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Book Reviews

What Book Reviews Do

Isn't this a question that contains its answer? A book review is a review of a book. True enough, but what does a review consist of? 

A book review is not a book report. A book report describes what happens in a book. A book review includes some of this, but is also evaluative--what the reviewer thinks about the book and why.

Opinion, Argument, Evidence

A good review is more than a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Rather, it presents

(1) the reviewer's opinion about the book's content; 

(2) an argument about the book's significance, accuracy, and quality (or lack thereof);

(3) evidence drawn from the text itself or from outside research. Such evidence is crucial in supporting the reviewer's claims, particularly when a review is unfavorable or controversial. In practical terms, this means substantive book reviews resemble other kinds of academic writing, in both form and content.

What to Evaluate?

What and how book reviewers evaluate and to what depth varies by publication. Like other kinds of writing, book reviews are written for different audiences. Generally speaking, a review on Amazon has a different purpose than one from Publisher's Weekly or Kirkus, just as the latter are different from the lengthy academic reviews published in scholarly journals. 

If most book reviews contain some synopsis and opinion, what else goes into constructing an argument and gathering evidence? A reviewer may consider audience, accuracy/quality, purpose and context:

  • Synopsis: What is the book about? What does the author explore and to what extent?
  • Opinion: What the reviewer thinks about the book.
  • Audience: Who is the book written for, in the reviewer's opinion?A popular audience or specialists? Is it approachable or does it assume familiarity with the subject?
  • Accuracy & Quality: Is the book well-researched? Does the author support his or her claims with evidence? Is the author's argument credible and persuasive, even if you disagree with it? Is the prose clean and edited?
  • Purpose: According to the reviewer, what does the author hope to accomplish or influence by writing the book? Does the author take a side, evince a particular point of view, or pursue an agenda that would-be readers should know about?
  • Context: What is the wider context in which this book is located? What arguments does it build upon and extend? Does the book make a novel contribution to its field?

Writing a Book Review

If you have a book review assignment or presentation, follow your professor's instructions, of course. Beyond that, here are a few general approaches to creating book reviews:

UNC Writing Center: Book Reviews

Online Writing Lab at Purdue University: Writing a Book Review