8 June 2010
Dear friends of SPME,
Welcome to the Beta version of our new book review section.
It is our objective to bring our readers’ attention recently published academic work that will improve our understanding of the Middle East situation from a multidisciplinary perspective.
Since we launched the book review section we have found that there is a need both for new book reviews, written exclusively for SPME, as well as outstanding reviews which appeared elsewhere. We have thus divided this section as follows:
SPME Exclusive Book Reviews (Section 1), and;
Book Reviews which have appeared elsewhere (Section 2).
I welcome your feedback and suggestions. If you know of a new book which deserves to be reviewed, please let me know. If you read an interesting review and would like to share it with our readers, please tell me. My e-mail is: [email protected].
If you would like to write a review a recently published book, please tell me. We now have the means to place review copies in the hands our reviewers and to deal with the practical side of things.
It is our hope that you will find the new format useful and helpful.
Please be in touch,
Joel Fishman, Ph. D.
Book Review Editor
What we need: Guidelines for SPME Reviewers
There is a generally accepted form for book reviews, and I suggest that you organize your essays to fit this form.
When one writes a review, it is necessary to keep a bit of distance from the subject, and while it is possible to say everything that one wishes, it is preferable to do so in moderate and balanced language.
In fact, most book reviews are based on the principle of balance, except for the exceptions.
The reviewer should first describe what the book is about and explain the author’s method and point of view. He or she then states the book’s good points and weak points. If the book is good, and if we are in agreement, we say why. If we are critical, we do the opposite. In other words, we tell what the book is all about. We should give our opinion but always try to give the reader enough space to form his or her own opinion. We must also try to avoid going ad hominem.
If the book is poor, we say, as a rule, that it has shortcomings, rather than the author stinks, except in cases when the author is in gross bad faith or is unprofessional. Then, plain language may be necessary.
This is why we depend on our reviewers for their maturity and good judgment.
The objective of SPME is to publish compact and succinct reviews which will give the reader a clear indication of a book’s merit and its place in the field. In order to make our reviews more useful to our readers, may we suggest some issues for our reviewers’ attention.
1. Who is the author?
2. What is the subject matter of the book, its main findings, and conclusions?
3. Is the contribution of this book descriptive or analytical — or both?
4. Does the author support his or her interpretation with sound reasoning and evidence?
5. Does the author come forward with new ideas?
6. Does the book offer a new interpretation, which could influence the development of the field?
7. Does the author use new sources?
8. How does this title fit in with the existing literature?
9. Has the scholarship of others been properly acknowledged and attributed?
10. Has the author omitted important information?
11. Is the author intellectually honest?
12. What is the quality of the scholarship?
13. Summing up: the reviewer’s clearly stated evaluation.
14. Excessive praise of authors and a lengthy enumeration of an author’s accomplishments is not acceptable, all the more so if the reviewer is on terms with the author.
Thank you for your consideration.
For Your Information – A Practical, Simple “How to” Guide:
Writing a History Book Review
By Grace Fleming, About.com
There is a format used by many teachers and college professors when it comes to reviewing history texts. It isn’t found in any style guide, but it does contain aspects of the Turabian style of writing.
Although it might seem a little strange to you, many history teachers like to see a full citation for the book you’re reviewing (Turabian style) at the head of the paper, right below the title. While it might seem odd to start with a citation, this format mirrors the appearance of book reviews that are published in scholarly journals.
Below the title and citation, write the body of the book review in essay form without subtitles.
As you write your book review, remember that your goal is to analyze the text by discussing the strengths and weaknesses-as opposed to summarizing the content. You should also note that it’s best to be as balanced as possible in your analysis. Include both strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, if you think the book was either dreadfully written or ingenious, you should say so!
Here are some other important elements to include in your analysis:
1. Date/range of the book. Define the time period that the book covers. Explain if the book progresses chronologically or if it addresses events by topic. If the book addresses one particular subject, explain how that event fits into a broader time scale (like the Reconstruction era).
2. Point of view. Can you glean from the text if the author has a strong opinion about an event? Is the author objective, or does he express a liberal or conservative viewpoint?
3. Sources. Does the author use secondary sources or primary sources, or both? Review the bibliography of the text to see if there is a pattern or any interesting observation about the sources the writer uses. Are the sources all new or all old? That fact could provide interesting insight into the validity of a thesis.
4. Organization. Discuss whether the book makes sense the way it is written or if it could have been better organized. Authors put a lot of time into organizing a book and sometimes they just don’t get it right!
5. Author information. What do you know about the author? What other books has he/she written? Does the author teach at a university? What training or experience has contributed to the author’s command of the topic?
The last paragraph of your review should contain a summary of your review and a clear statement that conveys your overall opinion. It is common to make a statement such as:
- This book delivered on its promise because…
- This book was a disappointment because…
- This book contributed significantly to the argument that…
- The book [title] provides the reader with deep insight into…
The book review is an opportunity to give your true opinion about a book. Just remember to back up a strong statement like those above with evidence from the text.