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Guide to Writing Book Reviews

For our purposes, a good book review should:
  • start with full bibliographic details of the book discussed in the heading;
  • summarise the structure, method and main points of the work, which may include some direct quotes (identified by inverted commas and the relevant page no following in round brackets);
  • discuss how the author's arguments fit into other writing on the subject;
  • comment on the range of sources used and how they contribute to the argument;
  • explain the strengths and weaknesses of the book from your point of view;
  • assess whether / how the work will advance relevant debates;
  • acknowledge other sources of information in footnotes and a bibliography.
  • Many websites and discussion fora also offer reviews and related materials, see e.g.:

    • Guide to reviewers issued by the Humanities and Social Sciences internet platform H-Net (esp. passages on 'effectiveness', 'content', 'evaluation', 'professionalism')
    • 'JStor' (database of reviews from numerous journals)
    • 'Reviews in History' (compiled by the Institute of Historical Research in London

     

    Assessment and marking criteria - while similar to regular history essays, particular importance is placed on:

    • critical evaluation of methodology, argumentation and conclusions of the book concerned;
    • ability to relate a work to the wider historiography of the field;
    • clear structuring and lucid presentation of your review.

    A first-class review will excel in all these aspects, an upper second will demonstrate good competence in them, while lower marks will reflect limited critique, historiographical coverage and lucidity of argument.


    The following is not a definitive list but merely suggestive of books you might like to review. If you have other ideas please discuss them with me: