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General sources for conducting historical research Note:The classical period in Western history, Byzantine history, and the history of modern Greece are collected by the John Miller Burnam Classical Library. • See

Writing Book Reviews

What is a Book Review?

Webster’s Online Dictionary defines a book review:

"A descriptive and critical or evaluative account of a book. 

  • Critical and evaluative are key words that describe a book review.  These two words distinguish a review from a report, which often is little more than a plot outline.
  • A book review may be favorable, unfavorable, or mixed.  A mixed review is usually a favorable review that expresses reservations.

How do I choose a book to review?

Unless you have been assigned a particular book to review, try to select a book written on a subject about which you have some knowledge.  If you have limited knowledge of the subject matter, choose what interests you because you may have to do some background reading in reference encyclopedias or handbooks in order to be able to judge how adequately the author of the book under review has treated the topic.

How do I go about writing my review?

Although you should always ask your instructor about which format to follow and the desired length of the review, here are some general guidelines that may be helpful.

  • Be brief.  The average book review ranges from 100 to 500 words.  Even the most scholarly reviews rarely exceed 1,500 words.  Remember, you are writing a review, not a report.
  • Structure your review into a series of paragraphs.  Each paragraph should deal with a single aspect of your criticism.
  • Provide a complete citation to the book under review using the bibliography format from an appropriate style manual.  Historians most often use the Chicago Manual of Style or the Turabian modification, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (Latest edition Ref Secure LB2369.T8)
  • Open your review by summarizing the subject matter of the book.  Note the author’s scope in treating the subject matter.
  • Present the main point, or thesis, that the author is making in the book.  What is the author saying about the subject?  Why did the author write this book?  Who is the intended audience?
  • Expand on the arguments the author advances to support the thesis.  Here you will want to give detailed evidence by quoting pertinent examples.  Are the author’s facts correct?
  • Place the book within a context.  Have others written about this subject?  Does the author of the book you are reviewing accept, reject, or modify what others have said about the topic?  Has the author offered new evidence, or has the author offered a new interpretation of the same evidence used by others?  Are the author’s judgments about the evidence sound?  Does the author’s work fill a gap in the existing literature about the subject?  When making comparisons with other works, provided a complete bibliographic citation for each title mentioned.
  • How well does the author write?  Is the prose lively and interesting, full of impenetrable jargon, or dull as dishwater?
  • Conclude your review by balancing the book’s strengths and weaknesses, achievements and failures, ending with something about the author’s qualification to write on this subject.
  • For additional considerations in writing a book review: See also the extended definition of book review in Webster’s Online Dictionary

 May I use other reviews to help me write mine?

Until you become an experienced reviewer or authority on the subject matter of the book you have selected to review, by all means look at other reviews for help in getting started.  Be sure to acknowledge and credit properly any reviews that you use, especially those from which you quote directly.  See library guide: Using Information Sources Ethically and Legally

How do I locate other reviews?

Establish the publication date of the book for which you are seeking to find a review.  Book reviews generally appear within the year in which the book was published although reviews in academic history journals may take longer to appear.

  • If you are looking for reviews of recently published books go to SUMMON. SUMMON is located in the middle of the library’s home page. Use the advanced search feature.  Search by the title of the book limiting the content to book reviews.
  • Here are some sources of book reviews, arranged in order of general importance for reviews of historical monographs; note inclusive dates of coverage and other qualifiers:

Multidisciplinary Databases for the Academic and the General Reader

Book Trade Publications Online

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Phone: 513-556-1424

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