American Political Development: Book Review

American Political Development

Book Review

Each student will write a book review of Stephen Skowronek’s Presidential Leadership in Political Time.

Overall, the review should answer the following questions: What is the author’s main argument? How do they prove their argument? What evidence do they use? Do you agree with the author’s argument? Why or why not? What does the author overlook/fail to consider?

Book reviews can be found in most academic journals. You should take a look at these, though bear in mind that not all of these, maybe over half, will be suitable models for you.

There are two problems with book reviews in journals. First, many simply reflect the reviewer’s prejudices – they tell you more about the reviewer than the book. Second, many are technical rather than critical. That is, they simply repeat the argument of the book rather than criticizing it, and concentrate on technical details (typos, errors, format of book) rather than on its academic content.

Your aim is to be critical. This does not mean you have to be “negative,” or to find lots of things that are wrong with the book, or simply to say that you do/do not like it. The words “critical” and “critique” are complex, but they mean in part that you should evaluate the book independently – identify different themes, comment on how they relate one to another, evaluate the purpose and content of the book.

Organization

Introduction/Thesis Paragraph

  1. Include one or more general statements that give a quick indication of the work’s contents and your reaction to it.
  • Include your thesis statement—your main argument—which is the focus of the review. This will normally be a critique of the book in its broadest sense. Is the book worthwhile for others to read? Why or why not?

Body/Supporting Paragraphs

The number of body paragraphs will vary be individual. But in general there will be at least one paragraph of summary and at least one paragraph of evaluation.

  1. In your summary paragraph, include all the significant points of the work, including the points the author emphasizes.
  • Explain the purpose of the work.
  • Present your critical evaluation, discussing both positive and negative features as appropriate. Support all your judgments with evidence from the work, paraphrasing and quoting excerpts. Is the thesis of the book well supported? Is the work thorough? Fair? Clear? Convincing? Significant? Is the author’s use of evidence appropriate.

Conclusion/Ending Paragraph

Give an overall evaluation as the conclusion of what you have said so far.

Tips:

  1. During reading, pay attention to preface/introduction/conclusion (if applicable) as this is where authors often present the reasons for their book, their perspective and those of any other contributors.
  • Look at table of contents and book structure. This gives you a quick overview of the contents; looking at any pictures/diagrams, tables/graphs in the chapters shows you some of the strategies the author has used to get the meaning across.
  • Do not skip summaries. These are a quick way to get an overview of the book (from the author’s point of view).
  • Take notes and highlight major points, the sources used, and the logic of the argument presented. Note whether the information is new. Is the author refuting earlier works, building on another author’s ideas or rehashing an earlier piece of work? How easy is it to understand the author’s point of view? If it is difficult, what is the reason?
  • Remember to select short quotations from the work that are representative of the theme, tone, and style.
  • The paper should have a title different than the title of the book.
  • Since I know what book your quoting/paraphrasing from, you don’t have to do a full citation. Just put the page number in parentheses. For example: Skowronek makes a distinction between secular and political time (17). If you use any other materials, use a footnote/endnote.

7. You may feel that as an undergraduate student you don’t know enough yet to do this successfully—that the author is an ‘expert’, that you can’t possibly know enough to be critical of them. But remember that you are part of the intended audience for the book. If it doesn’t convince you, the book might not be doing its job properly.

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