J. Kelly Robison
Book reviews are designed with three aims in mind. First, they demonstrate that you have read and comprehended the required readings. Read the material. Other students are doing the reading, and the reviews readily reveal who has done the reading and who has not. Use complete sentences to express your thoughts. Second, these reports encourage you to develop the skills you need to read critically, to think analytically, and to integrate the knowledge you are acquiring from different sources. Third, the readings do, of course, expand on your knowledge of history.
1. What is the thesis of this reading? Read carefully. Report accurately. Be precise. Be specific. The thesis is the author's main conclusion; it is not the question that the author poses or the topic discussed. Identifying the main point or thesis of a reading is probably the single most important part of this type of report because the rest of the report depends on your comprehension of the thesis.
2. Give facts used to support the thesis. Be precise. Use complete sentences.
3. Explain how these facts help prove the thesis.
4. Do you agree with this thesis? Why or why not? Are there any alternative conclusions you can draw from the evidence presented? Historical writing is not just one opinion or prejudice versus another. Good writing about history interprets the past on the basis of evidence. Interpretation implies judgement on the part of the author, who chooses to define the subject in a particular way and selects certain evidence. Both subject definition and evidence selection are affected by assumptions, prejudices, and biases. You are asked to evaluate the author's interpretation. Were you persuaded? Was the evidence sufficient? Did the author overlook or omit evidence? Was the argument logical? Does the author over-generalize? Is there a detectable bias? Identify assumptions made by the author that shape his interpretation or point of view. Do you share these assumptions? The point of these questions is not whether you agree or disagree with the author. The question is, rather, whether you can provide reasons for your assessment of the author's interpretation.
5. How does this reading relate to other course material covered in the lectures, textbook, or other readings? Be specific. Refer to material in the textbook, other course readings or lectures. Identify clearly what material you are referring to. Identify specific parts of the textbook that discuss related material. Explain how the present reading affirms or differs from other material. Develop your ideas; do not give cursory answers.