Postles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, Charles Dew
Your book review should be between 1,300-1,500 words long. Please include a word count at the top of the page. Your review must be typed in a 12-point font, double-spaced, with one-inch margins.
In contrast to a book report, the purpose of a book review is not to provide a summary or a plot synopsis of the book. Instead, the objective of a book review is to conduct an in-depth analysis of the bookas major arguments, the authoras use of reason and evidence, along with some of the bookas strengths and weaknesses. Your book review should consist of three main parts:
Part I: Every work of history should contain some kind of underlying thesis. A thesis is an argument about the past based on a specific interpretation of historical evidence. Some arguments are easier to detect than others. But in most history books, the central arguments can be found in the introduction and occasionally in the conclusion. You should therefore read those sections carefully and patiently. Think about what contributions your author is hoping to make to our understanding of a specific chapter from Americaas past.
In Part I you will need to identify and elucidate your bookas central thesis. To do this, you will need to address some of these questions: How does the author of your book try to strengthen our understanding of a particular individual, event, or topic from American history? Does your author disagree with how previous historians have treated this topic? If so, why? According to your author, what makes their work different from or even superior to previous works on this topic? What major questions is your author trying to answer? How does he or she answer them?
You should assume that the person reading your review, which in this case will be me, has not actually read your book. Your objective in Part I, then, is to help someone who has not read your book acquire an accurate understanding of its thesis.
Part II: Once you have fully explicated your bookas central arguments, you will need to explain how your author supports their arguments. For example, if the major contention of your book is that Abraham Lincoln was the worst president in American history (not a likely thesis, I know), you will need to explain how the author attempts to prove this. To do this, you will need to address two important questions: What evidence does your author use to support their thesis? And, how does your author interpret that evidence?
To justify their arguments, historians must include relevant evidence drawn from such primary sources as diaries, letters, speeches, newspaper articles, government documents, memoirs, and so forth. What specific forms of evidence does your author use? More importantly, you will need to analyze how your author interprets their evidence. Remember, historians frequently offer distinct and even contradictory interpretations of the past. One historian may interpret the Constitution as a pro-slavery document, for example, while another may see it as an anti-slavery document. How does your author interpret the evidence they have uncovered, and how does their interpretation coincide with the bookas overall arguments?
Part III: In Part III you will have the opportunity to assess some of the bookas strengths and weaknesses. You should begin this section by complementing the author for what he or she does particularly well. You should then conclude this section by pointing out at least a few of the bookas flaws.
You should avoid making comments that do little more than indicate your personal, gut-reaction to the book. For example, avoid saying things like, a?I really liked this book,a? or, a?This book was really boring to read.a?
The best way to assess the bookas strengths and weaknesses is by addressing some of the following questions: Did you find the book compelling? Did its thesis strike you as important and original? Were you convinced by the bookas thesis? Did the author include enough historical evidence to support his or her argument? What did you think of the authoras use of evidence? Did you agree with their interpretation of the evidence? Was the book clearly written, or was it difficult to understand? What aspects of the book were particularly strong, and what aspects were somewhat weak?