Mr. Ronzino’s Summer Book Review I know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Mr. Ronzino’s Summer Book Review
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898 by Cesar J. Ayala

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice by Joan Biskupic

Sandra Day O’Conner: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice by Joan Biskupic

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

The Plantation Mistress by Women’s World in the Old South by Catherine Clinton

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner

Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

The Measure of a Man by Martin Luther King Jr.

Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.

Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques E. Levy

The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography by Miriam Pawel

A Chinaman’s Chance by Eric Liu

John Adams by David McCullough

Truman by David McCullough

The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words by Harvey Milk

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk

To Die For the People by Huey Newton

Revolutionary Suicide by Huey Newton

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom by Marcus Rediker

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt

Tomorrow Is Now by Eleanor Roosevelt

When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir by Esmeralda Santiago

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem by Gloria Steinem

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams

When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection by Norman R. Yetman

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
© Thomas Saylor, Ph.D., 2001-05. All rights reserved.

One of the evidences of discriminating reading is the ability to place on paper important points gained from the work.  There are many ways of writing a review.  The following suggestions are offered to improve the quality of your review and to provide a framework for discriminating reading.  

        Before you begin this writing assignment, it might be useful to review another page, entitled "How to Read a Scholarly Book" --this page is designed to help provide strategies for getting the most out of academic literature.  And it may save you time as you read.

How long should your historical book review be?  It is difficult to assign a "normal" length, as books and individual writing styles differ, but, in general, a well-written review that addresses the points detailed below will be approximately 1250 words (five pages).  It's difficult to address all the points below in fewer than five pages.

Each review should contain three main elements:  first, a clear identification of the author’s main point, or THESIS; second, the DEVELOPMENT, or the manner in which the author proves the thesis; finally, your CRITIQUE of the work.  

Begin your review with a bibliographic entry, as in the following examples:  

Hart, John M.  Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.  Pp. xi, 478.

Hynes, Samuel L.  The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War.  New York: Penguin Books, 1997.  Pp. xvi, 318.

The THREE MAIN ELEMENTS required for your review:

I.  THESIS  This is a statement of the author’s point of view with regard to the subject matter.  It may be expressed explicitly or implicitly.  It may consist of several theses, bound together in the subject matter.  In rare cases there be no thesis.  In general, the thesis is the unifying element of the book and thus must be clearly identified.    
II.  DEVELOPMENT  This is the manner in which the author proves the thesis.  Consider the following questions: What does the writer say?  How does he/she argue his/her position?  Analysis rather than a mere summary of the book’s content is desirable.  Avoid presenting simply a long narration of the story, but do be sure to provide the major points made by the author.   
         Some examples should be given to show how the author proves the thesis.  The following questions should be answered in indicating how the author does so:  

          A.  What is the nature of the material used?  Does the author rely mostly on primary or secondary sources?  Briefly identify the type of material used--it's often helpful to observe the footnotes, and consult the bibliography normally provided at the end of the book.  

          B.  How well is the work organized?  What is the topical and chronological range of the book?  In other words, is this book the complete history of a period, or a thematic account of one particular subject?  

          C.  What is the emphasis?  What does the writer consider the most important of the material he/she presents?  Does the author emphasize economic, political, intellectual, religious, or other elements?    

III.  CRITIQUE  This is the most important part of the whole review.  It indicates the reviewer’s ability to evaluate what he/she has read.  Criticism is not always adverse.  The critique of the work should include the following points, which you will want to integrate into paragraph form--it's not desirable to create a separate section, or paragraph, for each of these.  The points are:  

        A.  The author’s particular bias or point of view.  Is the writer impartial, objective or prejudiced, sympathetic to any social class or group or economic and political practices?  Why have they written this book--do they have “an ax to grind?”  For example, a participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917, World War II, or the German Revolution of 1989 who then authored a work on the subject would bring certain opinions, biases, and experiences to their book.  As a reviewer, you should be conscious of this--read the preface or introduction, where such information is often located.

        B.  The “internal validity” of the work--does the author prove the stated thesis to your critical satisfaction?  In other words, does he/she provide a sound and convincing argument?  Or have certain questions been raised and then not answered?  Writers will often identify in the introduction, or the preface, the questions they plan to address in the book--thus read the preface or introduction carefully before you begin the work itself.  

        C.  The literary quality of the book.  In your opinion, is this a well-written book, interesting and enjoyable?  Or is it colorless and dull?   

        A.  You may feel uneasy about writing a critique of a book on a topic you know very little about--that’s quite natural.  So, obtain some assistance before you begin your review by checking what other reviewers have said about the book.  Check scholarly book reviews in professional journals such as the American Historical Review, the Latin American Historical Review, the Journal of European History, or any of the dozens of similar such publications available online from the JSTOR resource, at, or check the numerous print journals in the field of history, located in the Library and Technology Center (LTC).  Ask the reference librarian if you need help!  

        B.  Write the review in your own words.  Plagiarism is stealing and will absolutely not be tolerated.  If occasionally you find it necessary to use material from the book you are reviewing, use quotation marks to indicate that it is not your work.  

        Also, should you read or refer to another book review as you prepare to write your own, remember that any material you use from this source must also be cited.  Unsure about plagiarism?  Always ask before you submit your work.  

        C. Use the English language correctly.  Grammar and spelling are a fundamental part of any well-written review.  You will be required to demonstrate an adequate command of edited standard written English.  This means that excessive errors (in general, more than three per page) may result in the paper being returned for mandatory revision before it will be accepted.  Take advantage of the spell- and grammar-check options offered by Microsoft Word.  Not sure how to use those tools?  Ask for help at the IT Help Desk, in the LTC.

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