Book Reviews: Recommendations and An Example

There are lots of different sorts of reviews: movie reviews, restaurant reviews, Amazon reviews, music reviews and, of course, academic and non-academic book reviews. Long or short, academic or popular, food or film, all reviews have one fundamental purpose: to make a recommendation. It’s not enough to give a summary or context, or even a discussion of the author, or your opinion of the book: you need to make a clear statement (this is your thesis, in case you were wondering) of what audience, and with what interests, would benefit from reading the book, and the rest of the review needs to be evidence towards that thesis.

For the moment, the recommendation section you hand in next Monday doesn’t have to be that elaborate: just a basic description of the reading level, the intended audience, the topics a reader should be interested in (aside from the obvious), as well as what sort of readers should, depending on their interests and abilities, avoid this book despite some obvious reason to consider it.

For an example of a good review of an academic history work for a non-academic audience, check out Sean Wilentz’s review of the new book on President James Polk. (You can find a lot more links to similar reviews at Cliopatria, where Ralph Luker is constantly updating) Note how Wilentz doesn’t do a straight summary, but starts by putting the book in academic and historical (and political) context, then weaving discussion of the thesis and argument with chunks of summary. In the end, you know whether Wilentz likes the book, but more importantly, you know (though he doesn’t really come right out and say it) who would benefit from the book.  (For an interesting counterpoint, check out Elizabeth Samet’s negative review of a WWI military history, in which she very clearly lays out the weaknesses of the book, but does so in a balanced way that includes the strengths so that someone interested in the topic might still be convinced to read it anyway.)

One comment to Book Reviews: Recommendations and An Example

  1. […] examples of positive and negative reviews including a link to the history blog Cliopatria, which regularly posts links to reviews of academic […]

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