Some Tips on Reviewing History Books, By Alan Cate

The task of a reviewer is to present information that assists readers in assessing how well an author has succeeded in carrying out the book’s purpose. The review may begin with basic information about the book. This includes the title, author, general subject matter, the period of history covered, publisher, copyright date, ISBN number, and price. Next, the reviewer discusses the author’s purpose in writing the book, including identifying its intended audience. The reviewer should present the author’s claims and analyze how well the book supports the writer’s stated thesis.

The review accomplishes its mission when it evaluates key criteria and answers the following questions. What sources were used? How accurate and thorough is the information? Is the treatment of the material superficial or comprehensive? How useful is the book for its intended audience? Is the book written in an interesting manner?

The reviewer may include information about the author to provide readers with criterion by which to assess the writer’s authority, such as his or her qualifications and previous publications. Additionally, the reviewer may want to assess special features (e.g. maps, photos) of the book and determine if they detract from or add to its quality.

Finally, the reviewer will make concluding statements. Here, the reviewer can summarize previous statements and further discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the work in question.

About the author: Alan Cate’s book reviews have appeared in The Plain Dealer, Parameters, Army History, and other publications. Mr. Cate authored Founding Fighters: The Battlefield Leaders Who Made American Independence (2006) that studies the influence of Continental Army commanders on the war’s conduct and outcome. Mr. Cate holds an MA from Stanford University and teaches history at the University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio.

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