Book Review Guidelines for U.S. Immigration History
If you are not doing a public policy panel/paper, then your second paper for History 228 is a review of Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. In order to do a thorough job in this review, I believe you will need to write between four and five pages of typed, double-spaced text. The review is due in our final exam period, which is (gasp) Friday, December 21, at 2:00 p.m. Rest assured that I will happily, happily receive your review earlier in the week and no one is required to attend the final exam period.
Below you will find my guidelines for writing an honest, fair, and effective book review. I urge you to follow this advice closely as I will evaluate your work on the basis of whether you fulfill ALL of the obligations set forth below.
Book reviewers have obligations to three people: the author, the review reader, and themselves. Those three obligations require that reviewers perform three tasks:
- Accurately and fairly represent the author's purpose.This, obviously, is your obligation to Fadiman. You are morally and intel¬lectually bound to figure out what her purpose is, what her argument/thesis/ point is. You must put yourself in Fadiman’s shoes and think in terms of what she would say this book is about and what key point it makes.
- Tell the reader what data is in the book and how well the data supports the book’s argument. Your reader wants to know what information is contained in the book, how well it is organized, how readable it is, and how convincingly it supports the author's argument. The reader wants to know if the book is worth reading. To fulfill this obligation, you must NOT retell the entire “story” of the book. Instead, you must provide an overview of the information in the book in a way that shows the relation¬ship of the information to Fadiman’s argument.
- Give an honest assessment of your opinion of the author's argu¬ment and presentation.
Just as you are morally obligated to figure out what Fadiman is saying, so, too, you are morally bound to figure out what YOU think of the author's position and presentation. Having identified what it is Fadiman seeks to argue, you must now say whether you were persuaded by her argument and her evidence. You have to put your cards on the table in a review. You have to be willing to say what you thought of another person's hard and heartfelt labor. That means you are always respectful, but not necessarily (or entirely) positive.
The Nuts & Bolts
Figure that your review will be about 4 pages long (that way, if you go over a bit, no problem). Budget the first two pages to describing the book's purpose, its thesis, and its supporting evidence. Then budget another 2 pages for your assessment of the book's effectiveness and your reaction to the author's thesis and style. Note that illustrative quotes are always useful in a review, but choose them carefully so that they make the point you mean to make and also accurately represent the point that Fadiman was making in the context of the book.
Final piece of advice
Your "voice" in this review should be the voice of a student of American immigration history. You are encouraged to comment in this review on the ways in which Fadiman's book reinforces or challenges ideas you have been developing this semester or prior assumptions you brought with you to the book. You can use "I" in this review if that helps you to convey your own connection to and reaction to the book.