Mark Kulhberg. In the Power of the Government: The Rise and Fall of of Newsprint in Ontario, 1894-1932 University of Toronto Press 2015.
Writing a Book Review with Course Commentary
Immediately below, I have included a fairly extensive discussion concerning writing book reviews.
For those students who remain in doubt — be sure to email or talk to me.
NOTE COURSE COMMENTARY feature: Within your review, you should discuss how the
book “fits” the course coverage. Are you better equipped to understand Canadian business
and labour history after reading the book ? How ? This section should be no more than one
full page (or equivalent – it is possible to “blend” the commentary into the review. The bulk
of your paper should be conventional review — but be sure to include a course commentary–
I am looking for skills in linking a specific work to the broader elements of the course.
You will be automatically penalized 10 % if you neglect to provide a course commentary
Where to Start the Review ??
*** These suggestions are NOT in a specific “order” – they are elements common to most
reviews, but can be blended in many, many different manners !!
First and foremost — read thoughtfully !
? read with the task in mind; don’t just read “as fast as possible”
? read with a questioning outlook : while reading, note the interesting, the confusing, the
original and even the boring — your notations will provide the basis of your review
Once you are ready to start writing : remember — a review is Not a Summary – your
introduction can summarize the book, but not for more than 2/3 of a page
Ë You do not want merely to outline what the book “says”
Ë Nor is a review an “essay” on the topic covered in the book
Ë a review IS critical (positive and negative) of an author’s work
Basic issues include : thesis, authority and overall effectiveness.
On Thesis :
Ë what is the author trying to argue; what is the point?
Ë How successful is the author in answering either descriptive questions like who, what, when,
where, how and/or the more analytical issue of “why”? This does NOT mean just “working
through” the “5Ws” in your paper – try for a more imaginative take on the book.
Ë In short, what were the author’s goals? Were they achieved?
On Authority :
Ë how many ideas and arguments does the book present?
Ë Of what quality?
Ë Are the ideas/arguments consistent?
Ë Does the research in support of these ideas seem credible?
Ë Is there enough? Are the ideas and information presented clearly?
On Perspective / bias :
Ë is the work tainted by a clear bias that ignores or understates evidence, thus favouring one
perspective; or presents statements without sufficient evidence ?
On Originality :
Ë does the book contribute something quite new to the field? This issue can be difficult for
students new to history, but remember — this is YOUR review — if you think the work
original or predictable (or indeed fascinating or boring) — SAY SO !!
Are there issues that not presented or steps that could have been made to improve the book ?
On “The Rest” :
Ë other issues that MAY be worth discussing include (but are not limited to) format (does the book
use photographs, statistics or tables, notes, bibliography, or index well?).
Ë Obviously, the quality of the writing itself (style / grammar / language usage) can also be
Make it YOUR Review :
Ë Students, often lacking experience in writing reviews, may well read other related works or even
other reviews; but remember, this is your opinion!!
Ë Having said that – it IS an academic review – just writing 8 pages that argue that you did not
“like” the book / it was boring WITHOUT establishing how & why will result in a poor grade
Ë It is NOT necessary to deal with every imaginable book review issue — if you feel that the index
or the photographs or the covers are not relevant, focus on issues that you see as important.
Just make your case.
Ë Remember that it is YOUR case !! Do NOT comply with the views of others if you feel otherwise.
Be sure NOT to “borrow” from others, whether in terms of content or the actual writing of
the review — plagiarism is a VERY serious academic offense!
In sum, there are areas common to all reviews; but each review also has more
FINISHING UP : or HOW YOU WRITE also matters !!!
The following section notes both format and writing issues. The goal is a well written review.
** if significant format or writing errors mar your paper, there will be an Automatic Mark
Deduction above and beyond the grade assigned for “writing quality
Cover page optional // at start of paper (TOP first page) – Include (as title) :
i) Author(s)’ name(s) ii) Full title iii) city of publication/ publisher/ year/ISBN
? eight  pages/ double spaced / regular font / margins – Please use “Times New Roman” 12
font ; “Arial” 12 font or the equivalent (overly large font will be penalized.) For margins – 1
inch/2.5 cm all around (sides/top/bottom) is appropriate. Leave only a double space between
paragraphs, not a major gap. (Short papers will be penalized).
? number your pages // use regular spacing between paragraphs
? one issue per paragraph
? indent paragraph beginnings 5 spaces [hit “tab’]
? underline or italicize book titles, ships’ names, magazine or newspaper titles
? write out numerals to eleven; then use numeral
? Block format long quotes [single spaced / indented 5 spaces both sides, no quotation marks]
? avoid contractions, slang — it is an academic paper
? no need for “headers” in such a short paper
? to cite from the book being reviewed, you need only provide the page number immediately
thereafter in brackets — for example — (123) [obviously, any materials from other sources
requires a full citation — I will accept any standard citation technique]No need for a
bibliography unless you have used other works
Is this question part of your Assignment?
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