Book: Michael Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present (2007)
Book Review Instructions:
Remember, it is essential to present the author’s thesis in your first paragraph. After that, your review should focus on the author’s main points. Don’t get lost in the weeds and don’t waste time on trivial issues. Everything you write should focus on the author’s thesis, main points, and argument. Analyze rather than summarize, avoid long quotations, and maintain your focus on the book, its author, and primary subject matter.
The full bibliographic citation for the book should appear at the top of your paper just as you would see in a professional journal. For example: Archibald Turnbull and Clifford Lord, History of United States Naval Aviation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949. Pp. ix, 345. The reviewer’s name (one line) and organizational affiliation (separate line) at the bottom of the review.
In this course you will be required to write many book reviews. Your goal is to write a review that could appear in a professional history journal. To do this, you will need to cover a lot of ground very quickly. Most journal reviews limit you to about 600 words, and you should abide by this limit.
A book review should critically describe, analyze, and evaluate a book on a number of categories including (but not limited to) depth of research, quality of ideas and thinking, support for its thesis, and originality. Your review should focus on the book, survey and analyze its contents, and explain what the book contributes to our knowledge of its topic. It should not be an essay on the topic that occasionally references the book.
The first paragraph of your review should identify the author (academic position, professional experience, previous publications, etc.), provide a a concise statement of the book’s subject, and note the author’s thesis. That is, explain who the author is and what he/she/they hoped to accomplish in writing this book. What points do they try to make? What do they argue? Frequently authors make this explicit in the introduction of the book, but sometimes you will have to dig a little deeper to determine what the author hoped to prove. If you cannot determine the author’s thesis, look harder or consult published reviews of the book. For an anthology, make a general comment on the qualifications of the authors (leading scholars in their field, all professors at College X, etc.). It is often worth noting a book’s intended audience (professionals, college students, military officers, a general adult reading audience, etc.).
Next, you should briefly summarize the book. This summary should not exceed a paragraph or two and should focus on the key issues and events of the book, particularly as they relate to larger historiographical issues. Be sure to note the author’s thesis. Do not write a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book. Focus on ideas and what you find especially valuable, innovative, and useful in the book. Avoid drawn-out counterarguments with the author, ad hominem attacks on the author, and personal hobby-horses.
By this point, you will be well into your 600 word limit. So, the rest of your review should be a critical examination of these key points. Key questions to consider are the author’s qualifications, depth of research, use of evidence, indications of bias, and logical presentation. How well does the author present his case? Does she prove her point? If possible, you should compare this book to others that you have read on the same subject and make some effort to place it with the histiorography on the topic. The weekly readings should help you with this. Is this book one of the better works on the subject? Does it supplant an older works? Are there better books on the topic? Are there significant errors of fact? (Do not worry about minor errors, typos, etc..)
Wrap up your review with a quick summation and recommendation that assess the success or failure of the book in achieving its stated objectives.
It never hurts to consult other sources, such as published reviews of the book, to see what other writers thought of the book. Book Review Digest and Book Review Index (found in any good library) will help you find reviews, as will JSTOR. You may want to find journal articles written by the author or that discuss the author’s work. Also worth looking at is Contemporary Authors, which will give you some biographical information on the author. You may also be able to find information about the author on the Internet.
Quick suggestions: You should acquaint yourself with the format for an academic book review by reading reviews in American Historical Review, Journal of American History, or similar academic journals. The title of your paper is the full bibliographic citation of the book (author, title, publisher, copyright date, etc. as shown above). Your paper should be neat, grammatically correct, and well written. It should adhere to the above structural guidelines and contain solid introductory and concluding paragraphs that are in agreement with one another. Spell out acronyms in their first usage. Show, don’t tell. In other words, do not say a book is interesting. Rather, show and explain why it is interesting. Avoid using too many quotations. Quote only when absolutely necessary. Be sure to mention who you are quoting. For a book review, MLA style parenthetical citations (author, page #) are generally fine. Avoid contractions. Organize your paper into discrete paragraphs. (A change in topic requires that you begin a new paragraph.) A paragraph should have a topic sentence. Avoid overwriting (using several sentences when a single, short sentence will make your point). Avoid the passive voice.Avoid repetitive language, colloquialisms, clichés, passive voice, jargon, and hedging words and phrases, such as: “seems to,” “may be,” “appears to,” and similar phrases. They weaken your writing. Good writing confident, concise and to the point. Make a point, support it with specific analysis, argument, evidence, and examples, and then move on to your next point. Write about the past in the past tense. Do not discuss yourself, admit to any personal failings, or explain the assignment or why you chose to read this particular book.