Who’s afraid of book reviewing?

Book reviewing is an important writing skill for academic purposes, and can be a good way to enter the world of academic publishing. However, reviewing a  book in a specialized field is not as easy as it may seem. The reviewer typically requires a certain tact and consideration – especially when he/she does not appreciate all aspects (or even the entirety) of the book under review.

When writing a book review, the reviewer should not lose sight of the following:

  • A review is aimed at people who want to know whether or not the book under review is worth reading. As such, a review must include both a summary and a critical evaluation of the book’s contents. A balance should be found between having a strong critical attitude and focus, and merely giving a general summary or agreeing with everything the author says.
  • If you feel confident enough to appraise it, you should evaluate the book’s novelty. Assessing whether or not the book brings relevant contributions to the field makes for a very valuable review. You might also spend a few words mentioning whether the book also brings novelties in other areas or disciplines that may be interesting for your readership.
  • If you can, you should contextualise the book. However, excessive contextualising should be avoided – readers want to know about the book itself!
  • Writing a book review does not entail embracing sarcasm and harshness. These do not contribute to a good book review. Be measured, be sober, and be fair!

To get a sense of where a bad book review can lead, you can read about a famous scandal in philosophy, one which probably represents the worst case scenario in terms of book reviewing.

For more on how to do a book review: see a very interesting piece by George Sarton and the guide to writing a book review produced by the Research & Publish Lab.

Michele Luchetti

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