Critical Book Review Format (for non-fiction)
Overview: A critical book review is not one that is inherently negative, but is rather an
evaluation of the effectiveness of the argument the author of the book is trying to make. The key
word here is evaluation—the review is much like a persuasive essay, only in this case the writer
of the review is trying to convince the reader of the accuracy of their evaluation of the book in
question. In addition, readers of reviews want to know how the book could contribute to their
knowledge of the subject; will what they learn be worth the time they put into reading the book.
Writers of reviews will need to address this as well. Note that what a critical book review is not,
is a summary of the book; summaries are neutral statements of the content, not evaluative or
critical! The review should be written in a concise manner and take up less than two pages
(about 500 words), even if style and flare must be sacrificed for content.
Heading: At the top of the page, put your name, date, and class period. The title of the book
review will be the citation in MLA format of the book, aligned left.
The Body of the Review: Cover the following four areas in your review. The descriptions
below gives you many options in the form of questions—you will not have the space to answer
each question, so choose the ones that are important for the particular book you are reviewing.
You do need to address all four of the topics and you must find space for specific examples to
support your evaluation. Divide the review into logical paragraphs with effective transitions as
you would with an essay; dividing into 4 paragraphs, one for each the points listed below is often
effective, but under no circumstances should you number them.
1. Evaluate the Argument: What is the author’s thesis or purpose—what is he or she
trying to accomplish in writing this book? How is the argument organized? How does
the organization contribute to the effectiveness of the argument? Did the argument beg
any discussions that the author left out? Give specific examples. What conclusions does
the author arrive at? Are these logical and well supported with evidence or examples?
2. Evaluate the Evidence: What sources does the author draw on? Are they used
effectively? Give examples. What could the author have done to have been more
3. Evaluate Assumptions: What assumptions does the author make about how the world
works, concerning philosophy, history, etc.? How do these assumptions influence the
author’s presentation and argument? Give specific examples. Please do not respond that
the author makes no assumptions, they do, as must all writers, they are just not explicitly
stated—this is why they are called assumptions! If you are a careful reader you will be
able to uncover them.
4. Conclusion: How does the book add to your knowledge of history or what does it have
to offer to this field of study as a whole? To whom would this book be useful?
Revised July 28, 2008