Skip to main content

The Aims and Goal of a Good Book Review

Recently I did a quick search on http://www.amazon.com/ 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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Misperceptions, misconnections, and missed observations are just some of the issues that Timothy Snyder raises in his book, Black Earth, concerning the Holocaust.  Snyder, no stranger to the frontlines of scholarship on the Holocaust, with his previous book Bloodlands, that concerns the land from Hitler to Stalin, takes a look at the Holocaust from new sources and new avenues of thought.  How did some nation-states survive relatively unscathed from Nazi persecution while others, notably Jewish populations, succumb to a wave of killings?  Also, what was the role of the Soviet Union in the war and how did Stalin effect changes in the Final Solution?  These questions are only two of the many that Snyder answers in his detailed account of the Holocaust.
One of the best chapters was entitled The Auschwitz Paradox.  Generally when the public thinks about the Holocaust, we think of Auschwitz first or at the top of our mental m…

the great spiritual migration

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian D McLaren

Brian McLaren and his own pithy way brings to the foreground and emphasis on a new kind of Christianity. The kind of faith that Brian envisions is a kind of migration not been set in the bedrock of beliefs that is unmoving but rather shifting with both culture and with faith. His new book the great spiritual migration is exactly that, a pointed work that encapsulates a vision towards the future where Christianity is changing and its peoples lives are changed as well.

Brian states in the introduction, "but we also know that for a lot of people Christianity is malfunctioning, seriously so, and it's not pretty. This kind of frustration with conventional Christianity is what McLaren gets gets to at the heart of this message is concerned with a number of different clusters unbelief. One, namely that Christianity has been stuck in a set of propositions or beliefs that has controlled churches in the faith, rather then a spirit of love t…

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers
Growing up with the NIV, the NKJV was not a bible I was familiar with.  This new NKJV Study Bible takes all of the features of the Thomas Nelson Study Bible and makes them better.  Right out of the box I noticed that the Bible was considerably lighter than most study bibles I have read.  Further, the text font was much larger than most study editions, although I’m not quite sure of the size. The aquamarine color was a great touch and the Bible was finely put together, enduring the wear of many coming years of use.
Why is this Bible worth the purchase?  First, the study notes were great for extra handling of particular confusing and messy areas of Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.  Yet, the study notes aren’t an obstruction to the reading of the biblical text.  Clearly, the editors have taken great care in making the text stand out and the notes illuminate certain themes and areas of Scripture.  Second, the NKJV takes into account all t…