A question I often receive is this one: “Can you give me some advice on writing a book review?” I’ll be the first to admit that I cannot tell you how to write an academic review or one you would want to submit to a journal. I became a book reviewer rather by trial and error and only through a very informal medium. Even then, I focus almost entirely on popular-level reviews of popular-level books. Having said that, I typically use a loose formula that I think can be helpful and that often resonates with readers.
As you write a book review, it is important to ensure you are properly understanding the book and its author. Therefore, the first thing to do is to identify the book’s topic, audience, purpose and and structure. Here are questions to ask and possibly answer in the opening paragraphs.
What is the book about? This is an obvious question and it is usually easy to answer. However, there are times when the author has a little trick up his sleeve and the question is not quite so simple.
Who is this book written for? Who does the author identify as his audience? You will almost always find this in the first few pages.
Why did the author write this book? What does he hope to accomplish through the book? How does he defend the simple fact that he dedicated time to preparing the book? What benefit will there be to you if you read it? Depending on the book’s format or genre, this may come in the form of a thesis statement the author means to prove. Alternatively, it may just be an idea he wishes to explore or a set of facts he wishes to teach.
How has the author structured the book? How does he progress from the first chapter to the last? Some books are heavily dependent upon a specific structure while other books are much less so. The more heavily dependent the book is upon a structure, the more important it is that you describe it.
What is unique about this book? What makes this book different from others and especially from others that deal with a similar topic? The author may make this clear in the book’s opening pages, or it may be something you need to look for on your own. The more books you read on a topic, the more you will be able to identify what sets one book apart from another.