How to Write a Book Review
The contents of a book review can vary widely based on the audience, the genre, and where the review is published. However, there are a few basic elements that are applicable to most critical book reviews.
4 Major Considerations
Based on your targeted publication, you may have to change up or add to the basics. However, these four basics should provide a good starting point for the writer who wants to get into this particular area of critical reviewing.
- General information. All book reviews should contain some key information for the audience. This includes the title, author, genre, plot outline, and publisher. It might also include the number of pages, list price, ISBN number, and other such minutiae.
- Expanded plot or content summary. This varies according to the publication or outlet—some want more, some want less. Some may ask that the summary be straightforward with no personal reflection or analysis weaved in it—others may want you to go back and forth between the two. Generally, a book review should reveal the central issue, but not the solution to that issue. Meaning, don't give away the ending. Non-fiction summary should focus on the premise of the book, how that premise is presented and backed up, and what the author adds to the subject matter.
- Personal reactions and/or analysis. Your review should detail how the story or book affected you. This is where you explore personal connections, prior experiences with the author or subject matter, and perhaps even talk about misconceptions or pre-existing perceptions you may have brought into the review with you. At the same time, this conversation sometimes dovetails into the process of analyzing the author's intent, motivation, and outcome, along with strengths and weaknesses.
- Recommendations. Many book reviews end with the writer's recommendation. At this point, you need to declare your personal take on the book and elaborate on your recommendation (or your non-recommendation, as the case may be.) This is the place to make any statements regarding the overall value and quality of the text.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself
The following are points to ponder as you read the book.
- What's the general field or genre? Does the book fit that genre?
- From what point of view is the book written?
- Do you agree or disagree with the author's point of view?
- Can you follow the author's thesis or common thread?
- What is the author's style? Formal? Informal? Suitable for the intended audience?
- Are concepts well-defined? Is the language clear and convincing? Are the ideas well-developed? What areas are covered and what areas are not covered? How accurate is the information?
- Is the author's concluding chapter (or summary) convincing?
- If relevant, make notes about the book's format such as layout, binding, etc. If there are maps or illustrations, are they helpful?
- How does this book compare to other books by this author?
One very key piece of advice, for the novice or experienced book reviewer, is to always make notes as you read the book. You may likely want to include passages from the book in your review. And, of course, as every good writer knows, hook the reader with your opening sentence—it will set the tone of the review.
If you're new to book review writing, an example of a book review well-done is The New York Times review of Good Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.