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Summarize the book. To write a good summary, you have to make sure that you understand what the author is arguing and how the author is contributing a new idea(s) to the subject — in other words, understand the historiographical contribution of this book. The first paragraph of your book review should identify the author’s purpose in writing the book and her main argument. The rest of your paper shares what you consider the author’s major sub-arguments, along with her major pieces of evidence and types of sources. Essentially, in a book review you have to articulate what the book is about and what it does before (or while) you evaluate it.
Evaluate the book. Think about all the elements of the book: argument/interpretation, evidence, source documentation (i.e. foot/endnotes), organization, and writing style.
Provide your commentary/criticism on how well the historian:
achieves her historiographical purpose,
makes her arguments & interpretations,
uses evidence to support her interpretations,
presents her arguments and evidence (i.e. style, organization)
Your evaluation of these matters can either be intermixed throughout your essay, or you can reserve your opinions for the second part of the essay. Please refrain from being too personal or informal in your review. This is not meant to be a personal reaction or response paper. Instead, you should strike the tone of a scholarly review.
Mechanics and Style
The review should, like most formal papers, have an introduction paragraph that features a thesis, well-organized main body paragraphs, and conclusion. The thesis should concisely identify the author’s main argument and/or purpose. Your thesis can also, if you wish, briefly explain your assessment of the book. (Your thesis can be more than one sentence long.)
Your writing style should be formal and sophisticated (though not overly verbose or convoluted!), and you should follow all conventions for proper English. Strive to be clear and concise in your writing style; avoid awkward phrasing and redundancy. Carefully proofread your paper because I expect it to be polished. I have high expectations for student writing in an upper-level history course.
Additional writing tips:
Let the author “own” her arguments (use phrasing such as “White argues…” “According to White…” throughout the paper), and frame the historian’s ideas as arguments (not as objective facts). Remember to keep your eye on her interpretive choices.
Avoid using passive voice phrasing in your writing. For example, avoid phrases such as “the connection is made,” “it is written that,” “examples are given.” Instead, use active voice: “White makes the connection between…” “She gives several examples…” Use past tense verbs to describe events in the historical period being studied (early 1800s), but use present tense verbs to describe the historian. Example: “White argues that enslaved women struggled to combine their family lives with their duties to their masters.”
the book is not a novel. (A novel is a work of fiction.) You can just refer to it as a book. Italicize or underline the book title. (always, for every book title in every paper you write. In contrast, article titles are in quotation marks.)
Quotations and Citations
Be careful not to plagiarize the author’s words. You will be penalized for plagiarism. Here’s how to avoid it:
If you choose to include a direct quotation from the book, then put the author’s exact words in quotation marks, and include a citation with the page number. Additionally, if you summarize or paraphrase a specific piece of information from the book in your own words, then you should include a citation that shows the page number(s) where that information came from.
(However, if you are referring to general ideas from the book and using your own words, then you don’t need a citation.)
Also, if you choose to quote, or even just refer to, information from other sources, including Born for Liberty, then you must include a citation and a bibliography that lists that “outside” source. Otherwise, a bibliography is not necessary.(For the purpose of this course, you do not have to include citations for information gleaned from my lectures.)
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