The art of the book review

1) You will have many thoughts about topics brought up in the book, pet peeves about what the author claims, and opinions on the topics he discusses. These are an important part of your review, and give it its unique flavor. But your main job is to convey to your readers a sense of the book. Your unique insights on its subject matter should be like spices in a stew, and the bulk of your concoction should describe the book.

My favorite book reviewer who flouted this principle was Michael Oakeshott, who, when reviewing a book on topic X, would often spend the first 10% of his review noting that the author addresses X, the next 80% offering his view of X, and the last 10% discussing how the author's view fell short of his own.

But Oakeshott was a genius, and what he had to say on a topic was often more interesting than what the author under review had to say. We mortals should spend more time describing the book itself.

2) The table of contents is your friend! Keep referring to it. It will help structure your review, and alert you to important sections of the book you might be neglecting.

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