The Evergreen State College
Conflict Resolution Theory
How to write a book review?
Move from the general and the abstract to more specific detailed comments
about the book. You may want to start by situating the book in relation
to other writings by the same author, in relation to a contemporary political
event, or in relation to the existing body of literature on the issue that
the book addresses.
Summarize the general themes and arguments that the book presents. Quote
from the book -- especially if the style is noteworthy in some way. Summary
and paraphrase without direct quotes make for dull reading.
Concrete is better than abstract, exemplary is better than exhaustive:
it's better to discuss one or two specific examples, events, arguments
from the book in some depth than try to summarize its entire argument and
content. This is especially true for books that are collections of articles:
you won't "do justice" to the book by dutifully mentioning everyone's contribution,
if the result is a boring overview that no one but the authors will read.
Leave something for the reader. The review is not a surrogate for the book;
its chief function is to open the book for the reader. Don't give away
A review is not a book-report. Keep plot-summary (fact or fictional) to
minimum and keep it functional; always ask yourself why you are including
a description of this particular topic, theme etc. rather than any
other. Tell the reader, directly or indirectly why it's there.
As for content -- point out both the strengths and the shortcomings of
the book. The balance between them depends on your reading of the book.
Don't be afraid of taking a clear stance on this matter, but tell the reader
exactly why you do or do not recommend the book.
Write to the space allotted. Don't think it's your task to convey every
thought that the book generated in you; convey the most important interesting
of those thoughts that will fit the word-length you've been given.
Be transparent. Your writing should be lively and convey your own voice;
but its purpose is to display the book, not your stylistic virtuosity.
A sentence or paragraph that has to be read twice to be intelligible doesn't
Think about your ending; it's the part the reader is likely to remember
the most. Don't restate what you already said; don't trot out cliches about
the book's subject. If you are really stuck with an ending, try using your
introduction and then write a new one.
Prepared by Simona Sharoni, February 1995
Return to course syllabus
Madeby: Simona Sharoni
Last modified: 7/5/2000