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Three Sample Book Reviews
1) Everything on this handout compiled from http://jat.unomaha.edu/samplebookreview.html
Millbrooke, A.M. (1999). Aviation History. Englewood, CO: Jeppensen Sanderson.
Reviewed by Nanette Scarpellini, University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Aviation History delivers an entertaining account and perspective on international aviation history. This book is an excellent resource to students, educators, and aviation enthusiasts. In reviewing this book, the principal criteria included content, organization, and reference sources. While editing errors and organizational incongruities plague some of the latter chapters, many of the shortcomings of this first edition will likely be alleviated by later editions. These problems are only a minor distraction to the story being told.
Starting with the first unmanned hot air balloon flight in 1783 through the announcement of the X Prize that will be awarded to the first non-government sponsored manned spacecraft, the author shows the detailed progression of international aviation and aerospace technology. The reader is taken on a journey through the world of aviation and receives first-hand accounts from the inventors and dreamers who made it possible. The tone of the book reflects a learned appreciation for the marvel of aviation as illustrated by a quote from the 1759 aviation-related novel Rasselas by Samuel Johnson, which explains flight in this fashion: "So fishes have water, in which yet beasts can swim by nature, and men by art. He that can swim needs not despair to fly: to swim is to fly in a grosser fluid, and to fly is to swim in a subtler" (2-5).
The author, Anne Marie Millbrooke, is a proven historian and author specializing in science and technology with an emphasis on aviation history. In addition to acting as a historian for such organizations as the National Park Service and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), she has also managed the Archive and Historical Center at United Technologies Corporation and served as a Research Collaborator with the National Air and Space Museum. Her educational accomplishments include earning her doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania as well as her pilot certificate. Millbrooke’s multifaceted background establishes her in a strategic position to gather and assemble key pieces of aviation history that span the globe.
The organization of Aviation History allows the reader to easily follow the evolution of aviation. The book is divided into ten chapters. Opening with early aviation of the 18th century, the book progresses through the Wright Brothers, early flight, World War I, peacetime aviation, the Golden Age of Charles Lindbergh and aviation firsts, World War II, the Cold War, space-age aviation, and finally modern aerospace through 1999 with glimpses of the 21st century and beyond. The appendices conclude with a listing of aviation firsts and space flights, as well as a copy of the Wright U.S. Patent. While it is impossible to thoroughly explore all topics, the detailed bibliography provides sources for obtaining more information. This format spotlights the key phases of aviation development.
The construction of the book meshes well with its organization and lends itself successfully to the study of different time periods in history. Each chapter is broken down into four sections, which typically fit logically into the topic of the chapter. All chapters are composed of several defining parts that maintain a sense of continuity throughout the volume. A Summary of Events for the time period under review leads into the introduction and the chapter goals. Within the text of the chapter, there are an assortment of breakout boxes that either describes an historic event, provides historical evidence to support aviation theories, or relates bibliographical information about individuals who were propitious in shaping aviation history. Unfortunately, the intriguing stories may also confuse readers when they are so numerous as to distort the flow of the text. The chapter is completed by a thorough bibliography, study questions reviewing the material covered, and a timeline augmented by providing events not directly associated with aviation. The book is well-referenced, making skillful use of first-person sources.
The orderliness of the book conforms to an academic curriculum. While the chapters create neatly parceled packages, certain areas seem forced to conform to the ten-chapter plan. For instance, Chapter 9: Space Age Aviation seems oddly burdened by the last third of the chapter which focuses on fighter aircraft and various wars, from Vietnam to the U.S. invasion of Granada, as well as a final section completely on private and general aviation. These subjects can be better covered by creating another chapter or by parceling them into both earlier and later sections. In this situation, the author provides good material and content, which is hampered by poor organization. Overall, a detailed story of the advancement of aviation is shown in readable and entertaining style.
Millbrooke presents a broad analysis of aviation history that focuses on developments worldwide, as opposed to the many history books that single out achievements of the United States. Aviation History offers an objective view of aviation developments and illustrates the interactive nature of the industry. War spurred many of aviation’s most significant advances, with countries openly borrowing new procedures and operations from enemy progress in the field creating the most effective fighting fleets. "Nationalistic pride in aviation went beyond the romance and fads of aviation, to national identity and claims of distinctiveness and superiority . . . Legends grew around the British S.E. (scout experimental made by the Royal Aircraft Factory), the French Spad, and the German Fokker" (4-4).
Each chapter is filled with pictures and colorful quotes from people of that era. These firsthand accounts provide deeper insight into what, in some history books, is just a listing of factual information. When the "Red Baron" Manfred von Richthofen describes his victory over British ace Lanoe Hawker on November 23, 1916, the day comes alive. "I was on patrol that day and observed three Englishmen who had nothing else in mind than to hunt. I noticed how they ogled me, and since I felt ready for battle, I let them come . . ." (in Richthofen’s The Red Baron, 4-29).
The author supplies an in-depth analysis of various aspects of aviation often glossed over in aviation books. Some of the areas explored include the development of aerial photography, air-to-ground communication with early wireless radio equipment, and airmail expansion beyond the United States. Antoine de Saint-Exupery flew a la Ligne mail route between France and Spain that sometimes crossed hostile territory. On a flight in February 1927 he recounts the following in a letter to his mother. "The trip went well, aside from a breakdown and the plane crashing into the desert" (Schiff. 1994 in 5-41). As evidenced by the stories recounted throughout the volume, early pilots were part mechanic, part inventor, and part adventurer in order to survive.
Aviation History is a collection of significant events in aviation accented by the people who made it happen and correlated with world affairs. The book’s use of color and vivid stories helps to make the advancements come to life as something more than significant events on a timeline. While at times the stories may clutter the page, they also breathe life into what is considered by many to be a dull subject. The author’s enthusiasm for the topic is obvious throughout the book. More thorough proofreading could help alleviate some of the confusion that is caused by typos and a few mislabeled illustrations. The credibility of the content does not suffer due to these obvious errors which will likely be corrected in the next edition.
Author description: Nanette Scarpellini is a graduate research assistant in the NASA Space Grant College and Fellowship program for the University of Nebraska at Omaha Aviation Institute and the assistant editor for the Journal of Air Transportation World Wide. Ms. Scarpellini is pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree with an Aviation Administration concentration. In addition, she has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Psychology with an Advertising concentration from The Ohio State University, a Certificate of Organizational Development and Training from New York University, and is a licensed private pilot.
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2. A Sample Book Review from http://faculty.sanjuancollege.edu/krobison/resources/portilla.htm
Leòn-Portilla, Miguel. Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl ......Mind. Translated by Jack Emory Davis. Norman: University of Oklahoma ......Press, 1963.
Review by Kelly Robison
In this ambitious work, Leòn-Portilla endeavors to ascertain the existence of a class of philosophers in Aztec society. If philosophy, and not merely religion, was present in Nahuatl culture, what did these philosophers attempt to accomplish? Through a study of Nahuatl texts and post-Conquest records, Leòn-Portilla examines the manifestations of rational thought and inquiry in Mexico prior to the Conquest.
The Nahuatls developed a philosopher class that differed in purpose from the more rigidly religious objectives of the priestly class. These men, akin in style and intentions to the early poet-philosophers of Greece, probed the most profound questions of the human existence. The tlamatinime, as they were called, recognized no difference between "the formal objectives of philosophy,"(xxiii) religion, scientific knowledge, or art. These men thought more deeply about life and the universe than the common people and questioned what was for the commoner truth handed down from generation through generation by the priests in the form of myths and legends.
Leòn-Portilla bases his investigations and conclusions on detailed examinations of the records left by the early missionaries to the newly conquered territories of Mexico and on an in-depth analysis of the surviving Nahuatl texts, including poetry. In these accounts, he finds evidence of a deeply philosophical people. But these men, the tlamatinime, differed from the warrior class or the common people in that they sought to "discover the meaning of life on an intellectual plane."(177) The warriors were content to accept traditional religious dogma and use it as the basis for expansion, while the commoners simply accepted it.
The tlamatinime, or wise men, first studied the codices and legends and attempted to interpret them. But their studies produced questions as to the meaning of life and the universe. The wise men first perceived that life was fleeting and fragile, dream-like. If this was so, then the question arose of whether anything was worth doing. A second question arose as well, can there be Truth if life is dream-life? The reason for man's existence or purpose deeply troubled the tlamatinime.
The wise men recognized the differences between concepts based on magic and superstition and those based on observation and experience. But, if everything on earth was temporary, then truth cannot be found here. Truth must be found somewhere beyond the earthly domain, in those regions where the gods live. But how to get to these regions remained a problem.
Some of the wise men declared that since higher truth cannot be found, one must live life to the fullest and enjoy the time one has one earth. Others did not despair so easily. Intuition became the key to truth for these men. Occasionally, one will pronounce the Truth through the medium of poetry and the arts. This inspiration could allow men to glimpse the truth, reveal the universe, however briefly, and let him express that truth through the arts and, especially, poetry.
Ometèotl, the dual god, was the "supreme metaphor." He was the supreme creator, the cause and effect, and gave men the ability to see beyond the natural world. Along the path of the arts, given to men by Ometèotl, men could find truth. The wise men meditated, thought. They contemplated the heavens and the earth seeking knowledge. They admired and wrought paintings, sculpture and poetry. Each of these endeavors was a meaning and an end. Through the arts the wise men could find truth and they expressed truth through the arts.
Thus "Nahuatl philosophic thought...revolved about an aesthetic conception of the universe and life, for art 'made things divine,' and only the divine was true."(182) The wise men based their way of life upon this world view thay they could still not precisely explain. The tlamatinime contemplated, wrote, wrought and observed, unlike their brethren who thought little about the deeper meanings of life.
Leòn-Portilla reveals a deep knowledge and understanding of the pre-Conquest Nahuatl mind and philosophical thought in this book. His work is ambitious in that it seeks to explain some of the most intangible elements of the human existence using only sources provided by the conquerors of the Aztecs and the remaining poems of the conquered people. From these few fragments, the author pieces together the world view of a segment of a vanished civilization.
The author's writing is eloquent yet understandable. He uses translations of the original texts liberally to illustrate his contentions, thereby providing a balanced, well-documented work whose thesis could be arrived at by others through the use of the texts supplied.
Organization is the one problem with the work. However, this weakness is outweighed by the work's strengths. Although Leòn-Portilla does divide the work into chapters based, for the most part, on the theoretical constructions of the tlamatinime, he could have done a better job of it.
3. A Sample Book Review
Bolland, O. Nigel. Struggles for Freedom: Essays on Slavery, Colonialism and Culture ........in the Caribbean and Central America. O. New York: Bantam, 1997.
by A Sample Author
One of the most common problems with the literature on the Caribbean is that it is limited to islands and, despite a common history, does not include the West Indian communities on the mainland of Central and South America. Moreover, on those occasions when the entire region receives the attention of a scholar, the product is often from the perspective of the British Caribbean and makes no attempt to understand Hispanic influences. The results of such scholarship are often disappointing because it fails to recognize the significance of the circum-Caribbean region as a frontier between for the British West Indies and Hispanic America. The coastal plains of the region are an historic meeting place where empires clashed, cultures fused and new economies were created. With the arrival of the Europeans came the destruction of aboriginal society, the introduction of African labour and the incorporation of the region into the North Atlantic world economy. The post-contact history of this stretch of coastline is intertwined with stories of buccaneers, escaped slaves, indigenous monarchies and international political intrigue. Moreover, it is the scene of one of the most spectacular intra-regional migrations in the modern history of Latin America because as many as 500,000 West Indian migrants passed through or settled in the region between 1850 and 1950. Hundreds of years of interaction between the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking cultures, with the added dimension of the African and Amerindian peoples has produced a very different Caribbean society in this isolated region.
Over the years O. Nigel Bolland's research has offered a different perspective on Caribbean society and history because his work often touches on the frontiers between the English and Spanish-speaking Western Caribbean. Struggles for Freedom, at first glance, appears to be a book that attempts to come to terms with the histories of these two solitudes. The book is a collection of articles by a sociologist who has made a career of the study Caribbean society and he makes an effort to expand his research beyond Belize to the Miskito Coast, Central America and the British West Indies. Bolland's approach is valid because his starting point is on the shores of Western Caribbean and, as a result, he is in a position to take the reader to the places where Hispanic America and the British Caribbean meet.
Struggles for Freedomis divided into four parts that reflect Bolland's interest in the social construction and the history of Caribbean society. The first section establishes the author's approach to the region's history by examining the concept of Creole society as it is understood in the West Indies. Bolland argues that in addition to understanding Caribbean cultures as being a blend of African and other influences, they must also be viewed in dialectical terms. As a consequence, Bolland's subsequent analysis in the following three sections is framed within a model of class antagonisms in the period between 1492 and the present. Part II, "Colonization and Slavery," is comprised of three chapters. One offers an overview of colonization and slavery in Central America and the other two concentrate on Belize. The chapter on Central America is a survey which is based on secondary sources published in English. The chapters on Belize are much stronger and informative. The third part, "From Slavery to Freedom," is divided into two chapters that examine the problems and politics of freedom in the 19th century. Here, Bolland takes a more general approach by looking at the transition to wage labour in the post-emancipation societies of the Americas, and at the politics of control and freedom in the free societies of the Caribbean. Once again, the first chapter in this section offers a general overview which is based exclusively on secondary sources printed in English. The two chapters that follow are more focused and offer well-researched insights into British Caribbean society during the transitional period after emancipation. The final section of the book offers an analysis of politics, society and the role of ethnicity at the end of the colonial period in the British West Indies. Here Bolland's scholarship is focused on the topics he is most comfortable with. The final chapters also happen to be among the few in the collection that appear for the first time and, therefore, reflect the author's most recent views on Caribbean society.
Although O. Nigel Bolland offers readers a solid analysis of the political and social history of creole society, and his insights are applicable to a broad spectrum of Caribbean societies, his book falls short of exploring the frontier between the Hispanic and English-speaking communities that inhabit the region. Such an omission might be expected, but the book's title does promise to include Central America and the expectation is that Bolland would venture beyond the confines of the only English-speaking country in the region. The author looks out from Belize, but fails to take account of the West Indian communities in neighbouring countries. Bolland's dialectical analysis of Creole society would be put to test if the antagonisms he identifies were examined in the context of an Hispanic environment. For example, are there situations among West Indians in Central America where ethnicity takes precedence over class, and if so, what does this tell us about Creole society in general? Moreover, in his surveys of Central America and the Americas the author did not explore Spanish language sources despite the obvious depth that such material would provide to his analysis. The result is, once again, a study of the history and society of the region from the perspective of someone who does not consider the relationship of Creole society with Hispanic society. Though better than other publications that look across the Caribbean to Latin America, or that look at the region's Atlantic coast from the Hispanic highlands, Struggles for Freedom is often as frustrating because it does not see the Western Caribbean as a transcultural region where notions of Creole society can be challenged. Nevertheless, O. Nigel Bolland offers readers some of the best scholarship on the history of Belize and his insights into Caribbean society are a valuable contribution to the field.
How to Write Book Reviews for Michael Kucher's Classes at UWT
You may choose any book or article on the course Bibliography that has not already been assigned as a required class reading. All optional books and articles are fair game. You may select any book or article the notes of most articles and books we read as a class. You may also select from bibliographies of other assigned books. For the purposes of this assignment, a book will be defined as several chapters in a book (usually the introduction, conclusion, and one or two from the middle) or a long (min 30 pp.) article from a scholarly or scientific journal. Popular magazines, newspapers, and industry journals do not count.
If you want to use a book that does not appear in any of the above places, or if you are not sure about the suitability of a book for this assignment, please ask me in advance. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by picking an appropriate book. If you are writing a research paper for the class, feel free to use a book from your research bibliography for this assignment.
Please do not "double dip" (write the same assignment for more than one course) without asking both professors what their policies are. I will only allow it under exceptional circumstances, by prior permission.
A Model Book Review:
Go to http://www.jstor.org and pick a scholarly journal in the humanities, such as Speculum, Journal of Economic History, American Historical Review, or Reviews in American History. If you do not know how to do this, please ask at the reference desk or come see me during my office hours in the library and I will show you. Browse around until you find the book reviews section, which usually follows the articles. Even easier, go the the journal section of the library and flip to the book reviews of a journal like Environmental History.
Some tips adapted from: Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing History (Boston, 1995), 4-5 (the pages in the 2d ed. are different).
"Assignments in History"
The writing projects assigned to you in a history course will give you opportunities to learn more about historical issues, events, and people and allow you to contribute your own ideas to the field. This section discusses major types of assignments that you might encounter -- ranging from summaries, book reviews, annotated bibliographies, and short essays to the meatier and more complicated research paper--and suggests some general ways of approaching these assignments.
A book review is not the same thing as a book report, which simply summarizes the content of a book. When writing a book review, you not only report on the content of the book but also assess its strengths and weaknesses. Students sometimes feel unqualified to write a book review; after all, the author of the book is a professional historian. However, even if you cannot write from the same level of experience and knowledge as the author, you can write an effective review if you understand what the assignment requires. In writing a review you do not just relate whether or not you liked the book; you also tell your readers why you liked or disliked it. It is not enough to say, "This book is interesting"; you need to explain why it is interesting. Similarly, it is not enough to report that you disliked a book; you must explain your reaction. Did you find the book unconvincing because the author did not supply enough evidence to support his or her assertions? Or did you disagree with the book's underlying assumptions?
To understand your own reaction to the book, you need to read it carefully and critically.
As a critical reader, you are not passive; you should ask questions of the book and note reactions as you read. Your book review then discusses those questions and reactions. (See pp. 23-25 for advice on critical reading.) Though there is no "correct" way to structure a review, the following is one possible approach.
- Summarize the book and relate the author's main point, or thesis. (Somewhere early in the paper, identify the author briefly.) [One paragraph]
- Describe the author's viewpoint and purpose for writing; note any aspects of the author's background that are important for understanding the book. [One paragraph]
- Note the most important evidence the author presents to support his or her thesis. [One or two paragraphs]
- Evaluate the author's use of evidence, and describe how he or she deals with counter evidence. (See pp. 18-19 for a discussion of counter evidence.) [One paragraph]
- Is the book's argument convincing? If so why, if not, why not. Cite examples from the text. [One paragraph]
- Compare this book with other books or articles you have read on the same subject. [One paragraph]
- Conclude with a final evaluation of the book. You might discuss who would find this book useful and why. [One paragraph]
If you still need some ideas, you can look at the following section on BOOK REVIEWS, adapted from: Jacques Barzun & Henry F. Graff, The Modern Researcher, 4th ed. (San Diego, 1985), 290-291.
As a sample of what such guidelines may be for writers in any of the shorter forms, here is a set of suggestions about the form of the book review. We will assume that it is written for a learned or literary periodical, where the space allotted will usually not exceed 1,500 words--say the American Historical Reviewor The New Criterion--or for an upper division course at UW Tacoma, say History of Technology.
The beginning, we know, is important. The first of your twelve paragraphs should present an idea of interest to the readers who will leaf through the magazine. If your first words are "This book . . ." they will not be able to distinguish your review from twenty others, and they will be entitled to conclude that you have not expended much thought on enlisting their attention. The opening statement takes the readers from where they presumably stand in point of knowledge and brings them to the book under review. The briefest possible description of its aim, scope, and place in the world therefore follows the baited opening sentence and completes the first paragraph.
The second classifies the book: what thesis, tendency, bias does it uphold, suggest, evince? Paragraphs 3 to 5 go into the author's main contentions and discuss them. Do not repeat anything you said in the classificatory paragraph, but rather give detailed evidence of the grounds for your classification.
Paragraphs 6 and 7 may deal with additional or contrary points to be found in other authors or in your own research; but so far, these only amend or qualify what is acceptable in the new book. In 8 and 9 you deliver your chief objections and summarize shortcomings. If you have found errors, mention only the important ones--do not waste space on typographical or minor slips.
From errors you modulate into the broad field: how is our conception of it changed by the book? What further work is needed to clear up doubtful points? Where have gaps been left that must he filled? You have now used up paragraphs 10 and 11 and you have one more in which to strike a balance of merits and faults, ending with some words about the author--not yourself or the subject.
For with book reviewing goes a moral obligation: you hold the author's fate in your hands as far as one group of readers is concerned. Author and work should, through you, be given the floor, have the last word. What you say in the review will, rightly or wrongly, be taken seriously. You are in honor bound to be scrupulously fair. Never use the author's admissions against him, saying, "Mr. X entirely neglects the foreign implications," when it was he who warned you of this in the preface. Do not expect him to have written the book you have in mind, but the one he had. Recognize the amount of work that has gone into the product and be magnanimous: you may be severe on serious faults of interpretation and inference; but unless they are continual, forget the trifling errors in his text just as you concentrate on them in yours. Book reviewers are not infallible.
If you ever have any doubts about what tone to adopt in a review of a book you end up hating, consider this sage advice from an unknown editor: "write your most critical review as though it would appear the day after the reviewed author's death, without embarrassing you."
- Allow ten days for a book to arrive from Suzzallo
- Avoid the use of "me," "I," "myself." The subject of your review is the book, not its reader.
- Five (5) pages maximum.
- Use 12 pt. Roman type, left justified only.
- Include the full title, author's full name, publisher, place, and date of publication on the first page of your review or in a note.
- Follow the Chicago Manual of Style .
- Two-sided (Duplex) printing is OK.
- If you are using a reserve book from the UW Library System, please be courteous to other readers by returning your book on time. Also, please be aware that large fines start accruing the minute a book is late and there is nothing I can do about it.
© Copyright 1998-2001 Michael Kucher Revised: 27 March 2001.