David Garland, The Culture of Control (Oxford: OUP, 2001)
What is the book s argument
2. Does the book do what it says it is going to do
3. Is the book a contribution to the field or discipline
4. Does the book relate to a current debate or trend in the field and if so, how
5. What is the theoretical lineage or school of thought out of which the book rises
6. Is the book well written
7. What are the books terms and are they defined
8. How accurate is the information (e.g., the footnotes, bibliography, dates)
9. Are the illustrations helpful If there are no illustrations, should there have been
10. Who would benefit from reading this book
11. How does the book compare to other books in the field
It can be worthwhile to do an on line search to get a sense for the author s history, other books, university
appointments. This can provide you with useful context.
Making a Plan
You should really try to outline the book
review before you write it. This will keep you on task and stop you from straying into writing an academic
Classic book review structure is as follows:
( very important),
12. Title including complete bibliographic citation for the work (i.e., title in full, author, place, publisher, date of
publication, edition statement, pages, special features [maps, color plates, etc.], price, and ISBN.
13. One to two paragraphs identifying the thesis, and whether the author achieves the stated purpose of the book.
15. Two to four paragraphs summarizing the book.
16. One paragraph on the book s strengths.
17. One paragraph on the book s weaknesses.
18. One paragraph on your assessment of the book s strengths and weaknesses.
Avoiding Five Common Pitfalls
1. Evaluate the text, don t just summarize it. While a succinct restatement of the text s points is important, part
of writing a book review is making a judgment. Is the book a contribution to the field Does it add to our
knowledge Should this book be read and by whom One needn t be negative to evaluate; for instance,
explaining how a text relates to current debates in the field is a form of evaluation.
2. Do not cover everything in the book. In other words, don t use the table of contents as a
structuring principle for your review. Try to organize your review around the book s argument or your argument
about the book.
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3. Judge the book by its intentions not yours. Don t criticize the author for failing to write the
book you think that he or she should have written. As John Updike puts it, Do not imagine
yourself the caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any
ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind.
4. Likewise, don t spend too much time focusing on gaps. Since a book is only 200 to 500 pages, it cannot
possibly address the richness of any topic. For this reason, the most common
criticism in any review is that the book doesn t address some part of the topic. If the book
purports to be about ethnicity and film and yet lacks a chapter on Latinos, by all means,
mention it. Just don t belabour the point. Another tic of reviewers is to focus too much on
books the author did not cite. If you are using their bibliography just to display your own
knowledge it will be obvious to the reader. Keep such criticisms brief.
5. Don t use too many quotes from the book. It is best to paraphrase or use short telling quotes within sentences.