  5. Are the views of the author fair and accurate?  Do they display a biased interpretation?  Can you detect any distortion or exaggeration of facts?  Provide specific examples if you feel the book is biased in favour of one particular viewpoint.

Again, these are just a few of the issues you can address when you write your review.  Remember to keep the big picture in view and do not get bogged down in excessive details.  Please let me know if I can offer any advice about a specific matter that you might need to have addressed.

[Many of these questions are derived from Robert Blackey, “Words to the Whys: Crafting Critical Book Reviews,” The History Teacher, 27 (2) (Feb. 1994): 159-66]


Style Guide for HIST 3811 Book Review

Format Guidelines

  • A cover page is optional
  • At the start of your review (the top of the first page), provide the bibliographic details of the book you are reviewing—Melanie Buddle, The Business of Women: Marriage, Family, and Entrepreneurship, 1901-1951 (UBC Press, 2010) 
  • Number your pages
  • Double-space your text
  • Use regular spacing between paragraphs
  • Underline or italicize book titles
  • Avoid lengthy quotations, but if you do include one, indent and single space the text of the quote.  Shorter quotations should be incorporated into the normal text of your review
  • Avoid contractions in an academic paper
  • There is no need for sub-headings in a short academic paper
  • To cite from the book being reviewed, you need only provide the page number in brackets [i.e., (123)].  If you choose to cite other sources, then provide the author, the year of publication, and the page number for all citations [i.e., (Buddle, 2010, 123)] and include a bibliography page at the end of your review with the full bibliographic citation for each source you use
  • Use “Times New Roman” font and a 12 point text size
  • Use one inch/2.5 cm margins

Style Guidelines

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