The paper is a book review on Stanley Karnowâ€™s Vietnam: A History
1. ______ One-Two paragraphs with the qualifications of the author
2. ______ Summarize the thesis of the book
3. ______ Brief summary of the book
4. Discussion of thesis development
a. ______ Identify the perspective of the author (Possible viewpoints: Western v. non-Western perspective, male v. female perspective, etc.) and explain how that affected the writing.
b. ______ Identify the approach or approaches the author takes (i.e.?an economic examination, political, social, religious, etc.).
c. ______Discuss any biases the author may exhibit that affect the conclusions he/she reaches
d. ______ discuss the sources used by the author
i. ______ Did the selection lead to biased conclusions?
ii. ______ Did the author use primary, secondary, or a combination of sources?
e. ______ Is there an adequate, consistent development of the authorâ€™s stated thesis? Why or why not?
f. ______ What is the author?s purpose in writing the book? Is the purpose accomplished? Why or why not?
g. ______ Does the author consider and/or refute conflicting viewpoints?
h. ______ Is the book useful only to a specific audience (if so, to whom?)?
i. ______ Is the book relevant to contemporary culture or issues?
j. ______ Does the author purposely ignore or suppress evidence that does not support the thesis?
k. ______ Is there a research methodology, and is it flawed or sound?
l. ______ In the final analysis, does the author prove his/her thesis? if not, should ______ another thesis have been used to fit the facts as the author presents them?
a. ______ Assess the style and organization of the work
b. ______ Describe the audience that would be most comfortable with the writing style
c. ______ How valuable/important is this book?
d. ______ Description of major strengths/weaknesses
e. ______ Why should a person read the book
f. ______ What did you learn from the book?
Guidelines for Writing a Book Review
When you have been assigned to write a book review, also called a critical review essay, you will find it helpful to recall the words of William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco?s The Name of the Rose: ?Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry.? This is what distinguishes a book review from a book report: the purpose of a review is not simply to report on the contents of a book (although this will comprise a small part of the review), but rather to evaluate it and provide a critical commentary on its contents.
Format of the Book Review
The format of a review is generally as follows, although you should always consult your professor about any specific requirements.
Give complete bibliographical information at the top of the page (title, author, publisher,
place of publication, date of publication, number of pages, and name of reviewer).
Use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) format. Example:
Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. Reviewed by _____________.
1. Introduction: Identify the book you are going to review. State the authorâ€™s credentials (education, place of employment, previous achievements, etc.) as a preface to giving the book a serious hearing. Biographical information about the author should be included only as it demonstrates the author?s competency to write the book. Within the context of the paper, do not use titles (Dr., Rev., etc.). In most brief reviews, you will likely need to limit the introduction to one or two paragraphs.
2. Briefly (in one or two well-written sentences) summarize the thesis of the book. This is a crucial step because the thesis contains the reason why the author produced this particular book (there may be dozens on the market with similar subject matter). The thesis will state the authorâ€™s basic presuppositions and approach. The critical nature of the book review will then grow from the reviewerâ€™s conclusion that the book does or does not achieve the authorâ€™s stated purpose.
3. Brief Summary: In the main body of the review, you should begin by briefly describing the content and organization of the book, along with the most important evidence used. Do not get bogged down in details here; this section is only intended to prepare the reader for the critical assessment to follow. Limit the summary to 2-3 paragraphs.
3. Critical Assessment: Evaluate the book?s contribution to our understanding of history. There are several things you should look for:
Identify the author?s central argument, or thesis. The thesis is not the topic of the book but the specific argument that the author has made about her or his subject. Sometimes, the author states the thesis in the book?s introduction, sometimes in the conclusion. Feel free to read these sections of the book first to determine the author?s main argument. Knowing the main argument will help guide you through the rest of the book. Finding the central argument or arguments can be like finding the forest in the trees: it requires you to step back from the mass of information to identify larger themes. Sometimes a book, such as a general historical survey, lacks an explicit argument or thesis.? The main body of a critical book review will be concerned with â€œthesis development.â€ That is, did the author achieve the stated purpose? In this section the reviewer will inspect each of the chapters of the book to see how the thesis is (or is not) developed. If the author makes progress and develops the thesis convincingly, providing adequate information and statistical data, the reviewer says so, providing concrete examples and citing their page numbers in the text.
a) Identify the author?s perspective, point of view, or purpose. This can be approached in a number of different ways. Ask yourself whether the author has a particular emphasis, such as economic, social or intellectual history.
b) Is the book informed by an economic, religious or political ideology? If the book describes a conflict, does the author, either explicitly or subtly, favor one side over the other? Does the author state the purpose of the book in the introduction or conclusion?
c) Look at the author?s evidence: what sources did he or she use? A history of European witch trials based only Inquisition records would be one sided. This does not mean that any conclusions from such evidence would be invalid, but the author should demonstrate an awareness of any limitations imposed by the sources used.
a. Does the author rely on secondary resources, or are there also primary sources?
b. Does the author rely on a single source more than others?
c. Some modern works of History are now using scientific data, such as MRI scans of Egyptian mummies, genetic testing of bodies, etc. Is there any such innovative source among the author?s evidence?
d) Questions the reviewer will seek to answer in this section might include:
a. Is there an adequate, consistent development of the authorâ€™s stated thesis? Why or why not?
b. What is the author?s purpose, i.e., what does he/she hope to accomplish through this book? Does the author accomplish the purpose? If so, how does he/she do so? If not, why not?
c. Does the author approach the subject with any biases, i.e., do the author?s theological, experiential, philosophical, or cultural perspectives influence his/her conclusions?
d. Does the author properly support his/her thesis? Does the author adequately consider and refute opposing viewpoints? Is the book relevant to contemporary culture?
e. Does the author have to resort to suppression of contrary evidence in order to make the thesis credible (slanting)? If so, what additional evidence would weaken the case?
f. Is the thesis sound but marred by a flawed procedure?
g. Is the authorâ€™s case proved, or would another thesis have been more appropriately chosen?
Conclusion: Assess the organization and style of the book. Is it well-organized and clearly written? Does the style or the content of the book recommend it to a specific readership? Offer a final evaluation of the book: How valuable is it? How important is it to read this book? This final summary should include the major strengths and weaknesses of the book and evaluate its value for readers who may be interested in that particular field of inquiry. Your primary purpose in this section is to respond both positively and negatively to the book?s contents and presentation. Needless to say, this response should be more in-depth than, ?This book is a good book that should be recommended reading for everyone.? On the other hand, ?This book is a lousy book not worth reading? is also inadequate. Central to this is the basic question of whether or not the author has achieved the bookâ€™s stated purpose.
Answer questions such as:
1. What are the strengths of the book, i.e., what contributions does the book make?
2. Why should a person read this book?
3. What did you learn from this book?
4. How might you apply the lessons of this book in contemporary society or why might it be important to current world conditions?
5. Would you recommend the book to other students? To laypersons? Why, or why not?
The following guidelines are included to counter common style errors:
A. Utilize this suggested outline to guide your book review, but do not include the specific subheadings (?Bibliographical Entry,? ?Summary of the Book,? etc.) in the essay. The brevity of the review demands a smooth flow from one section to another without including the subheadings.
B. Use first-person and second-person sparingly; however, you may use ?I? when referring to your opinion of a text.
C. Avoid contractions in formal writing.
D. Use active voice as much as possible.
E. Be clear and concise. A brief review allows no room for wandering from your objective.
F. Use your spell-checker, but do not trust it. A spell-check will not catch the error in such sentences as, ?The whole Congress voted too pass the amendment.? Use your eyes as well as your spell-checker.
G. Proofread your paper. Finish the paper, and proof it. Lay it aside, and proof it again at a later time. If you do not catch your errors, someone else will.
H. Remember the page requirement and limit. The review should be five to seven (5-7) total pages of text. The endnotes do not count towards this limit, if used.
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