St. Peter's Institute for Catholic Formation
  Library >> Services >> How Do I >> Write Book Reviews >>

How to Write a Book Review 

Before You Start:  

It may be helpful to look at some book reviews in scholarly journals in your area of study as a guide for structure and content. A book review is usually reviewed in the year that it was published or the next year. To find book reviews, you will need the following information: author, title, and year of publication. Book reviews can be found in popular publications (daily newspapers, magazines) and academic publications. Check if your book has already been reviewed by searching the most appropriate databases or print indexes. Remember that other reviewers will not necessarily agree among themselves, and you may agree or disagree with different reviews.
 
For additional help in finding reviews, ask at the Service Desk.
 

Reading the Book:

  • Make sure you read thoroughly and carefully. If possible, it may be a good idea to read the book twice, once to get an overview and a second time to take notes and gather quotations.
  • The following questions will give you an idea of what to look for. 

Questions to ask while you read:

  1. What is the subject of the work? What genre does the work fit into?
  2. What is the author’s central thesis and what are the author’s assumptions?
  3. What are the author’s primary sources? How comprehensive is the research?
  4. For whom is the book written? Scholars? Non-academics? Is the book appropriate to its audience? 
  5. How is the book structured? Is its organization logical and clear?
  6. Does the book have illustrations? An index, bibliography, or other features? Are they effective and useful?
  7. How appropriate is the book’s title?
  8. Are you aware of any factual errors in the book? Oversights? Faulty assumptions?
  9.  Why was the book written? Has the author met these objectives?
  10.  What is your personal response to the book? Is it satisfying to read? Enjoyable? Convincing? Why or why not? 

Writing the Review 

The head of the review should include full bibliographic information on the book including author, title, and publishing information. The opening paragraph of your book review should include the following:
  • A statement about the topic of the work or its significance
  • A statement of the author’s purpose
  • A statement of the major themes of the book
  • Your thesis statement 

Potential Topics for Additional Paragraphs 

  1. The presentation of the book, including the physical layout and organization, including the table of contents, chapter divisions, footnotes or endnotes, etc.
  2. What are the author’s credentials? Is he or she an expert on this topic? Do you consider this book to be an authoritative source? Why or why not? Does the author acknowledge other sources on this subject?
  3. Do you agree with the author’s point of view? Your opinions should be based on your own knowledge, with reference to other source material.
  4. Evaluate the book’s major strengths and weaknesses.
  5. What evidence does the author use to support his or her research? Is there a bibliography provided? Are there primary and secondary sources included? Does the author question the reliability or points of view of any of these sources?
  6. Has the author made a useful contribution to the subject under review? How does this book fit in with others in its subject area?
  7. What is the author’s writing style? Does he or she write clearly and accurately? 

Make sure you proofread your book review for errors in grammar and punctuation!

Reviewing Critical Editions of Primary Works  

Critical editions are produced by an editor or group of editors, and it is the editorial contribution to the work(s) that should be reviewed. Here are some questions to keep in mind:
  • What are the credentials of the editor(s)? Is this an authoritative edition?
  • Major focus of the review should be on the “critical apparatus”, the supporting material used by the editor.
  • Be aware of any other editions of the same work to compare.
  • Consider the physical presentation of the work. 

Reviewing Reference Works 

Reviews of reference works (dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, etc.) focus on the quality of the work(s) under review and are generally based on the following criteria:
  • Authority (credentials of the editor(s) or compiler(s))
  • Accuracy
  • Arrangement
  • Currency
  • Ease of Use
  • Readership
  • Scope (or Coverage)
  • Visual appeal (typography and format)
Comparisons with similar works are in order. If a work is unique, the reviewer must judge whether it can be improved, or whether it is truly “definitive”.
 

Reviewing Fiction

It is important to consider a variety of themes when reviewing a work of fiction.
 

Character

  • What is the author’s attitude toward his characters?
  • Are the characters flat or three dimensional?
  • Does character development occur? 

Theme

  • Identify the major themes.
  • What is the purpose of these themes? To teach the reader, to entertain the reader, etc. 

Plot

  • How are the various elements of the plot handled (introduction, suspense, climax, conclusion)?
  • Is there a sub-plot and how is it related to the main plot?
  • Is the plot primary or secondary to some of the other essential elements of the story (character, setting, style, etc.)? 

Style

  • What stylistic devices are employed (symbolism, motifs, parody, allegory)?
  • How effective is the dialogue? 

Setting

  • What is the setting and does it play a significant role in the work?
  • Is a sense of atmosphere evoked, and how?
  • Does the setting influence the characters and/or plot? 

Some Considerations When Reviewing Biography 

  1. What phases of the subject’s life receive greatest treatment and is this justified?
  2. What is the point of view of the author?
  3. How is the subject matter organized: chronologically, retrospectively, etc.?
  4. What sources were used in the preparation of the biography?
  5. Is the work documented?
  6. What important new facts about the subject’s life are revealed in the book?
  7. How does the biography compare with others about the same person?
  8. How does it compare with other works by the same author? 

Some Considerations When Reviewing History  

  1. With what particular period does the book deal?
  2. How thorough is the treatment?
  3. What were the sources used?
  4. Is the account given in broad outline or in detail?
  5. What is the point of view or thesis of the author?
  6. For what group is the book intended?
  7. Is social history or political history emphasized?
  8. Is the book a revision? How does it compare with earlier editions?
  9. Are maps, illustrations, charts, etc. used and how are these to be evaluated?