Guidelines for Writing a Book Review

for Soc 3053 Cultural Ecology

Do the Research

Read the book, take notes and compare and contrast with other class materials. Locate reviews of the book in the professional literature and read them. Attach at least three of these reviews in appendix of your paper (no, these professional reviews will not count toward your 10 to 12 page requirement).

Introduce the subject, scope, and type of book

Identify the book by author, title, and publishing information.

Include some background to enable readers to place the book into context. Describe the general problem the book addresses or earlier work the author or others have done. In framing your review, you should provide some information on the author. What are her relevant qualifications and background (or lack thereof) for writing on this subject? What were his reasons for writing this book? (Often the preface contains such information.)

Summarize the content

A book review is an essay whose purpose is to comment on a particular work bearing upon a single subject or related subjects. Provide an overview, including paraphrases and quotations, of the book's thesis and primary supporting points. The most important element about a book review to remember is that it is a commentary, not just a summary. However, for class purposes I would like a fairly detailed summary of the contents of the book, say about five to six pages surveying the contents. Present an overview of the book, an outline or synopsis of the major topics, indicating the scope, the major emphasis (political, economic, intellectual, etc.) and which, if any, aspects of the subject are totally ignored.

What evidence is cited? Has new documentation become available? If so, identify the new documentation. Or, does the book present a novel interpretation based on previously available documents or information? Your conclusions and assessments regarding  these aspects will affect your comparative evaluations of the works. You should also consider the time during which the book was written and, if evident, the author's values and biases. For example, a book on sociocultural evolution written by a conservative Republican sociologist in the 1950s (say Talcott Parsons) would be quite different than one written by a member of the American Socialist party (say Harry Braverman).

It will probably will be necessary to refer to specific portions of the books to illustrate your statements and conclusions, but it is generally not advisable to quote extensively from it. Do not try to make more points than can be accomplished thoroughly in your review. It is better to make a few points well than many points poorly. Once you have decided on the central points you intend to make, treat each one as a separate section of your review. Each section should explain the one point, supporting it with your own arguments and with brief examples from the book under review and drawing conclusions as to the meaning and importance of the point.

Provide your reactions to the book   

The bulk of your review should concentrate on your evaluation of the way the author handled the issues discussed.

Describe the book: What is the overall thesis? Is it interesting, memorable, entertaining, instructive? Why?

Respond to the author's worldview: What do you agree with? And why? What do you disagree with? And why?

Explore issues the book raises: What possibilities does the book suggest? Explain. What matters does the book leave out? Explain.

Relate your argument to other books or authors: Support your argument for or against the author's opinions by bringing in other authors you agree with.

Relate the book to larger issues: How did the book affect your worldview of sociocultural stability and change? How have your opinions about the topic changed? How is the book related to the course? How did the thesis compare with other course material? What are your reactions? Did the book enhance your understanding of the issues? Be as direct as possible.

Conclude by summarizing your ideas

Your review should conclude with your personal critique. Refer back to your introductory paragraph. What is your ultimate judgment of the style, format, contents, and historical value of each book? Has the author achieved the purpose, explicit or implicit, for writing the book? Has she persuasively argued  the thesis to your satisfaction? Why or why not? Compare the evidence cited and argumentation used to support the respective conclusions. Has the book challenged you intellectually, increasing your knowledge, raising new questions, and/or presenting the material in a novel or provocative manner? Or does the author simply rehash what everyone already knows? Would you recommend the books, and at what level--high school, undergraduate, graduate? What book on this subject still needs to be written?  Briefly restate your main points and your thesis statement if your teacher requires it. If you like, you can offer advice for potential readers. Close with a direct comment on the book, and tie together issues raised in the review.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite

All good writing is rewriting. Put your review aside for a few days and then look at it with fresh eyes. Check for flow and transitions between paragraphs and sections. Are the ideas in the proper sequence? Is your language clear and direct. Ask a friend to proofread/copyedit or take it to a student tutor or trusted professor. Writing is one of the most important skills acquired in college; this paper grade can make (or break) your final grade in this course. I have to read the work, please give it your best efforts.


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