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The Aims and Goal of a Good Book Review

Recently I did a quick search on to look up Peter Leithart's newest book, Defending Constantine.  Having been wading through the book on my own, I was wanting to see what other readers had to say about this particular work.  To my dismay, some of the reviewers took the opportunity to lambast Leithart because of his theological agenda all the while ignoring his textual and historical arguments in regards to Constantine.  There is nothing wrong with being critical about another person's work, especially in the realm of academic reviewing and writings.  Yet, in providing a review even for a consumer website like Amazon, we must not be content with haphazardly reviewing a book (not reading the entire book) and attacking the theological programme behind the work while leaving to the side the arguments contained in the book. On a consumer site like Amazon or other consumer websites, reviews are not meant to be in-depth scholarly reviews of the latest literature in any given field.  However, to be fair to the author and to those coming across our reviews, we must be able to deal with the book on its own terms.  What does this mean in the context of a review?

1.  What are the major tenets or thesis of the book?  What is the purpose for the author's writing?  The author could given a number of valid reasons why he/she wrote their book (argument against misconceptions, breaking ground in the field they work in, take on a widely held view with a different thesis, etc.). 

2.  What features of the book sufficiently developed the main argument of the book?  How did the author sift through the evidence to come to a conclusion?  Does the main argument of the book make sense, is it able to be understood by those coming to the subject for the first time?

3.  In a more subjective manner, how did the book affect you?  What made you say, "I never knew that before," or "That changes the way I thought of x,y,z."  In a short paragraph, how did the book make a difference in your life, thoughts, actions? 

4.  What sections in the book could be better?  Where does the original argument seem to fall apart?  

5.  Doing a book review is not necessarily an exercise in creative writing.  Rather, we should be judicious in our review to point out the good, the bad and the ugly. 

6.  If you do plan on being critical of specific sections of a book in a review, give the writer his due by arguing from the points in the actual text rather than a preconceived idea of what the author believes.

I hope that these points will help others in their pursuit of reviewing books.  Authors shed their blood, sweat, tears and many times precious pennies to get published, let us return them the favor by producing solid, honest reviews.


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