The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
Reading for a Book Review

Reading a book to review it

Choose your book carefully

Being interested in a book will help you write a strong review, so take some time to choose a book whose topic and scholarly approach genuinely interest you.

If you're assigned a book, you'll need to find a way to become interested in it.

Read actively and critically

Don't read just to discover the author's main point or to mine some facts.

Engage with the text, marking important points and underlining passages as you go along (in books you own, of course!).

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Focus first on summary and analysis

Before you read

  • Write down quickly and informally some of the facts and ideas you already know about the book's topic
  • Survey the book--including the preface and table of contents--and make some predictions
  • Here are some questions to ask:

    • What does the title promise the book will cover or argue?
    • What does the preface promise about the book?
    • What does the table of contents tell you about how the book is organized?
    • Who's the audience for this book?

As you read

With individual chapters:

  • Think carefully about the chapter's title and skim paragraphs to get an overall sense of the chapter.
  • Then, as you read, test your predictions against the points made in the chapter.
  • After you've finished a chapter, take brief notes. Start by summarizing, in your own words, the major points of the chapter. Then you might want to take brief notes about particular passages you might discuss in your review.

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Begin to evaluate

As you take notes about the book, try dividing your page into two columns. In the left, summarize main points from a chapter. In the right, record your reactions to and your tentative evaluations of that chapter.

Here are several ways you can evaluate a book:

  • If you know other books on this same subject, you can compare the arguments and quality of the book you're reviewing with the others, emphasizing what's new and what's especially valuable in the book you're reviewing.

  • If you don't know others books on this subject, you can still do some evaluation. Ask, for example:

    • How well does the book fulfill the promises the author makes in the preface and introduction?
    • How effective is the book's methodology?
    • How effectively does the book make its arguments?
    • How persuasive is the evidence?
    • For its audience, what are the book's strengths?
    • How clearly is the book written?

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