How to Write a Book Review
Whether you've read a compelling tale of fiction or a scholarly academic text, writing a book review allows you to share your insights on a work of literature. Commonly written as an assignment for college courses, a book review goes beyond merely summarizing the text's ideas to evaluate the author's success in communicating a message. Describing the primary themes, strengths and weaknesses of a book using specific examples can help you write a review that will entice your audience to read it for themselves.
Give the Book's Background
To orient readers to the book's subject matter and genre, reviews typically begin with a summary of its contents. Give a brief description of its plot or ideas, being careful not to give away too much information or spoil key parts of the action. Since your audience might not have read the book, you only need to provide a taste of what it's about, not a lengthy summary. You can also include key details about the author, including how the book fits into his overall body of work, its success in reaching its target audience and how the title of the book gives clues about its theme or subject.
Critique the Content
The bulk of your review should be a discussion of the author's ideas and writing craft. For the most part, your evaluation will answer the question of whether or not the book lives up to the expectations its title, plot and genre seem to present. If you're reviewing a work of fiction, you might consider how the author uses character development, tension and plot to engage audiences with the story; if it's a biography or scholarly text, you can discuss the position it takes on the topic or address any significant omissions. As you evaluate, give specific examples from the text that illustrate its strengths and weaknesses.
Evaluate the Research
The use of reliable, accurate sources and information can often make or break a book's credibility. If you're reviewing a scholarly text, part of your review will focus on what references the author uses, his research process and how well he uses information from sources to convince readers of his views or conclusions. You also might address whether the book breaks new ground in its field. Discussion of research also has its place in reviews of fiction. For example, if you're reviewing a novel set in a particular historical era, you can write about how well or how poorly the author creates a believable context for the fictional events.
Give Concluding Comments
Book reviews frequently conclude with a summary of the article's main ideas, with a particular focus on what audiences will most gain from reading it. If you're reviewing a scholarly text or work of nonfiction, you might discuss whether it would be most appropriate for readers who are new to the subject or established experts in the field. If the book is a novel or collection of stories, you can talk about the strength of the story and its ability to emotionally affect readers. End the piece by restating your overall evaluation of the book.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.