The Art and Science of Writing a Book Review
What is a Book Review?
Readers do not read a book review to hear how smart you are. A book review exists to help the reader make a decision, not to showcase your writing skills. Unless you are writing for the New York Times, forget about trying to impress anyone with a scholarly, or critical review.
If you look at the top Amazon reviews, the highest-rated reviews are often just a few paragraphs. I know that I have a very short attention span, and I believe many readers do as well.
A book review is also not a book report. One need not provide an outline to the book, as though you had to prove you actually read the book.
Some things to DO
- Get right to the review. Remember, we’re reading a book review, not a book reviewer review.
- Summarize the theme of the book.
- Identify some of the best features.
- Identify some of the worst features.
- Keep the paragraphs concise and fairly short. I just read a review that was 17 sentences long, in a single paragraph. The book being reviewed was about how to write a book review (I am NOT making this up!)
- Give your opinion. That’s right—explain why you liked/disliked the book.
Some things to NOT DO
- Do not blather on.
- Do not waste the reader’s time with an introduction to your review.
- Do not claim it is the “Best book you ever read” on the subject (unless, of course, it really is.)
- Do not interject partisan feelings.
Highlight Special Features
Finally, if there are any really unique, or helpful features in the book, be sure to call them out. For example, I recently read Men Without Work: America's Invisible Crisis by Nicholas Eberstadt. It's a concise book on the labor market. Towards the end of the book, Mr. Eberstadt includes responses from economists having different political perspectives. This latter section was really useful to me—perhaps more useful than the main body of the book.
Keep it Short and Sweet
Writing a good review is a lot like making a public presentation. Put yourself in the audience. Pretend you don't know much about the book. Does reading your review help you make a decision?
Uh-oh, I see I am beginning to blather. Sorry about that.
How to Write a Great Book Review