How to write a book review

a) First, read the book so you have something to say other than generalities that one could say about any book on the subject at hand;
b) Then think about it.
c) Then write about it, in way that is actually fair to the contents and to the larger discussion in which the book appears
d) Then proofread your review, so that you don’t tell us that something was written by Robert Sloane or David Sloan when it was actually written by David Sloane. (Jeez.)

That way,

1) you don’t write a a negative review using a straw man argument to complain about a straw man argument that actually only really shows up briefly in the intro, one chapter, on the promotional material, and the back cover (“Think Los Angeles is unplanned? Think again”) rather than the major theme of the book;

2) you can actually be useful to your readers and point out the chapters or ideas that are worth spending time on instead of just alluding vaguely to “good aspects” in an attempt to try to make yourself look like you’ve given the book a fair reading when you haven’t.

3) you don’t thoughtlessly alienate the 30+ people who contributed to the book by tarring their ideas with one, highly unfair brush and treating their contributions as so much fodder for your main beef that you derived by skimming. (Just a hint for young writers)

Yeah, I’m referring to this mess by Josh Stephens at the California Planning and Development report. Give me a takedown on my ideas any day if it’s based on evidence. But this? Bleh. I couldn’t dance to it.

2 thoughts on “How to write a book review

  1. Guilty as charged. Such are the results of jetlag, haste, and a skeleton crew. Corrections appended.

    I take issue with your characterization of it as a “negative review.” Yes, Sloane’s premise rubs me the wrong way, but I think I make it clear that it’s a valuable book. It’s not as though I panned it and then offered no justification. Could the review use more detail? Sure, that’s fine.

    In retrospect, this probably qualifies more as a rumination than a book review. But what’s done is done.


    • It’s the internet!! The only thing it’s good for is infinite revision. I obviously don’t agree; I think you’re pretty negative throughout the review, and while you say the book is a nice idea, you don’t seem to have taken anything away from the book. Now if that’s true, then that’s that, but there’s a difference between “That Schweitzer chick wrote a boring and useless chapter about stuff everybody knows, but the chapters on this, this, and this at least are worth spending some time on, as they offer important ideas about innovations that happened in LA which are worth learning more about.” Or….”I take issue with the way that Schweitzer gives sales taxes a pass on….”

      Your value added as a reviewer is doing that kind of work.

      I do understand that it’s a grind doing book reviews for blog entries, given the pressure to keep content up there.

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