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Writing a History Book Review

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There are several acceptable ways to write a book review, but if your teacher doesn’t provide you with specific instructions, you might feel a little lost when it comes to formatting your paper.

There is a format used by many teachers and college professors when it comes to reviewing history texts. It isn’t found in any style guide, but it does contain aspects of the Turabian style of writing.

Although it might seem a little strange to you, many history teachers like to see a full citation for the book you’re reviewing (Turabian style) at the head of the paper, right below the title. While it might seem odd to start with a citation, this format mirrors the appearance of book reviews that are published in scholarly journals.

Below the title and citation, write the body of the book review in essay form without subtitles.

As you write your book review, remember that your goal is to analyze the text by discussing the strengths and weaknesses—as opposed to summarizing the content. You should also note that it’s best to be as balanced as possible in your analysis. Include both strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, if you think the book was either dreadfully written or ingenious, you should say so!

Here are some other important elements to include in your analysis:

  1. Date/range of the book. Define the time period that the book covers. Explain if the book progresses chronologically or if it addresses events by topic. If the book addresses one particular subject, explain how that event fits into a broader time scale (like the Reconstruction era).

  2. Point of view. Can you glean from the text if the author has a strong opinion about an event? Is the author objective, or does he express a liberal or conservative viewpoint?

  3. Sources. Does the author use secondary sources or primary sources, or both? Review the bibliography of the text to see if there is a pattern or any interesting observation about the sources the writer uses. Are the sources all new or all old? That fact could provide interesting insight into the validity of a thesis.

  4. Organization. Discuss whether the book makes sense the way it is written or if it could have been better organized. Authors put a lot of time into organizing a book and sometimes they just don’t get it right!

  5. Author information. What do you know about the author? What other books has he/she written? Does the author teach at a university? What training or experience has contributed to the author’s command of the topic?

The last paragraph of your review should contain a summary of your review and a clear statement that conveys your overall opinion. It is common to make a statement such as:

  • This book delivered on its promise because...
  • This book was a disappointment because...
  • This book contributed significantly to the argument that...
  • The book [title] provides the reader with deep insight into...

The book review is an opportunity to give your true opinion about a book. Just remember to back up a strong statement like those above with evidence from the text.

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