Basics of a Book Review or Response
A book review or book response is more than a book report. A report may be a summary of the contents, ideology and tools of a book, whereas a review or response is a reasoned investigation into the significance of the book’s contents or the successful demonstration of an author’s conclusion. Some marks of a good review are: clarity of expression, understanding of the author’s assertions or thesis, fairness in handling opposing views, consideration of the relevant historical discussion, and critical engagement with the text.
Book reviews follow standard academic writing procedures (this does not mean boring). This means that the paper is written in your own words, with proper credit given when quoting or referring to words or ideas from the book being reviewed. The paper should also be written in good English, which includes proper spelling and grammar as well as prose that is free from informal English (slang, appeals to the reader, contractions, etc.). The text should be clear, coherent, and as concise as possible—wordiness does not equal scholarliness.
Matters to Consider in a Review or Response
The following tips are for writing book reviews or responses for class assignments here at Covenant. Always check with your professor about format preferences. If you are planning to write a book review for a peer-reviewed journal or periodical, make sure to follow the journal’s guidelines.
- Avoid summarizing. Assume that your professor and classmates have read the book.
- Analyze the author’s thesis. Why is it significant? What methods does the author use to demonstrate his or her conclusions? Are these conclusions and the supporting evidence convincing?
- If necessary, analyze the author. What is his worldview or presuppositions? What are some of her other works? Where does he teach? What qualifies the author to write on this topic?
- Determine the book’s purpose. Similar to the author’s thesis, but broader in scope, is the main purpose of the book. Why did the author choose to write this book? Why a book rather than an article or essay? To what extent does the book accomplish this purpose?
- Situate the book in its historical context. Does this book build on older works or challenge them? Does the author take a groundbreaking new approach to an ongoing debate? How does this book fit into wider theological, exegetical or literary discussions?
- Engage the text. Avoid saying simply, “I agree,” or “I disagree.” Be critical, but respectful of the author as an accomplished scholar. Explain how the text has challenged your thinking. Who would benefit from reading this book and why?
- Address the book’s relevance. Why this book for this class? How does the work contribute to other class readings and discussions? What have you learned about your overall program of study? Your future ministry?
Format of a Book Review or Response
Unless your professor requests otherwise, the following conventions are recommended.
- Reviews should be concise. A book review or response can be as short as one page, and should not be longer than three.
- The paper should be typed and double-spaced using a clear, non-ornamental, serif font. Examples of acceptable fonts include Times New Roman or Palatino. The text of the paper should be set in 12-point type with footnotes in 10-point.
- Margins are typically 1″ on all sides.
- Only one space (not two) should be placed after the terminal punctuation of a sentence.
- Titles of books and other longer works should be italicized, not underlined. Titles of articles, essays, parts of longer works, or other shorter works should be enclosed in quotation marks.