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What is a critical book review?

 

A book review is a paper involving an opinion of, and information about, a particular book. It is not a summary, an outline or a précis. It includes a statement of what the author has tried to do and evaluates how well this person has succeeded. It presents evidence to support this evaluation.


What must the reviewer know in order to write a critical review?

 

The reviewer must have thorough knowledge of the book. This means no superficial, quick reading of the work, but careful reading (usually at least twice). It is also useful to have some knowledge of the subject area gained from other sources, to be familiar with other works by the same author, and to have some biographical information on the author.


Steps to follow before you begin to write:

  1. Read the book carefully and thoroughly. Read with the purpose of discovering the significant features of the book, e.g., theme, purpose of the book, organization, style, particular virtues, particular faults.
  2. Take notes of your impressions as you read.
  3. Note passages for quoting as you read, e.g., passages to illustrate style, excellent passages or obviously weak passages. (Remember to note pages to which you refer and use the correct citation style.)
  4. Take time to think about what you have read. Do not begin to write the review as soon as you finish reading.

 Keep in mind that you should: 

  1. Describe the book, not summarize it. Sufficient description should be given so that the reader will have some understanding of the author's thoughts.  
  2. Provide some biographical information about the author, that is relevant to the subject of the review.
  3. Determine what the author's purpose is in writing the book.
  4. Identify the author's point of view or biases. 
  5. Describe and evaluate the sources the author used to write the book. 
  6. Find how the book compares with the author's previous or later works. 
  7. Evaluate the quality of the writing style by using some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, proper use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, fluidity. 
  8. Discuss the thoroughness with which the author covers the subject. In particular, what has the author omitted or what problems were left unsolved? 
  9. Derive from the book what the author's philosophy is as related to the subject of the book. 
  10. Show how the work fits into its field. How does it compare with other works on the same topic? 
  11. Show whether the author's main arguments are true. Illustrate whether or not any conclusions drawn are derived logically from the evidence. 
  12. Try to pinpoint the intended audience for the book. 
  13. Show any strengths or weaknesses not already mentioned. Back up what you say with specific evidence.
  14. Judge the extent to which the author accomplished what was intended in writing the book.

 When you are ready to write:


Always make an outline before you write a book review. You should:

 

  • identify the thesis or main points you wish to make
  •  go over the notes you took while reading and group them together by subject (characters, writing style, setting , etc.)
  •  decide in which order the topics should be presented for the most effective presentation.
  •  write down the major headings of the outline, then fill in the subdivisions. Check each item to see whether it logically belongs under its heading. Check relevance of each part against you main thesis. ( It is natural to omit some initial material.)

 

Writing the first draft:

 

  • There are many ways to begin. You may start by stating your thesis, the author's purpose or the problem treated by the book; you may classify the work by genre, or present historical background information. Remember the opening paragraph is a position emphasis and sets the tone of the paper. Keep in mind that you want to capture the attention of the reader.
  • If you have prepared your outline carefully, you should be able to follow it point by point after the introductory paragraph. You may find that you need to make changes in the outline or that you require transitional paragraphs between major divisions. Aim for smoothness and logical development. Be careful to cite correctly any direct ideas, and place within quotation marks any direct quotes.
  • The concluding paragraph may be a summary of restating of the thesis. If you have made several points you may summarize these here. You may save your final judgment of the work as a whole for the conclusion (although it is perfectly acceptable to state this in the introduction as well.

Revising the draft

 

  • Allow some time to elapse ( at least a day or two ) before you begin revisions. This time will allow you to review your paper with a certain amount of objectivity. 
  • Read your draft out loud. The ear can often detect slips that the eye may pass over.
  • Correct all mechanical errors - spelling, grammar, punctuation. 
  • Read the paper through again looking for unity and organization. Consult your outline to ensure you have stated all the necessary points. Do not hesitate to make major revisions in your draft if necessary. 
  • Verify all quotations and paraphrasing for accuracy, and ensure that all your sources are cited properly.

 

Making a final copy

 

  • Edit and update carefully. Always have a dictionary on hand and / or double check spelling and punctuation with the word processor's spelling and grammar programs. 
  • Put aside your review for a while before going over it for the last reading. 
  • Read the review word for word, checking for typographical errors.

 

Finding Book Reviews

 

Electronic Sources (Examamples listed in the Book Reviews LibGuide):

  • Book Review Index
  • Academic Search Premier [with search limited to book reviews] 
  • America History & Life / Historical Abstracts [with search limited to book reviews]    
  • Reserarch Library / CBCA Reference (Note: select Review - book review from the Document Type drop down menu under the More Search Options tab)

Print Sources:

  • The Book Review Index -  In library- Ref Z1035 A1 B6
  • Contemporary Authors -   In library- Ref Z 1224C62 
  • Canadian Writer's Series - In library- Ref PR 9127 C22
  • Canadian Book Review Annual - In library- Ref Z 1369 C3
  • Biographical Index -  In library- Ref Z 5301 B5