Book Review of “Civil War Soldiers” by Mitchell Reid
The review itself should be no longer than a total of 1600 words and, instead of a title for the paper, I want you to start with the bibliographic information for the book you are reviewing:
Author. Title. City: Publisher, Year.
The body of the review should reflect the seven numbered questions on the instructions. I want you to write a paragraph for each number, so the finished paper should have at least seven paragraphs. The paragraph do not have to be all the same size, and if you need more than one paragraph to answer a particular section, that is fine.
Start the review by answering the first question: What is the author’s purpose in writing the book? This question asks you to describe the motivation the author has for writing the book, so your answer should use tentative verbs (the author seeks, desires, wishes, and so on). Oftentimes, authors explain their purposes in an introduction or preface to a book. Perhaps the author felt unsatisfied with books by other authors or felt that historians had neglected a particular subject.
The second question asks: What is the book’s thesis? A thesis is the main idea or argument of a book, so in describing the thesis, you are describing what the author wants readers to take away from reading the book. This question is related to the author’s purpose. (Sometimes I describe the first two questions as two side of the same coin.) But the thesis is more solid and emphatic compared to the purpose. Use more assertive verbs (the author argues, contends, asserts).
Answers to the first two questions can each be brief as they are closely connected. A great way to get started is to sit down and write out answer to questions one and two in a timed setting (like if you were taking a timed quiz in a classroom). Give yourself ten or fifteen minutes and see what you come up with. Getting effective answers down for the first two questions will make the rest of the review easier, because much of the rest of the paper is dedicated to aspects of the book that aid the author in making the book’s thesis convincing to the reader.
Question three relates to this goal by asking you to describe how the author has organized the book. Does the author use chapters or parts or sections or some other way? History books often have a chronological order, but not always: some books have a more thematic organization. Eric Foner organizes Give Me Liberty! mostly along a chronology but some of the time periods of the different chapters overlap as a chapter may focus on a particular topic, like the economy or foreign policy. This part of the review also can include a summary of the book’s chapters, but don’t go into great detail. Use this more as illustration by describing the topics of the chapters.
The fourth question can be a bit tricky as some students may not have had to answer this type of question before. Start with a description of what subfield of American history the book fits into; think of the subfields as shelves in a library: here is the shelf for books on the history of politics, and here is the shelf for books on the history of the economy. Other subfields are social history (history of society including demographic groups in society); history of culture and ideas (this would be especially for the history of books, art, movies, music, and so on); and the history of foreign relations (meaning connections the United States has with other nations in the world. The topics of some books can fit into more than one subfield, the history of immigration, for example. That is ok, just describe why the book you are reviewing fits into a particular shelf or shelves. The other part of the fourth question asks about schools of history, methodology, and academic theory. These are all somewhat similar. An author might identify with a certain cohort or tradition of other historians, might use a particular approach in studying a topic, or may be inspired by particular ideas of how to interpret the world. What I want you to do for this part of question four is to look in your book to see if the author brings up a school of history, a methodology, or an academic theory, and then I want you to describe what the author says. If the author of your book does not mention these topics at all (and some authors won’t), that’s ok. Just write that the author does not write about these topics.
Question five is about sources, the types of evidence for a historian. Primary sources are those from the time period of the book’s subject. So if the subject of the book is the era of Reconstruction, primary sources would be one’s created in the 1860s and 1870s. Just about anything can be a source, but typically primary sources are newspaper articles, government documents, letters and diaries, and so on. Secondary sources are those created after the time period of the book’s subject. These are usually books and articles written by historians years, decades, or even centuries later. To answer question five, I want you to describe what the most important, the most critical, primary and secondary sources are for your book’s author. Your book may have page after page of sources listed, so you don’t have space to discuss them all. Focus on sources that the author especially relies upon (perhaps again and again) or sources that the author uses for the most critical parts of the book insofar as the part helps advance the book’s thesis.
Question six starts off with historiography. To use the Reconstruction example again, if we somehow brought together in one library all of the books and articles historians have written about Reconstruction since it ended, that would collectively be the historiography of Reconstruction. And if we organized those books and article based on when they were published, we might see that historians in different eras had different idea about Reconstruction. A book published in 1900 might interpret Reconstruction differently than a book published in 1950 or 2000 would. So in answering this question, I want you to describe what your book’s author says about the subject matter’s historiography, the arguments and opinions of earlier historians. If your book’s author does not bring up earlier historians, then write that the author doesn’t discuss historiography. Next is to compare your book with the textbook. Your book will most likely have more detail and more information about the subject matter than the textbook does, because the textbook covers a long period of time. So focus on the big picture: is the discussion of your book’s subject matter in the textbook similar to how your book’s author discusses the subject matter or is it different, and how so? Finally, you can include discussion as to how, if at all, the book’s subject matter fits into the discussion of any present-day issues.
The last part of the book review is question seven, and it is differs from the earlier questions. In answering the earlier questions, you were describing what the author did. You were almost like an interviewer asking the author, why did you write this book, what is the book’s main argument?, how did you organize the book?, and so on. Question seven is when you finally bring out your own opinion as to how well, or not so well, the author did in writing the book. Give yourself plenty of room to answer question seven, because it is what the whole paper has been building up to: when you present your evaluation of the book. If your paper is running long, cut back an earlier section (question three is usually the easiest to cut), but never cut your answer to question seven. Instead explain everything you think is effective in the book and everything you think is not effective.
A few citations needed from the book. (Mixture of quotes and parenthetical citations).For more information on Civil War Soldiers read :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Army