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History: Book Reviews

What is a Book Review?

A book review is a short critique of a work, often one page or less, that helps the reader decide if the book is right for their needs and wants. Reviews often include an overview of the book, a critique on the writing and research, the context of other similar books or research, and who the book might be best suited to (e.g., the grade-level for teaching).

Know Your Audience

Book Reviews show up in many places. These outlets have different readers and purposes. Thinking about who your review is for and where it will be read is important to writing the best review for the situation. Here are a few places you might see book reviews:

  • Retail and Social Media. Found on sites like Amazon and GoodReads.
    • Showcase dozens up to thousands of reviews for a single book written by a variety of people in the public.
    • The site usually includes a summary or introduction to the book from the publisher about the book.
    • The audience is anyone looking for book recommendations.
  • Journalistic or Trade. Found on sites like New York Times Review of Books or Library Journal.
    • Typically stand-alone reviews without summary information from the publisher.
    • Written by journalists or other professional writers.
    • The audience can be anyone looking for book recommendations, or professionals like librarians, book store owners, or teachers.
  • Academic. Found in Peer-Reviewed Journals like the American Historical Review.
    • Typically stand-alone reviews without summary information from the publisher.
    • Written by scholars and researchers in the field.
    • The audience is typically people with an academic interest such as librarians, professors, teachers, researchers, students, etc.

Writing a Review

  • Book Information / Citation
    • Include information to identify the book such as the Author, Title, Publication Date, and Publisher.
  • Summary
    • What is the book about?
    • Is there an overarching argument, conclusion, or key takeaway?
    • Include a small number of quotes that represent these conclusions
    • What kind of evidence or sources does the author use?
    • You may give more in-depth overviews of specific chapters or sections
  • Critique
    • Is it well written?
    • Consider the organization and flow
    • Does it provide new information or a new perspective?
    • Are there sections or chapters that are particularly interesting?
  • Usage
    • Is the book more suited to a particular age group (high school, college, etc.?)
    • Is the book better suited to a novice on the topic, or someone with a studied understanding?
    • Do you recommend the book?
John F. Kennedy Memorial Library
California State University, Los Angeles
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