In order to write a good review, you must think carefully about the book. Since reviews are to be between 1100 and 1600 words long, you must take pains to organize and present your thoughts with precision, clarity, and conciseness. Begin your review with the author, title, and facts of publication for the book using standard bibliographical form, for example:
Jules R. Benjamin. A Student’s Guide to History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001.
Answers to the following seven sections must form the substance of your review. Answer each of them in the order given, each with a separate paragraph or series of paragraphs.
1. What is the author’s purpose in writing the book?
2. What is the book’s thesis?
3. How does the author organize material? What is the logic behind the topics of the chapters, and how do the chapters go together to form the book? You should be aware that there is almost always a fit between the thesis of a book and the logic of the book’s organization. Each points to the other. Thus, if you are in doubt about the thesis, pay attention to the organizational logic. In your review, include an explicit statement about the fit between the book’s organization and its thesis. This section can also include a brief summary of the book, but make sure that the summary is tied to the issue of organization.
4. To what subfield of history does the book belong? How so? What methodologies (particular ways of studying history) does the author employ? Do any academic theories (such as feminist or postmodern theories) guide the author, and, if so, which ones? If the author does not discuss methodology or theory, note their absence.
5. Does the author place his or her book into the subject matter’s historiography? If so, how? Are any secondary sources particularly important for the author? Which ones and why? What primary sources does the author use to develop the thesis of the book, and why are these particular sources used? Do not give just a list of sources. Discuss types of sources used and the reasons for relying on certain kinds of sources rather than others. Include an explicit statement about the book’s most significant sources in light of the author’s thesis.
6. Here you must also relate the book to the subject of the course: How does the book fit in with the issues raised and discussed in the course and the textbook? In particular, how, beyond adding more detail, does the book add new perspective to the assigned course reading, especially the textbook?
7. How well is the author’s purpose accomplished? In this section, you have an opportunity to make an original, critical evaluation of the book. You will want to address the issues of what is well done, poorly done, and originally done. Are the book’s arguments and uses of evidence clear or unclear, strong or weak, convincing or unconvincing? Should a reader agree or disagree with the author’s assumptions and conclusions? What are the book’s overall strengths and weaknesses? If a reader is curious about a subject, should he or she choose this particular book?
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