Project #32444 - Book Review

As you have come to realize, history is a discipline that is primarily grounded in reading (gaining mastery of content), research (information gathering), and writing (creating historical arguments and defending those arguments with evidence; synthesizing material). One of the many ways in which historians discuss emerging topics and theories is to discuss each other's work through critical book reviews. These reviews also give others a good sense of the overall content and quality of a historical monograph (in other words, is it worth reading?). As part of the assessment process in this course, you are to construct a critical book review on one of the two monographs we are reading this term (Facundo and The Massacre at El Mozote). Your review should have two goals: first, to inform the reader about the content of the book, and second, to provide an evaluation that gives your judgment of the book's quality.  If you would like to read an example of a proper book review you may wish to consult the following:

Latin America between the Second World War and the Cold War 1944-1948 by Leslie Bethell; Ian Roxborough

Review by: Alan Knight

Journal of Latin American Studies , Vol. 26, No. 2 (May, 1994), pp. 495-498



Since you may not have written a critical book review before, what follows are guidelines and instructions. Do not hesitate to ask for clarification if any of this seems unclear to you.

General Formatting Instructions

Book reviews are to be five to seven pages in length, typed, and double spaced. Use a standard 12-point font, with one-inch margins all around. Citations should be in either footnote or endnote form (no parenthetical references).

In constructing the review itself, include the following components:

1. Provide the bibliographic and publication information. At the top of the review, include the author's name, the title, the place of publication, the publisher, and the date of publication. Book titles should be in italics or underlined.

2. Discuss the general content of the book. This is an important part of a book review and should be as objective as possible.

  • Your introduction should include an overview of the book that incorporates both an encapsulated summary and a sense of your general judgment. This is the equivalent of a thesis statement.
  • Do not spend more than one-third or so of the paper summarizing the book. The summary should consist of a discussion and highlights of the major arguments, features, trends, concepts, themes, ideas, and characteristics of the book. While you may use direct quotes from the book (citations of quotes should be in footnote or endnote form), such quotes should never be the bulk of the summary. Much of your grade will depend on how well you describe and explain the material in your own words. You might want to take the major organizing themes of the book and use them to organize your own discussion. This does not mean, however, that you should write a chapter-by-chapter summary. Your goal is a unified essay; you should introduce major characters, themes, the setting, and the broad outlines of the story without falling into a tedious recapitulation of the plot. Remember, a book review is not a book report.

3. Assess (critique) the book. This is where your evidence-based arguments, both positive and negative (usually some of both), can be expressed.

So what is needed here, if not just a summary of the story? After you have provided the basic content, you should provide a critique of the book. A critique consists of thoughts, responses, and reactions. It is not necessarily negative. Nor do you need to know as much about the subject as the author (because you hardly ever will). The skills you need are an ability to follow an argument and test a hypothesis. Regardless of how negative or positive your critique is, you need to be able to justify and support your position.

Here are a number of questions that you can address as part of your critique. You need not answer them all, but questions a and b are essential to any book review, so those must be included. And these are absolutely not to be answered one after another (seriatim). Don't have one paragraph that answers one, and then the next paragraph that answers the next, etc. The answers should be part of a carefully constructed essay, complete with topic sentences and transitions.

All reviews must address the first two questions:

a. What is your overall opinion of the book? On what basis has this opinion been formulated? That is, tell the reader what you think and how you arrived at this judgment. What did you expect to learn when you picked up the book? To what extent—and how effectively—were your expectations met? Did you nod in agreement (or off to sleep)? Did you wish you could talk back to the author? Amplify upon and explain your reactions.

b. Identify the author's thesis and explain it in your own words. How clearly, and in what context, is it stated and subsequently developed? To what extent and how effectively (i.e., with what kind of evidence) is this thesis proven? Use examples to amplify your responses. If arguments or perspectives were missing, why do you think this might be?

Questions c-j are all things that you can address, depending on which book you choose to write your review on. Do not answer all of these questions in your review; you do not have the space to do so, and not all questions apply to each book. Choose the ones that best fit your review.

c. What are the author's aims? How well have they been achieved, especially with regard to the way the book is organized? Are these aims supported or justified? (You might look back at the introduction to the book for help). How closely does the organization follow the author's aims?

d. How are the author's main points presented, explained, and supported? What assumptions lie behind these points? What would be the most effective way for you to compress and/or reorder the author's scheme of presentation and argument?

e. How effectively does the author draw claims from the material being presented? Are connections between the claims and the evidence made clearly and logically? Here you should definitely use examples to support your evaluation.

f. What conclusions does the author reach, and how clearly are they stated? Do these conclusions follow from the thesis and aims and from the ways in which they were developed? In other words, how effectively does the book come together?

g. Identify the assumptions made by the author in both the approach to and the writing of the book. For example, what prior knowledge does the author expect readers to possess? How effectively are those assumptions worked into the overall presentation? What assumptions do you think should not have been made? Why?

h. Are you able to detect any underlying philosophy of history held by the author (e.g., progress, decline, cyclical, linear, and random)? If so, how does this philosophy affect the presentation of the argument?

i. How does the author see history as being motivated: primarily by the forces of individuals, economics, politics, social factors, nationalism, class, race, gender, or something else? What kind of impact does this view of historical motivation have upon the way in which the author develops the book?

j. Does the author's presentation seem fair and accurate? Is the interpretation biased? Can you detect any distortion, exaggeration, or diminishing of material? If so, for what purpose might this have been done, and what effect does it have on the overall presentation?

Again, you must remember that book reviews are not just summaries.

  • Like other forms of expository writing, book reviews present an extended argument (a thesis) that is effectively organized and supported by evidence.
  • Your understanding and critique are equally (if not more) important than the basic information that you convey about the book.
  • Just as in a research paper, your ideas must emerge clearly and persuasively.

Finally, a note about deadlines and writing multiple reviews: You have two opportunities during the term to write your book review; therefore, due dates are rolling. Option 1 (on Facundo) is due Sunday of Week 3; and option 2 (on The Massacre at El Mozote) is due Sunday of Week 7. While you are only required to complete one of the two options, you are allowed to write on one of the remaining books if you wish to try to improve your grade on this assignment. However, once the due date for any of the books has passed, you may not go back and complete the assignment on the earlier book.

So, for example, you write your review on Facundo, and don't like your grade. If you wish to improve your grade, you can write a second review on The Massacre at El Mozote. If you wait to write your review on The Massacre at El Mozote, then you have to accept the grade you receive; there is no option to write a second review.  Therefore, I recommend that you aim to write the book review on Facundo to give yourself the best chance at a good grade.

I am happy to address questions or provide more clarity on the assignment if needed.  Simply respond to this assignment conference.


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Due By (Pacific Time) 07/04/2014 12:00 am
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