Guidelines for an Academic Book Review
An academic book review is not the same as a book report. A strong academic book review does more than merely summarize the book; it takes the extra step of analysis by offering a critical appraisal of the book for its reader.
A good book review is both informative and provocative: At the same time that it offers a summary of main points or conclusions drawn in the book, an effective review assesses the book’s contribution to the field of research—in our case, to the history of American foreign relations.
As you read, ask yourselves the following questions:
• How does the book enhance our historical understanding of U.S. foreign policy?
• How does the book fit into debates (such as they exist) about the justifications for U.S. intervention in the world?
• What new revelations, if any, impact the book’s value? (events in the 21st century, for example, may serve to provide a different perspective on a book about the United States in the 18th or 19th century)
• What questions are left unanswered in spite of—or even because of—the book?
Although there is no “correct” way to structure a review, the following is one possible approach:
1. At the start of the review, identify the author, title, publisher and publication date of the book. You may wish to provide a few biographical details about the author.
2. Summarize the book and relate the author’s main point, or thesis.
3. Describe the author’s viewpoint and purpose for writing; note any aspects of the author’s background or position that are important for understanding the motivations for writing the book, observations made and conclusions drawn.
4. Note the most important evidence the author presents to support the book’s thesis.
5. Evaluate the author’s use of evidence, and describe how the author deals with counter evidence.
6. Is the book’s argument convincing? If so why? If not, why not? Cite examples from the text.