Critical review

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Each paper, approximately five pages in length, should be in the form of a “critical review.” This calls for both briefly summarizing the book and judging its qualities and shortcomings.

Summary is more than a simple, condensed narrative of the contents of the book. Important judgments have to be made: what kinds of evidence does the author use? What assumptions does the author make (e.g. about human nature, politics, society)? What key points does the author emphasize?

Criticism is more than just giving your ‘gut reaction’ to the book, or describing its readability or style. How convincing are the author’s assumptions? Using the same evidence, could one make different assumptions and reach different conclusions? What other evidence might the author have used, and could such evidence have strengthened or weakened the author’s argument? Is the evidence used effectively? What are the weak points and the strengths of the book? Is the author convincing?

Style: a bibliography is not necessary, but use endnotes or footnotes as appropriate. If you do make use of information from published reviews be sure to acknowledge the fact. Consult one of the standard manuals of style for information on which materials should be footnoted, and for proper footnote or endnote style. The English department prefers MLA – for citation help go to

Jakob Walter’s Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier

  1. Who is the writer? (Consider: nationality, age, literacy-level, religion, pre- and war-time status)

  2. What is the document’s context and how might context affect the document’s credibility?

    1. Is this a diary?

    2. When was it written

    3. What (Who) was the document’s intended public?

  3. What is the document’s content, message?

    1. Does the document seek to give its reader an overview of Napoleonic wars? How much description, analysis of military engagement is there? What views does the reader get of the military’s leadership? Could foreign draftees feel loyalty to the Grande Armée? What does this account tell us about an army’s provisioning? Was this traditional?

    2. What is the document’s focus?

  4. What was the nature of the author’s interactions with others? (with fellow soldiers, with civilians)

  5. Where does this account fit in the overall historiography of the Napoleonic wars?

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