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Transkills: supporting transition to University


A good book review needs to have (in no particular order):

  • a short summary of what the book is about and what the central arguments are;
  • some discussion of how the book is broken down (into chapters, say) and (briefly) what is in them;
  • a sense of where the book is coming from, in terms of disciplinary or subdisciplinary background, for instance, and what the book contributes;
  • some note of methodology or general approach is often useful;
  • who (you think) the book is aimed at, and who you think will benefit from the book (if appropriate - you may not actually think it worth recommending!);
  • a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the book;
  • perhaps a sense of how the book is written and how appealing it is - this might include length, style, illustrations, and so on;
  • is the book structured properly, leading to an clear, effective and persuasive conclusion?
  • perhaps some discussion of complementary or competing arguments made by other authors – it is important to place the arguments in their academic context;
  • some appreciation of the accomplishment that the book represents, but at the same time some indication of whether it is worth buying and reading.

Certainly, a few books deserve to be heavily criticised, but remember that writers have spend a good deal of time, thought, and effort in producing these things, so bear that in mind when coming to the weaknesses involved.

In terms of formatting, you will need:

  • full citation information - title, press, date of publication;
  • the review, properly written and proofed;
  • a few references (if appropriate), set out in the Harvard style in the text, and listed alphabetically at the end;

If you want more formal instruction, you can follow the general guidance provided in the instructions for authors in the journal Economic Geography. Critical points from this document, that you should bear in mind, include the fact that “book reviews should proceed beyond summary of book content and casual consideration of one or two conceptual points”, and that “reviews should assess the philosophical, methodological and technical foundation of the work” and “use these assessments as foci for consideration of the nature and progress of the research theme or field”. For examples of published book reviews, look at the back of most major Geography journals in the Department or College libraries, where you will find Book Review sections.