Book Reviews

What to include


A book review is a short piece of text describing what the book is about, the intentions or aims of the author in writing the book, whether the aims were successfully achieved or not, how it is written and whether it suits a certain readership, and how does it compare to other comparable works in the same field.

Structure of a book review

The structure of a book review or citation is:

  1. Heading of the review

    Type the details of the book you are about to make a review on. It should be of the form:

    [Title of the book], [author] (ed. [editor]). [Edition]. [Place]:[Publisher].

    [Year]. [Number of pages]pp. [Currency$Price]. [ISBN/ISSN Number]. ([Who supplied the review copy?])

  2. The body of the review

    Type your brief analysis of the book here.

  3. End of the review

    Write your name, organisation name and date at the end of your review:

    [Your name]

    [Your organisation, if appropriate]



  1. The review should be typed and double-spaced on one side only of an A4 sheet of paper.
  2. Quotations taken from the book should be concise with single quotation marks around them.
  3. Underline the name of any publications you mention in the main body of the review.
  4. Keep the length of the review between 250 words (minimum) and 600 words (maximum).
  5. On average, most reviews tend to be 350 to 400 words in length but it may be longer depending on the size and significance of the book.

Questions to ask

A good review will involve (i) describing the book; (ii) evaluating the book; and (iii) explaining why the author did what he/she did in writing the book as well as your reasons for making certain remarks about it.

The sorts of questions you should consider covering are as follows:

  1. In what field does the book cover? What is it all about? What type of book is it?

    1. Keep the description of the book as short as possible. Remember, you only have about 400 words to describe everything about it properly.
    2. Mention whether the type of book is factual, pictorial, mood creating or whatever.
  2. Is the title of the book appropriate, inappropriate or ambiguous?

    1. Look at the title and does it accurately describe the contents of the book. If not, why? Was it deliberately titled in an unusual way?
  3. How is the information arranged?

    1. Look at the table of content for a listing of the chapters and any subheadings as this gives sufficient indication of the overview of arrangement. Is it chronological, or is there a thesis or argument being developed in the book.
  4. What's the book's purpose? What did the author set out to achieve? How did the author attempt to achieve it?

    1. Look at the title, preface and introduction for a clue.
  5. How much detail has the author gone to explain the ideas and facts in his book?

    1. Has the author defined concepts, terms, ideas and keywords clearly? What areas are covered and how well has it explained these areas — elementary or scholarly approach?
  6. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book? How do you assess for this?

    1. Has the book covered enough areas? Are there areas not covered by the book and is this a weakness? Any omissions and inaccuracies?
    2. Is the book lucid and simple, or very technical and difficult to read?
    3. Is it wordy or economical? Is it imaginative or logical?
    4. Is the book too big to carry around easily, or is it just right?
    5. Is the book durable and has an attractive binding?
    6. Is the print type and size appropriate and legible?
    7. Are there illustrations and photographs to aid in the understanding of the text?
  7. Are there references or bibliography in the book to give it more authority?

    1. You will find this near the back of the book, but just before the index.
    2. Are the sources new, and if so, how were they gathered and are they reliable? Are the sources not new but seen in a new light.
    3. Is adequate documentation given to each reference to help make it easy for readers to find the books (including page numbers for specific quotes or relevant sections in the books). If not, explain why the references are superficial?
    4. Is there an index?
    5. Look at the back of the book!
    6. Is the index adequate and accurate?
  8. Was it a good book, or not? Why?
  9. How does the book compare to other similar already published titles?

    1. What further work needs to be done to make it comparable to other titles?
    2. What do we know about the author's background and qualifications?
    3. Does the author have influences to consider (religious, political, cultural, social, etc)?
    4. What is the author's position before and after writing the book?
  10. Is the book written with expertise, or is it biased?


Conclude the book review by saying something of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. But don't talk about minor editorial or typographical errors.

It is often a good idea to relate the conclusion in some way with the opening remarks of the review as this tends to make for a much neater and well-thought out review package.

What to avoid

  1. Try not to start with the proverbial and obvious "This book is about..." Consider starting the review in a unique and interesting way. Consider, for example, writing a brief comment showing the significance and adequacy of the book title.
  2. Don't be bland in your writing. People are not interested in this. Be a little more provocative and interesting. Try to give your honest thoughts on the book. Was it good, or not so good? Why?
  3. Never say " excellent chapter on..." or "...a scintillating account of..." unless you have some good reasons for using these superlatives.
  4. Try to end on a good note with the book, unless the book is really that bad then say so.

Example 1

Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus: In Dictionary Form, (ed. Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.). First Edition. New York, USA: Dell Publishing (a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group). 1992. 978pp. US$18.00. ISBN 0 440 50386 8.

Suppose you wanted to find synonyms for a word you just happen to have in mind. But you need it fast. To make the task more difficult, you also want a comprehensive reference book to help you find that word. So you place your finger into one of the convenient holes cut into the side of your preferred thesaurus. You open the page instantly. You notice the words are organised in a dictionary format. So you are able to quickly turn the pages to find the word and all the synonyms you are looking for, including relationships with other words in the thesaurus.

Does such a reference book exist? The Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus is that reference book you've been looking for.

Although there are people who prefer the original thesaurus format of looking up a word in the index and then going to the number(s) suggested in the book to find synonyms, some people will find the electronically compiled and innovative format of the Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus to be intuitive, fast and easy to use.

The thesaurus is reasonably comprehensive with an alleged 450,000 synomyms yielding over a million word choices. At the time of publication, this was more than any other thesaurus. It also utilised for the first time a unique approach of organising synonyms in a dictionary format and yet still be able to develop an indexing system of showing relationships between words. Thus the title of a 21st century thesaurus is appropriate.

Although the book is somewhat heavy, it isn't too large to be cumbersome to carry around. The print size and quality of the text reveals a highly readable book and good choice of text style makes the book a pleasure to use for those moments when you need a thesaurus. And for those of you who may want to know why the book was designed in this innovative way, you would be pleased to know that there is a clear and easy-to-read explanation in the introduction section.

If there is a drawback to this book, one would have to say the spelling for some of the words have a slant towards the American format such as 'color' instead of 'colour'.

But if you are not concerned about this and if you are fussy about finding a synonym for a word really fast in a reference book that's designed in a dictionary format where you go from word to meaning, you would be hard pressed to find a better hard-cover thesaurus than this publication.

Highly recommended reference material for any library, school, office or the home.

Example 2

The Encyclopedia of UFOs, (eds. Ronald D. Story & Richard J. Greenwell). First Edition. Garden City, New York: Dolphin Books. 1980. 440pp. ISBN 0 385 13677 3.

The study of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) is one of those fascinating and controversial subjects lying on the fringe of science that has fired the imagination of millions of people since the start of the modern UFO era in 1947. Countless popular and scholarly books have been written about UFOs, each vying for a unique and challenging perspective. The Encyclopedia of UFOs edited by Ronald D. Story and Richard J. Greenwell is an attempt to combine all these interesting views as well as take a detailed look at everything else known about the UFO phenomenon.

The title is aptly named for its size and indepth coverage of a wide range of areas relating to UFOs. Only a handful of pictures and illustrations are peppered throughout the book, so nearly all is text-based. However, the book is readable, lucid and has easy to find entries (with clear bold headings). For example, you will easily find detailed information (with witnesses' quotes) about the classic UFO case of Levelland, Texas, USA in 1958 where an alleged glowing oblate spheroidal object caused electrical malfunctions to several cars and trucks on the outskirts of Levelland.

And most importantly, this book is scholarly written with references and an extensive bibliography section.

Perhaps what would have made the book impressive if it had included copies of original transcripts, hand-made sketches of UFOs and affidavits from witnesses from around the world. In that way, scientists can make a thorough study of the subject using one absolutely comprehensive encyclopaedia.

It would also be useful to include what some experts believe to be the world's best UFO photographs as well as a selection of natural and man-made objects to help show any differences between the unknown and known types. Even nicer would be to include all the US UFO documents released under the US FoI Act in 1976 so that everyone can make their own judgement on the entire UFO phenomenon.

But perhaps we would be asking for an Encyclopaedia Britannica version of the UFO encyclopaedia?

Then there is the issue of size which could frighten away some readers. It is not the kind of book you can carry around in your pocket. This probably explains why other authors like John Spencer have recently decided to create their own pocket-sized version of the UFO encyclopaedia.

There is one other encyclopaedia that could compete with this book for greater quantity of information. Jerome Clark's The UFO Encyclopaedia Volumes 1 and 2 published by Apogee Books in 1990 comes at a time when no one else has published a UFO Encyclopaedia for over 10 years. However, this reference work concentrates more on the organisations and people involved in the study of UFOs with few detailed information about the really important international UFO cases which would be far more useful to scientists and other people wanting to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Nevertheless, the Story's book remains highly factual. There are lots of fully referenced quotes from scientists, UFO investigators and witnesses, an extensive bibliography section and, compared to most encyclopaedias, its title is appropriate for its size, detail and quality coverage of the relevant subjects. The book is also durable for it has survived the test of time at the ACT Library for over 20 years. These features alone would make it a worthwhile addition to any reference section of a library or at home for those curious enough to learn something of the essence of this scientific mystery.

Do librarians need to bother with writing book reviews?

With so much that has changed on the internet scene, with many e-books replacing the paper variety, it is very easy nowadays to find someone else doing the book review and placing the information online. Librarians might be better off directing people to these reviews online and let them decide whether a book will be useful to have or not. But in the rare cases where no such review has been made and you are asked to write one up, this section will give you a bit of an idea of what to do.