You are here

General

Introduction

A book review is a descriptive, evaluative account and discussion of a book written by a contemporary critic, often a scholar. According to L. King, a book review "can first of all indicate to the reading public some general idea of the contents and it can offer a critique, an evaluation of merit. These two functions are rather distinct and yet they belong together".

Indexes and abstracts, among other databases, will help you locate book reviews. In order to locate a book review you must have the following information.

  1. Author's full name
  2. Full title of the book
  3. The year in which the book was first published. Check the back of the title page for this information or consult the catalogue.
This is a selected guide to important sources in the J.N. Desmarais Library
related to finding and writing book reviews.
Proxy server accounts  are available to Laurentian University members who wish to use licensed products from off campus.
 
How to Begin
 
  1. Choose an appropriate database.
  2. Find a reference for a review and if the text is not available on-line, write down the name of the journal it is in, the volume, issue and page number(s).
  3. Type the full title of the journal into the catalogue to locate the periodical(s) in which the reviews appear.
  4. Consult several reviews of the same book for a more balanced assessment.
 
Important to Remember

When using any of the "print" sources in this guide, begin with the volume for the year the book was published. If a review is not listed in this volume, you should check at least two successive years. Reviews may be published a few years after the book's release.

Multidisciplnary Sources

Current Reviews

  • JSTOR [Coverage varies, typically to Present minus 3-5 years]  Under Item Type, select Reviews.
  • Lexis-Nexis Academic Click on Advanced Options, select Newspapers and then using the "Select a Segment" option, pick Subject and then type in Book Reviews within the (   ).
  • Project Muse  [Coverage varies, typically 2000 to present] In the Advanced Search option, under Content Type, select Reviews
  • ProQuest Platform Databases.  Under Document Type, select Review.
  • Web of Science [1900 to present].   Search the title of your book and then, when you get results, in the Document Types section (left), limit your results to Book Reviews.

Older Reviews

Canadian Reviews

Sources

English Sources

French Canadian  Sources

  • Eureka (Biblio Branchée)  Includes full-text access to a number of Canadian sources.
  • Index de l’actualité INDEX AI 21 I53 [1972 to 1998] References to articles in La Presse, Le Devoir, Le Soleil as well as Journal de Montréal since 1989. Book reviews are under the heading <<Littérature>> .
  • Livres et auteurs quebecois REF PS 9001 L58 [1969 to 1982]  French equivalent to Canadian Book Review Annual.

Arts Reviews

Sources

Education Reviews

Sources

Health Reviews

Sources

Management Reviews

Sources

Science, Engineering, Architecture Reviews

Sources

How to Review a Book

How To Review a Book

Introduction: This guide will be of particular value to those who must review nonfiction. It will also be of some use in reviewing imaginative works such as plays, poems, novels, and short stories.
The guide covers (I) the Contents of a Review and (II) Its Organization and Writing.  The next panel supplies a sample review based on the principles outlined here.
 

I. Contents of  a Review

The following checklist is meant to be suggestive. No review should include all--or even many--of the topics on it. AS A GENERAL RULE TOPICS 2, 4, AND 5 (with the exception of any detailed discussion of the author's background) ARE THE PRIMARY FOCUS OF MOST BOOK REVIEWS WORTH THEIR SALT. Beyond that, one's election of topics may be suggested by the book itself (e.g., if there is nothing remarkable about its style or format, leave remarks on these subjects out). Selection may also be affected by certain limitations on the reviewer, such as (a) length (e.g., 200 words v.2000); (b) point of view (e.g., s/he may be interested in only 1 or 2 aspects of the total book); (c) the degree of sophistication (e.g., in an elementary informational report, the reviewer might be less likely to concentrate on the significance of the work in its field than s/he would be in a scholarly treatise, where remarks on such a subject would be almost obligatory).

1. The General Field

-What it is?

-How does the subject of the book fit into it?

2. The Book's Purpose

-Why was it written? What did the author hope to accomplish? Note: The title, preface, and introduction are useful in establishing this information.

3. The Book's Title

-Derivation, meaning, suggestiveness?

-Fitness and adequacy--or inadequacy

-Is the title ambiguous? Does it create a false impression?

4. The Book's Contents

-Type of book

  • Description (e.g., is it fundamentally pictorial, impression giving, mood creating)?
  • Narrative (i.e., is it fundamentally chronological, relating characters or events to some ultimate sequence in time)?
  • Exposition (i.e., does it have a thesis, an argument)?

-What are the author's main ideas?

-How are they developed? (chronologically? topically? both? other?) Note: The table of contents, chapter headings, and sub-headings are useful in establishing this information.

5. The Book's Authority

- Author's ideas.

  • Key words/terms/concepts defined?
  • Internal consistency of ideas?
  • How well are the ideas developed?

- Areas covered

  • Degree of thoroughness (elementary or scholarly approach)?

- Areas not covered

  • On purpose?
  • From oversight, bias, or other failure?
  • Degree of seriousness of these omissions?

- Author's use of sources

  • New sources? if so, how gathered? how reliable?
  • Existing sources?
    • primary sources seen in new light?
    • critical examination of all relevant secondary sources (i.e., works by other writers on subject)?
    • satisfactory documentation (use of footnotes)?

- Author's background and qualifications

  • race, nationality, origins?
  • influences--social, cultural, religious, political,etc.?
  • early formative experiences?
  • academic training?

- Present position? Affiliations--literary, scholastic, religious, political, ideational, etc.? What effect do these have on his work?

- Book written with expertise? bias? both?

6. The Author's Style

- Writing

  • simple or technical?
  • clear/lucid or turgid?
  • economical/spare or wordy/verbose?
  • logical/reasoned or imaginative/emotional?
  • other?

- Suitability

  • to purpose of author?
  • to subject?
  • to readers?

7. The Book's Format

- Size

  • suitability?
  • convenience?

- Binding

  • appearance?
  • durability?

- Quality of paper

- Print type

  • legibility?
  • appropriateness?

- Aids to understanding and utilization

  • charts, graphs, maps, statistics, illustrations, photographs (current, clear, related to text)?
  • index" adequacy tested by looking up number of items
  • bibliographies
    • superficial or thorough?
    • annotated?

8. Significance of Work in Field

- In comparison to author's other works (if any)

- In comparison to other writers in the area. Note The book's footnotes and bibliography are useful in determining relevant past works.

- Further work that needs to be done.

 

II. Organization and Writing

Once the book has been read and digested, and once reference has been made to the preceding checklist and if necessary, to other sources, for information about the field of the book, the author, etc., then it is possible to begin organizing and writing the review.

Preliminary

Any book review should be preceded by the following information:

- Title of the book: to identify book

- Author's name

- Place of publication: in case the reader wishes to order the book for him/herself

- Publisher

- Edition: suggests how up-to-date information in book is

- Date

- Paging: to give an idea of how detailed the book is, and to suggest something of its format (this might save possible repetition in review)

- Special features (e.g. maps)

- Cost (if known): more information for ordering

 

1.       The Beginning

An effective opening will catch the reader's attention immediately. Do not, therefore, begin with something pedestrian such as "This book is . . ." Instead, try:

- Writing a brief anecdote or some human interest item connected with the book or its author AND/OR

- Taking as a point of departure one of the items on the check list that seems important (e.g., the significance of the book in the field) AND/OR

- Opening with a statement about projected treatment of the book (e.g., Certain features of this monograph make it worth reading . . . but these strengths are outweighed by . . .)

 

2.       Development
 

A good review will involve description, evaluation, and whenever possible, explanation of why the author wrote as he did. This means it will often be necessary to relate different parts of the checklist one to the other (e.g., how the author's bias affected his selection and use of sources).

In the sense that the review involves relationships, it is like a little essay. It differs from an essay, however, in that it never includes: chapters or other divisions; long quotations from the book or other reviews (although brief quotations may sometimes be used to illustrate a point); footnotes (if quoting from the book, put the page number in the review immediately after the quote, in parentheses). Finally, never append a bibliography of works consulted to a review.

 

3.         Conclusion
 

Do not as a general rule, trail off with comments about minor matters - e.g., typographical errors. Instead try to end the review with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. If possible, relate the assessment to the opening remarks of the review so that what results is a neat little package.

A Sample Review

CONTENTS SAMPLE REVIEW ORGANIZATION
  Red Lights on the Prairies. JAMES H. GRAY. Toronto, Macmillan, 1971. Pp. xvi. 207, maps, illus. S6.95. Preliminary Information
Title and its adequacy In Red Lights on the Prairies James H. Gray is in some ways guilty of deceptive packaging. As he confesses in his introduction, the legendary red light was not used as a trademark by the pioneer prostitutes of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Alberta. even had such lights been employed, they would have gleamed not on Catchy opening, using title as point of departure
Field the prairie, but in front of the urban brothels which form the subject of the book.  
Place of book in field However, since Red Lights on the Prairies is a lively and amusing survey of prostitution in Western cities before the Great Depression, Description of book
Areas covered one is inclined to grant the author poetic license in his choice of a title. Mr. Gray's new book is a fascinating tale of booze, loose women, and  
Sources tolerant policemen which gives our grandfathers' generation a dimension it lacks in more conventional histories. Gathering his anecdotes from forgotten municipal reports,  
Development of book newspapers, and personal interviews, he deals in turn with each of the tenderloin sections of the West's urban centres. Beginning in Winnipeg, Gray journeys West through Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Edmonton,  
Development of book newspapers, and personal interviews, he deals in turn with each of the tenderloin sections of the West's urban centres. Beginning in Winnipeg, Gray journeys West through Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, and Drumheller. In the process lhe releases many unremembered skeletons from the civic closets of respectable Prairie centres. The Thomas Street Raid of 1904, for example, can take its rightful place alongside the General Strike and the 1950 flood in the annals of Winnipegs' past. Mr. Gray's personal interviews with survivors of this more flamboyant period of Western Canada's history.  
The author's use of sources have given his book a flavour that printed sources could not. No annual report or newspaper, not even the Calgary Eye Opener, could tell a researcher that railroad newsboys made more money selling condoms than magazines, or that a Moose Jaw whore named Rosie Dale prompted the first U-Drive buggy system in the city. It is somewhat of a disappointment that the author has refused to identify his venerable  
  informers, but considering the nature of their information, it is perhaps understandable. In The Boy From Winnipeg Mr Gray was extremely critical of professional historians, describing Evaluation of use of sources plus one possible explanation
Author not an Academic them as "prestigious pedagogues'who mention social history 'only in passing" and even then 'get their facts awry." Red Lights on the Prairies takes the same attitude, but for the first time Gray accommodates the academic community by providing both documentation and an index. This is no doubt what has led his publisher to make the dustjacket claim that Red Lights is not simply popularization but 'a serious and  
  challenging piece of social history'. Unfortunately, however, Mr Gray's work cannot lay claim to such status Transition from description to evaluation of content.
Author's bias distorts his interpretation Mr Gray's most serious difficulty arises when he is confronted with the problem of social and moral reform. Once prostitution and the liquor traffic become harmless diversions, reformers cease to be responsible citizens, responding to the complex urban problems of towns which became cities overnight. Instead they become Red Lights on the Prairies' villains, firebreathing killjoys who attempted to spoil all the fun. Protestant ministers are a special target. Dr F.B. DuVal of Winnipeg, one of the West's most distinguished Presbyterians, is described as 'a pint-sized Zealot with a hardglinting eye'. Mr Gray also notes with glee that "there were whore houses in Regina before there was a single church,' and suggests on several  
Style
The areas of investigation author has overlooked
The reason for this becomes apparent once the laughter subsides. In order to make his work lively and readable, Gray feels he has to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness. Red Lights completely ignores the seamier aspects of early twentieth century prostitution. Every hooker in Mr Gray's narrative has the

Note explanation

The seriousness of author's omission proverbial heart of gold, and chose her profession not because of poverty or ignorance but because she was born with a predisposition toward the trade'. Even more indicative of Mr Gray's 'good old days' approach to his subject is his utter disregard of the twin scourges of syphilis and gonorrhea, and their attendant social complications. Surely two hundred pages on pre-penicillin prostitution in which the words 'venereal disease' appear only once can hardly pretend to be credible social history.  
  occasions that prostitution may have played a more important role in the lives of our grandfathers than religion. One wishes Mr Gray could restrain his desire to engage in selective snickering long enough to examine seriously the deeply held convictions of the Western reform movement. The author's deficiencies as a social historian in no way diminish the general appeal of this book. Red Lights on the Prairies is very much like Mr Gray's earlier books - witty, anecdotal, and superficial.

JOHN HERD THOMPSON McGill University

Snappy conclusion

Source: Canadian Historical Review, 53 (4, December 1972): 457-458. (Reprinted by permission of author and the University of Toronto Press)

Note: Dr. Thompson's review emphasizes the fact that not all items in the checklist need be included and as well, that those included cannot be organized in the exact order in which they appear in this guide. How do you think this review might have been changed if Thompson had had half as much space allotted to him? Twice as much? If he had been writing for the citizens of Winnipeg instead of for a national audience? If his review had appeared in a daily newspaper instead of a scholarly journal?

Pages

Subscribe to Library & Archives RSS