The Art of Academic Book Reviews
Like most other types of writing, there is an art to writing academic book reviews.
According to InsideHigherEd:
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 paragraph 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. 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 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’être? 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.
I will keep this formula in mind as I embark on an academic book review for the Law Library Journal this spring. In addition, I will use the Journal's Reviewer Guide.
As mentioned by InsideHigherEd, book reviews should not be understood as a matter of individual profit and/or loss. They are, rather, for the collective good; they are important voluntary inputs into the wider system of academic book publishing upon which the contemporary academic profession is symbiotically dependent.
And I look forward to adding to the law library profession in this way.