Political Science/JSIS/LSJ Writing Center
Writing Book Reviews in Political Science
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This handout suggests ways to think about and organize your book review.
However, before following this format, please consult the specific
directions given to you by your instructor.
Goal of a book review:
To display substantial knowledge of the book's content, strengths, and
weaknesses, as well as the ability to think critically about an academic
Content of a book review:
A book review should answer three questions --
What is the writer of the book trying to communicate?
How clearly and convincingly did the author get his/her
message across to the reader?
Was the message worth reading?
Argument of a book review:
Like all political science papers, book reviews assert a claim -- they do
more than summarize what the author says. The thesis of your book review
will respond to questions 2 and 3 above: Is the argument of the book
compelling? Did the author convince you of his point, and how significant
is this point?
In considering your thesis, and in presenting your argument, you will need
criteria for judging the book. Here are some suggestions of criteria to
think about while reading the book and while formulating your argument:
- How important is the subject to the study of politics and government?
- How complete and thorough is the author's coverage of the subject?
- Does the author include sufficient evidence or neglect necessary
- How carefully is the author's analysis conducted?
- What are the strengths and limitations of the author's methodology?
- What is the quality of the writing? Is it clear, precise, and
- How does this book compare with others on the subject?
- What contribution does this book make to political science?
- Who will enjoy or benefit from this book?
Organization of a book review:
- Introduction. In this paragraph you should briefly introduce
the work under discussion and state your thesis.
- Summary. Following your introduction, you should
concisely restate the central claims of the author. In this
section, be particularly sure to remain faithful to the ideas of the
author as he or she states them. At the same time, aim for the essence of
the book: What is the author's main point? What are the significant
subpoints? Make sure that your summary is short and to the point.
- Body of the paper. The largest portion of your review should
be devoted to elaborating and expanding on your thesis. In this section,
you will move step-by-step through the criteria you have selected to
assess the book; for each criterion, you will show how the author's
effort holds up.
- Conclusion. Wrap up your paper with a statement about the
significance of the book. This statement may concern the extent of its
contribution to the discipline of political science or explain how it
changed your understanding of a certain phenomenon.
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