Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Guide to Writing Scholarly Book Reviews

Liz Covart is on vacation this week, but over at her blog Uncommonplace Book she has republished a post from 2012 on the subject of writing scholarly book reviews.  The post summarizes a talk given by Chris Grasso and Karin Wulf of the esteemed William and Mary Quarterly.  If you are a young scholar I strongly encourage you to check out Covart's piece.  Here is a taste:

Wulf encouraged the audience to look at book reviews as opportunities rather than as obligations. Book reviews give scholars the chance to get noticed. Through a review, readers become acquainted with both the reviewed book and the book reviewer. Book reviews serve as the last step in the peer review process; they offer the last formal piece of scholarly conversation about the contribution of a particular scholar. Wulf mentioned that book reviews are read more often than journal articles because they allow scholars to access the most recent scholarship in a matter of minutes. Moreover, book reviews have longevity. Scholars read reviews long after publishers release a book. For example, Wulf mentioned that Richard Dunn’s October 1999 review of Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone is the most frequently accessed piece for the WMQ. For published pieces after 1999, the distinction goes to Peter Coclanis’s review of Ira Berlin’s The Captivity of a Generation. Wulf recommended the latter piece as an example of a great book review.

Interesting.  It seems like the work of Ira Berlin draws some of the best reviews.


Wulf encouraged junior scholars to be proactive and seek out book review editors at journals and on-line forums like H-Net Reviews. In their e-mails, scholars should provide the editor with a brief introductory note about who they are and the kinds of books they would like to review. Scholars should also attach a CV to their e-mail. For those content to wait until book reviewers discover them, Wulf mentioned that she knows several book review editors who keep an eye out for savvy reviewers on H-Net Reviews and by reading book reviews in other journals.