The Writing Center
at
Empire State College
Genesee Valley Center
Rochester, NY

GUIDELINES FOR A CRITICAL BOOK REVIEW

  1. SUMMARY OF THE CONTENTS OF THE BOOK.

    1. Identify the title and author of the book.

    2. Describe the book's topic. Remain consistent with the author's intentions.

    3. If you have a personal evaluation or criticism, do not write them into the review at this point. Instead, keep separate notes, and save them for Part IV of the process.

    Sample Beginning of a Summary:

    In his book The Pagan Worship of Trees (Arbor, 1979), Miles Arbor investigates the ancient practices of tree worship among numerous world cultures. He cites a wide variety of examples of tree reverence, including Sumerian, Babylonian, Druidic, and Native American. Included in his work is a stunning examination of how and why such diverse cultures mirrored one another's rituals.

  2. IDENTIFYING THE AUTHOR'S MAIN THEME(S) OR THESIS

    Example:

    The author maintains that the pagan worship of trees has complemented the development of today's most commonly accepted religious practices. Moreover, he hypothesizes that the very foundation of such widely acknowledged faiths, such as Christianity, is based almost entirely upon tree worship.

    Example:

    The author summarizes the key elements necessary for a modern audience to identify which practices among contemporary religions reveal a direct connection to ancient tree worshipping rituals. His agenda here is not to dishonor today's world faiths, but rather to enrich our understanding of their heritage.

    HINT:

    An author's goal or thesis typically appears in a book's "Introduction" or "Preface." It is generally expressed in several sentences or perhaps one or two paragraphs.


  3. EVALUATING HOW EFFECTIVELY THE AUTHOR EXPRESSES GOALS OR SUPPORTS THE THESIS WITH STRONG DETAILS AND EVIDENCE.

    1. Has the author accomplished his or her goals?

    2. Has the author carefully supported the validity of the thesis?

    3. Is the argument or position logical? Is the supporting evidence reasonable?

    Sample Beginning of an Evaluation.

    Miles Arbor has devoted his career to comparative literature and the study of world mythology. As professor emeritus at the University of Pine Mountain, he has written over seventeen volumes focused exclusively on the human mythic connection to the natural world. His meticulously researched The Pagan Worship of Trees traces not only the historical milieu of each culture examined, but also the anthropological significance of tree worship. Citing the commentary of both literary as well as theological scholars, Arbor offers his audience a well-balanced dialogue about our religious past, present, and future.

  4. PERSONAL CRITICAL REMARKS

    These are the reviewer's thoughts, comments, reactions, critiques, and/or opinions. They should be stated objectively and based upon:

    1. Individual observation and experience;

    2. Logical analysis and evaluation; and

    3. Interpretations from outside sources, such as secondary writing addressing the same topic offered by the work under review.

    Sample of Critical Remarks

    This well-written book is a significant addition to the study of comparative mythology. It investigates nearly all the significant pagan practices of tree worship among some of the world's most prominent ancient cultures. Though dense at times, Arbor manages to keep his language simple enough for the layman to enjoy the complexities of pagan ritual. Filled with both senses of humor and adventure, the book is non-threatening in its suggestion that many of our contemporary religious rituals are in fact the vestigial proof of pagan beliefs. If one wishes to understand clearly the roots of his or her religion, The Pagan Worship of Trees will undoubtedly offer deep insight.