Many book reviews are written to create interest in a new work, but for most academic assignments the purpose of a book review is to report on the nature and quality of a book’s content.
The book review should start with the following information:
Author. Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, Date. Beginning: An effective opening will immediately catch the reader’s attention. Do not, therefore, begin with something pedestrian such as: “This book is . . .” Instead begin with a very brief anecdote connected with the book, or start with one of the items on the checklist below that seems most important.
Development: A good review will involve description, evaluation, and comparison. It may be necessary to relate one set of the following questions to another. Do not use long quotations. If a short quote is used to illustrate a point, put the page number in parenthesis immediately after it.
Conclusion: Try to end the review with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. If possible, relate the assessment to the opening comments to tie everything up in a neat package.
What is the discipline or field of knowledge? How does the book’s subject fit into it?
What is the book’s purpose? Why was it written? What did the author hope to accomplish? (the title, preface, and introduction are useful in establishing this information.)
What are the book’s contents? What type of book is it (pictorial, factual, anthology, etc.)? Is the narrative chronological? Is there a central thesis or argument? What are the author’s main ideas? How are they developed?
Is the book authoritative? Are the author’s ideas, terms, and concepts defined? Is there an internal consistency to the ideas? What sources has the author used? If new sources were used, how were they gathered and how reliable are they? If existing sources were used, are they primary sources seen in a new light, or a critical examination of all relevant secondary sources? What methodology (scientific, historical, statistical) was used? Are the conclusions convincing, strong, and memorable? Why? What are the author’s qualifications? Does the author have a (national, cultural, religious, political) bias?
Is the author’s writing style simple or technical, formal or informal, economical or wordy? Is the book organized in a logical progression?
What is the significance of this work in the field? What is the value of the book compared to works of other writers in this area? Who will benefit by reading this work?
Characters: Has the author indicated the personality of the main character by what he or she says (or thinks)? By what the character does? By what other characters say about him or her? By what the author says about him or her, speaking as either the storyteller or an observer of the action? Describe a major character (attitudes, behavior) at the beginning of the book. What happens to the character and why? How does the experience affect the character? What new attitudes and behavior does he or she show at the end? What has the author shown about his or her own values by showing this change of character? What major characters are contrasted? What roles do they play in the story? What major characters or groups are in conflict? Why? How does each respond? Which characters seem believable and which seem unbelievable?
Plot: Is the plot fresh or commonplace or stereotyped? How does the author complicate the plot an add suspense? By adding a surprising incident? By withholding information? By depending on characters to create incidents? Give examples. What are the means by which the author works out and solves the complications of the plot?
Ideas: What is the view of life (the message or moral experience)? How convincing is the author? Is the message important, bad, helpful, dangerous? How does the idea affect the style and structure of the work? What facts or ideas especially informed you? Does the book change any ideas you previously had?
What is similar in the contents of the stories? (Stories by the same author are likely to have similar characters or situations. Stories by different authors are usually collected by editors around a particular subject – for example, mystery or nature stories).
Discuss two or more stories that best demonstrate the similarity.
What does the similarity show about the author’s view of the people or life or about his or her way of communicating to readers?