HOW WILL YOUR BOOK REVIEWS BE GRADED?
Your book reviews will be graded on the following basis:
Critical Analysis (50%)
Style and References (10%)
NOTE: Critical analysis is more important than summary. If you turn in a review that is mostly or entirely summary, with little or no critical analysis, your grade will reflect the fact that you skipped half of the assignment. Likewise, if you spend all your time fretting over tiny formatting details, you are focusing on 10% of the assignment at the expense of the other 90%. Instead, in every review, you should construct a brief, well-focused summary with ample quotations from the author’s argument, and lots of thoughtful, substantive critical analysis with ample quotations from the author’s use of evidence. See the Book Review Grading Rubric for more information on how book reviews will be graded.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUMMARY & CRITICAL ANALYSIS
SUMMARY (40% OF GRADE)
Your review should summarize the author’s main argument and conclusions completely, but succinctly. Don’t summarize events (“this happened, then this happened”). Instead, summarize the author’s INTERPRETATION of events (“the author claims this happened because of this, and the result was this”). Don’t narrate history or list chapters. Avoid excessive detail. Instead, focus on the author’s thesis: the overall explanation or interpretation of events. A thesis is NOT simply the topic or the purpose of a book! A thesis is how the author EXPLAINS and INTERPRETS the past. According to the author, why did history happen this way, and why does it matter? What is the author trying to prove? What claims does the author make about the cause, effect, and significance of events? What is the author’s conclusion?
In your first paragraph, you must identify the author’s thesis in a single underlined sentence in your own words, stating The author’s thesis is that . . . . A thesis is NOT that something was “important” or “significant,” or that it “changed,” “had an impact,” or “played a role.” Why? How so? A thesis must EXPLAIN the author’s main argument and key claims in terms of cause, effect, and historical significance. When summarizing the author’s thesis, try using the word “because” in order to emphasize causation. Don’t try to identify a single sentence in the book as the author’s thesis statement; instead, describe and summarize the author’s thesis in your own words, and underline it. If you have trouble identifying an author’s thesis, refer to the History Reading & Writing Guides.
A review that fails to identify and state the author’s thesis in your own words will not receive a passing grade.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS (50% OF GRADE)
Besides summary, your review must analyze how well the author PROVES his or her thesis, and show why the author is effective or ineffective in doing so. Does the author’s explanation of history seem convincing? Why or why not? Describe how the author uses primary sources and quote from them yourself to demonstrate the author’s use of evidence. Are the author’s sources adequate to prove his or her thesis? Why or why not? Could the same evidence be used differently? What kind of evidence might be missing? Are there any possible alternative explanations? Does the author seem biased or unfair? What is the author’s point of view on the subject?
NEVER say that the author “does a good job,” “makes a good point,” “is really persuasive,” “is very effective,” etc. Instead, demonstrate WHY you think so with evidence from the book. What is the basis of your opinion about the author? Show the reader exactly what the author does well and not so well. Prove it with examples. Evaluate the author’s thesis and use of evidence, with numerous examples and quotations. Avoid making unsubstantiated claims about the author (e.g., “The author is persuasive,” “The author does a good job”); instead, PROVE IT with evidence from the book. If you say the author does something, quote an example of it. If you say the author fails to do something, show where it should have occurred.
Your analysis must be substantive and specific: avoid vague, trite, meaningless observations such “the author does a good job,” “the book was interesting,” or “I liked the book.” Instead, discuss the author’s use of primary sources as evidence, quote from the author’s sources, and explain WHY the author’s use of evidence is convincing (or not). Never say the author “uses lots of sources, “has lots of quotes,” or “uses lots of statistics.” Instead, what sources does the author rely on? How does the author use them? Be specific and give examples. Prove, don’t assert. Show, don’t tell. A review lacking specific, detailed critical analysis supported with evidence from the book will not receive a passing grade.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR FORMAT & REFERENCES
Title your review with the author and title of the book you read. Number your pages in the upper right corner. Your review should be 1,500-2,000 words in length: slightly longer reviews are acceptable; shorter reviews are not. Do NOT insert extra space between paragraphs. Do NOT include a title page, cover page, bibliography, or works cited page. You MUST include full references (footnotes or endnotes) in proper Chicago style.
Every book review should include many brief quotations of the author’s own words (the author’s argument) and many brief quotations of the author’s evidence (primary sources used by the author)—but don’t let quotations do your writing for you. Try to paraphrase and summarize in your own words as well as quote. Don’t quote at random or at great length. Instead, use carefully chosen quotations that perfectly capture the author’s meaning, the author’s use of evidence, or your claims about the book. Always place quotation marks around other people’s words and quote them exactly as written. Use three-dot ellipses (. . .) with a space between each dot to indicate words omitted in the middle of quotations. Never use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation. Omit quotation marks for indented single-spaced block quotations of more than five lines. For advice on using quotations, consult the History Reading & Writing Guides.
In your critical analysis, be as specific as possible. AVOID vague, general, simplistic, imprecise, trite, meaningless observations: “the author does a good job,” “makes a good point,” “is very detailed,” “uses lots of facts,” “uses lots of quotes,” “has lots of statistics,” etc. Spell-check and proofread your review very carefully. Beware: automated spellcheckers miss many errors of spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, sentence structure, word choice, and word usage.
Your reviews must include references (footnotes or endnotes) in CHICAGO STYLE (also called Turabian or CMS). You MUST provide properly formatted references for every quotation, paraphrase, or statement that is not 100% your own words or ideas. Do NOT use any parenthetical references. References in Chicago Style appear as superscript numerals at the ENDS of sentences (NOT in the middle), referring to footnotes at the bottom of the page, or endnotes at the end of your review, each one citing a specific page number in a specific source. Number your references consecutively with regular numerals, not Roman numerals (1, 2, 3, not i, ii, iii). After your first reference, all subsequent references to the same book, even on different pages of your review, can be cited as ibid., followed by a comma and a page number. Never copy and paste references; instead, use ibid. Here are examples:
Christopher Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 22.
Notice that Chicago Style references are indented on the first line and the author’s name is given first name first. Notice that the place of publication is a city, not a state, and the publisher’s name omits corporate details such as “& Co.” or “Inc.” Notice that the place of publication, the publisher, and the date of publication are in parentheses, and different parts of the reference are separated by commas—but there is no comma after the title, and no “p.” before the page number. For more help, consult the Chicago Style Guides.
book reviews should summarize and critically analyze the assigned book using the format described in the Book Review Instructions, with proper Chicago Style references. Your reviews will be graded 40% on summary, 50% on critical analysis, and 10% on style and mechanics.
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