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HIS 201 U.S. History Pre-Columbus to 1877

What is a book review?

The writing projects assigned to you in a history course will give you opportunities to learn more about historical issues, events, and people and allow you to contribute your own ideas to the field. This guide will help you find books and background information on the author and the subject, and suggests some general ways of approaching the assignment. Besides learning more on a historical subject, this assignment will give you the skills needed to do research for a lifetime of learning.

Book Review

A book review is not the same thing as a book report, which simply summarizes the content of a book. When writing a book review, you not only report on the content of the book but also assess its strengths and weaknesses. In writing a review you do not just relate whether or not you liked the book; you also tell your readers why you liked or disliked it. It is not enough to say, "This book is interesting"; you need to explain why it is interesting. Did you find the book unconvincing because the author did not supply enough evidence to support his or her assertions? Or did you disagree with the book's underlying assumptions? To understand your own reaction to the book, you need to read it carefully and critically. As a critical reader you should ask questions of the book and note reactions as you read. Your book review then discusses those questions and reactions. While there is no "correct" way to structure a review, the following is one possible approach.

  • Summarize the book and relate the author's main point, or thesis.

  • Describe the author's viewpoint and purpose for writing; note any aspects of the author's background that are important for understanding the book.

  • Note the most important evidence the author presents to support his or her thesis.

  • Evaluate the author's use of evidence, and describe how he or she deals with counter evidence.

"Critical" does not mean negative; skeptical does not mean cynical. If a book is well written and presents an original thesis supported by convincing evidence, say so. A good book review does not have to be negative; it does have to be fair and analytical.