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A step-by-step process to write a book review for a journal

I already had written a blog post on writing a book review, but I have published a few that I am quite proud of, thus I thought I’d expand that blog post with a sequential, step-by-step description of my process.

Books on water

A few years ago (I was young, naive, and ill-informed), I mentioned that I didn’t think book reviews ought to be included in curricula vitae as publications (even though I had published quite a few by then in various journals).

That’s not my opinion anymore.

I’ll explain.

I KNOW the hierarchy of publications in traditional academia STILLS eschews towards journal articles, *then* book chapters.

As book reviews were shorter pieces of writing, I didn’t see a lot of value in them (did I mention already I was young, naive and inexperienced?)


Organizing books by theme-topic

There are now a number of reasons why I value book reviews.

1) They help shine light on up-and-coming scholars and innovative, interesting, exciting new work. They DO have a place in scholarly communications.

2) They help students assess if a book is worth buying beforehand.

3) They offer graduate students, early career scholars who may be less experienced in publishing in scholarly journals an opportunity to experience the publication process in a less threatening, more collegial and cordial manner.

Are there a$$h0l3s who write awful reviews? YES.

Nevertheless, generally speaking, book reviews are intended to evaluate the book in the most positive way possible. Can you say negative things about a book? Of course, some journal book review editors will encourage you to find one or two areas for improvement. But in my experience n a book review, you can say the good things and the bad things that you see in a book, but you’re not supposed to trash it(*).

(*) I still haven’t found a book I’ve wanted to trash in a book review yet. Don’t send me one to review, though.

I DO encourage scholars now to write reviews of books.

Book review essays (where you review 2-3 or more books and develop a coherent, cohesive argument about them, perhaps bringing into conversation additional literature) are ALSO great opportunities to get a publication into a journal and include your voice and analytical prowess.


To be quite frank, my most recent book reviews have been some of my best writing. I do remember thinking “damn, these paragraphs are so good I ought to save them for a journal article”.


I decided to keep them in the review…

b) highlights Sarah’s contributions to the literature, not only those from her book, but also from other publications she has, and

(c) brings Sarah’s book in conversation with other scholars (including, OF COURSE, myself, because well, I, too, have contributed to these :)).

In this blog post, I am detailing my own process to write book reviews. You can do as you please, but I do not accept books to review that I know I am not going to be positive about. I write book reviews that make the author and their contributions shine. I review books with the aim of ensuring that the world knows how amazing these authors are.

That’s also the approach I take to writing Twitter threads and reading notes of books. Why would I write about something I don’t like? (I have done it, but mostly for work that took me – negatively – by surprise). I hope that outlining my full process here can help prospective book reviewers take a positive approach to writing their reviews, with the intent to help the author(s) research shine and build on broader debates.

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  1. Russell says

    They also help non-scholars like myself who rely on book reviews to make a somewhat informed decision on what to read next. I love reading non-fiction as I always think that if I am going to read for enjoyment I may as well learn something in the process, even if I am not doing it for an academic reason.

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