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Writing: Book Reviews

What is a Book Review?

A book review is a critical evaluation of a text.  The purpose of a book review is to make an argument, and the most important element of a review is that it is a commentary, not just a summary.  A well-written review becomes a dialogue and a discussion with the work's creator and with other people who may have read, or will read, the work.  You are free to agree or disagree with the author's point of view and to identify areas where you find the work to be exceptional or lacking in its knowledge, judgments, or even organization of thought.  

The point of a review is that someone has asked for your opinion on the book.  You may not feel like an expert, but you'll need to pretend to be one.  With careful reading and observation, you'll be able to make judgments based upon evidence from the book.

As You Read ...

Use the following prompts to focus your thinking as you dig into your chosen book.

  • What is the author's thesis, or main argument?  If the author wanted you to get one idea from the book, what would it be?  How does that idea compare or contrast to the world you know?  What has the book accomplished?
  • What exactly is the subject or topic of the book?  Does the author cover the subject adequately?  Does the author cover all aspects of the subject in balanced fashion?  What is the approach to the subject (topical, analytical, chronological, descriptive?)
  • How does the author support his argument?  What evidence is used to prove points?  Do you find the evidence convincing, and why/why not?  Do any of the author's conclusions support or conflict with other items you've read (such as course materials or any other items you've read), or just previous assumptions you had on the subject?
  • How does the author structure his argument?  What are the parts that make up the whole?  Does the argument make sense?  Are you persuaded?  Why or why not?
  • How has the book helped you to understand the subject?  What new connections or ideas have occurred to you as a result?

How Do I Write a Book Review?

Good news.  

Book reviews are typically brief, rarely exceeding 1,000 words.  That's roughly the equivalent of three double-spaced typed pages.

Beyond length, a review closely resembles other academic writing.  You'll need to provide the following:

  • An introduction that identifies the book, including its author, and any other details that seem important.
  • A clear statement of your opinion of the work -- most easily structured as a thesis statement included in your introduction.
  • A concise summary of the content of the book.  Describe its topic and what you think was the primary argument or purpose the author had when writing the book.
  • Supporting body paragraphs that offer critical assessment and analysis of the ideas in the book.  These paragraphs can include your reactions to the book, what stood out to you (good and bad), whether the author's argument was persuasive, and how your understanding of the issue at hand was enhanced by reading the work.  You are basically making an argument here yourself.  If you need a basic argument writing strategy, be sure to visit the LibGuide on How to Write a Basic Argument.
  • A conclusion, which most often in a book review provides the reader with the writer's opinion on whether or not the audience would appreciate or benefit from reading the book themselves.  It could also be a final deduction or inference on the part of the writer.

In the case of scholarly book reviews, as opposed to those you might find on Amazon ...

Many thanks go out to the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for much of the content in this guide.