- Your book review essay will be 3-5 pages in length, and focus on Grunt by Mary Roach.
- Your final paper should include at least three quotes from the book and quotes from at least two other sources.
- The paper should be formatted in MLA style, and include a works cited page.
- For this paper, the use of a more informal/less academic tone is encouraged (but not required). But be mindful of matching tone with your intended audience.
- Turn in to your dropbox folder.
Book reviews are important inputs into a wider system of academic publishing upon which the scientific profession is symbiotically dependent. Scientific Graduate students who are often told that they should not waste their time reviewing books are being taught, implicitly, to reckon their time solely in terms of individual profit and loss. Were this sort of attitude replicated across the whole of the academy, intellectual life would, in my view, become more impoverished as a consequence.
Some academics, including very senior ones, see reviews as an opportunity to hold forth at great length on their own strongly held views. This really isn’t what you (or they!) should be doing. Don’t forget: you are writing about a book, and you limited space in which to do it. While your readers may be interested in your opinion, they are, first and foremost, interested in learning about the book itself and whether or not they themselves might want to read it. Bear that in mind.
In fact, like other genres of academic writing, such as journal articles and research proposals, academic book reviews tend to have a standard, even formulaic, structure. Although of course this may vary slightly by discipline and/or publication venue, my advice is, if in doubt, to use the following framework, with one or two paragraphs for each of the following seven sections:
Introduction. All good pieces of academic writing should have an introduction, and book reviews are no exception. Open with a general description of the topic and/or problem addressed by the work in question (Grunt). Think, if possible, of a hook to draw your readers in.
Summary of argument. Your review should, as concisely as possible, summarize the book’s central argument. Even edited collections and textbooks will have particular features intended to make them distinctive in the proverbial marketplace of ideas. What, ultimately, is this book’s raison d’Ãªtre? If there is an identifiable thesis statement, you may consider quoting it directly.
About the author(s). Some basic biographical information about the author(s) or editor(s) of the book you are reviewing is necessary. Who are they? What are they known for? What particular sorts of qualifications and expertise do they bring to the subject? How might the work you are reviewing fit into a wider research or career trajectory?
Summary of contents. A reasonably thorough indication of the research methods used (if applicable) and of the range of substantive material covered in the book should be included.
Strength. Identify one particular area in which you think the book does well. This should, ideally, be its single greatest strength as an academic work.
Weakness. Identify one particular area in which you think the book could be improved. While this weakness might be related to something you actually believe to be incorrect, it is more likely to be something that the author omitted, or neglected to address in sufficient detail.
Conclusion. End your review with a concluding statement summarizing your opinion of the book. You should also explicitly identify a range of audiences whom you think would appreciate reading or otherwise benefit from the book.