Finding Book Reviews and Writing Book Reviews

Consults this guide to find reviews of fiction and non-fiction books and how to write a book review or an article critique.

If you need help, please contact Rebecca Dowson, Liaison Librarian: English Literature and History at 778.782.4304 or rda26@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

 

 

 

What is a book review?

A book review is an overview or critique of a selected work. It can be a few lines or a few pages long; the length of the review gives some indication of the depth and sophistication of the analysis. Among other things, a reviewer might comment on the author's style of writing, motifs or themes that run through the book, historical accuracy (if appropriate), and other outstanding features. Additionally, there may be some indication of the reading level and anticipated audience. There will often be a plot summary in the case of works of fiction. The reviewer will generally give an opinion of the book - whether it is interesting, credible, worth buying, etc. 

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Why use a book review?

A book review may help you to understand a book by doing one or more of the following:

  • (for works of fiction) summarize the plot and analyze themes and symbols
  • (for non-fiction) summarize the debate which the book is contributing to
  • (for non-fiction) critique the book's methods, evidence, and conclusions
  • compare the book with similar books
  • discuss the author's writing style
  • give important biographical details about the author and his or her reasons for writing.

Reading a review is not an excuse for not reading the book! But a review can help you read a book by giving you an expert opinion about it.

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How to write book reviews

The following sources are available in the Bennett Library (SFU Burnaby).

  • "Book Reviewing" - Section 1.6 from the Harvard Guide to American History (E 174 Z9 H27 1974, Bennett Library)
  • Cantor. How to Study History (D 16.2 C32 , Bennett Library) - see the sections: How to read a history book (on reserve at Belzberg Library); Book reviews; and Two student papers critically examined (this has 2 sample book reviews with critiques - on reserve at the Belzberg Library)
  • "How to Write a Book Review: A Guide for Students" Social Studies 65 (6) November 1974: 263-265. (Bennett Bound Journals)

Belzberg Library at SFU Vancouver has copies of these articles on reserve, along with How to review a book, by Ashley Thomson.

Each of the following web sites discusses the "how tos" of reviewing books, and each is slightly different in presentation and content. All point out the elements essential to a good review, as well as suggestions for style. Other suggestions for further reading:

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How to find book reviews using SFU databases

This section discusses resources for locating reviews of books. There is also a separate SFU guide on Children's Literature with a section on book reviews. In addition to the databases mentioned here, many databases you would search to find journal articles also contain book reviews. When in doubt try typing in a few words from the title of the book and and book review.

Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts

  • Humanities and Social Sciences index (HSSI). Type in a few words from the title, followed by and book review.
  • JSTOR. In the box at the bottom of the page called Refine Your Search - put a checkmark in the box for Reviews.
  • CBCA Fulltext Reference . Select article type by clicking on the blue arrow beside the main search box, a hyperlink will appear beside the search box saying browse article types, select book review (near the bottom of the list), then type in the title of the book in the second search box.
  • Academic Search FullText Elite (EBSCO). In Document Type - highlight Book Review. Enter unique words from the title.
  • Canadian Newstand. Type in the title of the book in the search box with and book review or review (for a broader search.)
  • Reader's Guide Abstracts (1983 - ). Type in a few words from the title (combine them with and), followed by and book review.
  • Music Index. Basic Search Method: Type in a few words from the title, followed by and book review. Expert Search Method: Type in a few words from the title. In the second box type in Book Reviews and choose Subject from the pull-down list.
  • MLA International Bibliography (1963 - ) This resource is strictly for literature and is scholarly in nature. Add the word reviews to the second search box.
  • Philosopher's Index. Click on Limit Your Search button, then select Book-Review from the Document Type menu. Click on the Set Limits button, then proceed with your search. Or, in the search box - type in a few words from the title, followed by and book review.

Sciences and Geography

  • Science Indexes. Type in a few words from the title (combine them with and), followed by and book review.
  • Web of Science. (Includes three databases: Arts & Humanities Citation Index, Science Citation Index Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index.)
    1. Choose Full Search
    2. Then choose General Search
    3. Scroll down and limit the Document Type to Book Review.

Political Science and History

  • Alternative Press Index  (1991 - ). In the Article Type Phrase field - highlight Book Reviews.  Combine with keywords from title or author.
  • America: History and Life (1954 - ). Select Document Type from the drop-down box beside the #2 search field and type in book review. Put a few words from the title in box #1.
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How to find book reviews using the Web

For book reviews on the Web, try a search engine such as Google,

Also try the following sites:

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How to find book reviews using print sources

  • Book Review Digest. Bennett Reference Index,  Z 1035 A1 B66 - SFU has:  v.1 (1905) - v. 105 no.2 (2009).  Good place to begin. Arranged alphabetically by author's last name with a subject and title index as well. Many citations include a brief excerpt. (A great resource for older book reviews)
  • Book Review Index - Bennett Reference Index,  Z 1035 A1 B724 - SFU has:  1965-1993/97, 1999, 2001-
    Selects reviews from a much broader range of periodicals than Book Review Digest. Arranged alphabetically by author's last name with a title index at the back.
  • An Index to Book Reviews in the Humanities. - Bennett Reference Index, Z 1035 A1 I63 - SFU has 1961-1990.
  • Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Scholarly Journals, 1886-1974 (15 vol.). Bennett Reference Index, Z 1035 A1 C64
  • New York Review of Books
    SFU has:  v.1 (1963)-24 (1977) in Bennett Bound Journals; v.22 (1975) to present in Microforms Newspapers/ Journals.
    Search the online index (1996- ) to find out which issue reviews your book.
  • Canadian Book Review Annual. Bennett Reference Index,  Z 1035 A1 C35 - SFU has: 1976-
  • Repère:  index analytique d'articles de pèriodiques de langue française. Bennett Reference Index,  AI 7 P6511 - SFU has:  1995 -
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