How to Write a Critical Book Review

By Kevin Nelson/ Writing a critical book review is quite easy although for most people it’s the contrary, they have a problem distinguishing a book review from a book report.

Book reviews are meant to inform on what the book entails, and your personal opinion on the book in general based on the evaluation that you’ve done. Take note that a “critical book review” doesn’t necessarily refer to a negative review. Actually, it gives an evaluation that points out both the good and the bad.

Book reviews don’t merely give a summary, that wouldn’t be described as being a book review. They have the “critique” aspect attached to it. This, therefore, means that other than the summary, you need to add a touch of your opinion, reaction, and response to the book’s contents. Not everyone has a knack for writing a critical book review; it requires a lot of time and patience. Take an example of the number books reviewed by the New York Times per week, on average, they receive between 750 and 1000 books from a number of publishers. Reading through all those books will definitely take lots of time. However, this isn’t reason enough to push you away if you have a passion for reading and are capable of writing reviews.

Here’s a guide to go about writing a critical book review:

Reading through the Book

Why Read The Book?

Before making any remarks on any book, you need to thoroughly and critically go through the text. Yes, you need to read and reread until you have a thorough understanding of what the author is trying to communicate. It would be a grievous mistake to make a review that doesn’t tally with information contained in the book.

What Information Will You Be Looking At As You Read?

Before reading the text, list down the questions that you expect will be answered. Some of the questions would include:

  • When and why was the book authored?
  • What information are in the book’s contents?
  • Who forms the audience?
  • What is the level of accuracy of the information presented by the author?
  • How well has the information been backed by evidence (only if evidence has been cited)?
  • Who is the author, what other works are under his belt, his background, the qualifications and the affiliations he holds?

Take Notes

You’ll need to take notes while reading the book for review purposes

You’ll need to take notes as you read, paying close attention to the preface, introduction, summaries, and abstracts. They are some of the areas that will give you insight into what the author was trying to accomplish writing the book.

What Next After Reading?

The notes you wrote during your read come in handy at this stage. They make it possible for you to make an analysis and therefore, you can proceed to write your review. Your notes can also assist you with assessing the readability of the book. Not very many people have grasped readability of a text, accessing sites offering essay writing services can help with understanding the concept.

Structuring Your Review

Critical book reviews, whether short or long all take a similar format. It will be divided into 3 sections containing an introduction, body, and conclusion. The body will contain the summary and critique. Short book reviews are often a page long and are between 100-500 words while long reviews are often 4 pages with a maximum of around 1500 words.

Before proceeding to write the review, make sure that you’ve included:

  • The title of the book
  • The author
  • Where the book was published
  • The date that particular edition was published
  • The total number of book pages

The Introduction

The introduction, in this case, is an equivalent of a thesis statement. What this simply means is that the introduction will give a summary while at the same time show readers your overall judgment on the book. It’s often a paragraph for short texts such as journal articles, or 2, and some cases 3 paragraphs for long book reviews. Some of the information that will be included in this paragraph will include:

  • A brief explanation of the text topic
  • Purpose of the text and its significance
  • A summary of your key findings or arguments

While concluding the introduction, you can include a statement on your overall view, impression or evaluation of the book. Often, a blend of positive and negative, though in some instances they are one sided, leaning to either side. Another aspect that can be included is a brief remark on the author’s other works and how they relate to the text under review or other texts within the same niche.

The Body

The body contains both the summary of the text and critique.

Summary

It’s not about merely making a summary of the main points. You’ll be required to explain the text in detail using a couple of examples and in your own wordings. Often, the summary is limited to a 1/3 of the body. It’s also a chance to highlight how the text has been organized, and show your readers what the author of the book intended as revealed throughout the text.

The Critique

Thoroughly critique the book before making your opinion known

This is the main section of the critical book review. It’s in this section that you’ll get to give an evaluation to the strengths and weaknesses of the text, and its contribution. You’ll need to identify the most important to the less important points of your review, highlighting them in that order. You can include proposed recommendations, and any other conclusions you may have arrived at with regards to the text.

These are the main points to include in the body:

  • The main ideas, and detail on authors intentions
  • Proof that supports your critical book review
  • Strengths and weaknesses evaluation of the text

A good review makes reference to other articles to support arguments made.

The Conclusion

Be objective in your review and have fun at the same time

A rather brief paragraph that basically restates your overall judgment on the text, any recommendations that you may have and further explanations on how you arrived at your review. You need to make a sound and fair review, achievable through clearly providing backing to the review conclusion reached at.

Fairness is a crucial aspect, as in most cases that review is what stands between a book’s success and failure. It, therefore, wouldn’t be prudent to mislead your readers with your reviews. However, a negative review may be a good source of publicity for a lesser known author. For a renowned author, it will do the opposite.

A good review with the New York Times Book review gives authors hope for publication of their books, although most of the books published are for white males. This was in 2011/2012 when the population of the whites was at 72%of the total population.

Evaluation Language

To satisfactorily write a good review that will be accepted and understood, you’ll have to use a particular language. Basically, look at the choice of words you use to give your analysis.

Example:

“This argument is not entirely convincing, as…furthermore it rationalizes the…”

“    The beginning of…provides an informative overview into…” and so on

Conclusion

Writing a critical book review isn’t rocket science. It’s quite easy as shown above. However, one needs to be objective and make a fair judgment when presented with a book for a critical review. It takes patience to read and re-read text to be able to thoroughly grasp the message being passed across by an author, but also a fun and easy process once you master the skill.


Kevin is a professional educator and a private tutor with over 8 years of experience. He is also a content writer for various blogs about higher education, entertainment, social media & blogging. During his off time, Kevin enjoys traveling and cooking. Feel free to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin & Google+.

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