Profiles in Corruption Book Review

When you are asked to write a critical review of a book or article, you will need to identify,
summarize, and evaluate the ideas and information the author has presented. In other
words, you will be examining another person’s thoughts on a topic from your point of view.
Your stand must go beyond your “gut reaction” to the work and be based on your
knowledge (readings, lecture, experience) of the topic as well as on factors such as
criteria stated in your assignment or discussed by you and your instructor.
Make your stand clear at the beginning of your review, in your evaluations of specific
parts, and in your concluding commentary.
Remember that your goal should be to make a few key points about the book or article,
not to discuss everything the author writes.
For further information see Reading a Book to Review It or Writing a Review of Literature.
Or you may wish to take the following class: Writing Literature Reviews of Published
Research.
Understanding the Assignment
To write a good critical review, you will have to engage in the mental processes of
analyzing (taking apart) the work–deciding what its major components are and
determining how these parts (i.e., paragraphs, sections, or chapters) contribute to the
work as a whole.
Analyzing the work will help you focus on how and why the author makes certain points
and prevent you from merely summarizing what the author says. Assuming the role of an
analytical reader will also help you to determine whether or not the author fulfills the
stated purpose of the book or article and enhances your understanding or knowledge of a
particular topic.
Be sure to read your assignment thoroughly before you read the article or book.
Your instructor may have included specific guidelines for you to follow. Keeping these
guidelines in mind as you read the article or book can really help you write your paper!
Also note where the work connects with what you’ve studied in the course. You can make
the most efficient use of your reading and notetaking time if you are an active reader; that
is, keep relevant questions in mind and jot down page numbers as well as your responses
to ideas that appear to be significant as you read.
Please note: The length of your introduction and overview, the number of points you
choose to review, and the length of your conclusion should be proportionate to the page
limit stated in your assignment and should reflect the complexity of the material being
reviewed as well as the expectations of your reader.
How to get started reading a book to review it
What you should do How you should do it
Choose your book carefully Being interested in a book will help you write a strong review, so take
some time to choose a book whose topic and scholarly approach
genuinely interest you.
If you’re assigned a book, you’ll need to find a way to become interested
in it.
Read actively and critically Don’t read just to discover the author’s main point or to mine some facts.
Engage with the text, marking important points and underlining passages
as you go along (in books you own, of course!).
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Focus first on summary
and analysis
Before you read
 Write down quickly and informally some of the facts and ideas
you already know about the book’s topic
 Survey the book–including the preface and table of contents–
and make some predictions
Here are some questions to ask:
 What does the title promise the book will cover or argue?
 What does the preface promise about the book?
 What does the table of contents tell you about how the book is
organized?
 Who’s the audience for this book?
As you read
With individual chapters:
 Think carefully about the chapter’s title and skim paragraphs to
get an overall sense of the chapter.
 Then, as you read, test your predictions against the points
made in the chapter.
 After you’ve finished a chapter, take brief notes. Start by
summarizing, in your own words, the major points of the chapter.
Then you might want to take brief notes about particular
passages you might discuss in your review.
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Begin to evaluate As you take notes about the book, try dividing your page into two
columns. In the left, summarize main points from a chapter. In the right,
record your reactions to and your tentative evaluations of that chapter.
Here are several ways you can evaluate a book:
 If you know other books on this same subject, you can compare
the arguments and quality of the book you’re reviewing with the
others, emphasizing what’s new and what’s especially valuable in
the book you’re reviewing.
 If you don’t know others books on this subject, you can still do
some evaluation. Ask, for example:
o How well does the book fulfill the promises the author
makes in the preface and introduction?
o How effective is the book’s methodology?
o How effectively does the book make its arguments?
o How persuasive is the evidence?
o For its audience, what are the book’s strengths?
o How clearly is the book written?
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Write the introduction
Below are a few guidelines to help you write the introduction to your critical
review.
Introduce your
review
appropriately
Begin your review with an introduction appropriate to your
assignment.
If your assignment asks you to review only one book and not to
use outside sources, your introduction will focus on identifying the
author, the title, the main topic or issue presented in the book, and
the author’s purpose in writing the book.
If your assignment asks you to review the book as it relates to
issues or themes discussed in the course, or to review two or
more books on the same topic, your introduction must also
encompass those expectations.
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Explain
relationships
For example, before you can review two books on a topic, you
must explain to your reader in your introduction how they are
related to one another.
Within this shared context (or under this “umbrella”) you can then
review comparable aspects of both books, pointing out where the
authors agree and differ.
In other words, the more complicated your assignment is, the
more your introduction must accomplish.
Finally, the introduction to a book review is always the place for
you to establish your position as the reviewer (your thesis about
the author’s thesis).
As you write, consider the following questions:
 Is the book a memoir, a treatise, a collection of facts, an
extended argument, etc.? Is the article a documentary, a
write-up of primary research, a position paper, etc.?
 Who is the author? What does the preface or foreword tell
you about the author’s purpose, background, and
credentials? What is the author’s approach to the topic (as
a journalist? a historian? a researcher?)?
 What is the main topic or problem addressed? How does
the work relate to a discipline, to a profession, to a
particular audience, or to other works on the topic?
 What is your critical evaluation of the work (your thesis)?
Why have you taken that position? What criteria are you
basing your position on?
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Provide an
overview
In your introduction you will also want to provide an overview. An
overview supplies your reader with certain general information not
appropriate for including in the introduction but necessary to
understanding the body of the review.
Generally, an overview describes your book’s division into
chapters, sections, or points of discussion. An overview may also
include background information about the topic, about your stand,
or about the criteria you will use for evaluation.
The overview and the introduction work together to provide a
comprehensive beginning for (a “springboard” into) your review.
As you write, consider the following questions:
 What are the author’s basic premises? What issues are
raised, or what themes emerg e? What situation (i.e., racism
on college campuses) provides a basis for the author’s
assertions?
 How informed is my reader? What background information
is relevant to the entire book and should be placed here
rather than in a body paragraph?
Write the body
The body is the center of your paper, where you draw out your main arguements. Below
are some guidelines to help you write it.
Organize using a Organize the body of your review according to a logical plan. Here
logical plan are two options:
 First, summarize, in a series of paragraphs, those major
points from the book that you plan to discuss; incorporating
each major point into a topic sentence for a paragraph is an
effective organizational strategy. Second, discuss and
evaluate these points in a following group of paragraphs.
(There are two dangers lurking in this pattern–you may
allot too many paragraphs to summary and too few to
evaluation, or you may re-summarize too many points from
the book in your evaluation section.)
 Alternatively, you can summarize and evaluate the major
points you have chosen from the book in a point-by-point
schema. That means you will discuss and evaluate point
one within the same paragraph (or in several if the point is
significant and warrants extended discussion) before you
summarize and evaluate point two, point three, etc.,
moving in a logical sequence from point to point to point.
Here again, it is effective to use the topic sentence of each
paragraph to identify the point from the book that you plan
to summarize or evaluate.
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Questions to keep
in mind as you
write
With either organizational pattern, consider the following
questions:
 What are the author’s most important points? How do these
relate to one another? (Make relationships clear by using
transitions: “In contrast,” an equally strong argument,”
“moreover,” “a final conclusion,” etc.).
 What types of evidence or information does the author
present to support his or her points? Is this evidence
convincing, controversial, factual, one-sided, etc.?
(Consider the use of primary historical material, case
studies, narratives, recent scientific findings, statistics.)
 Where does the author do a good job of conveying factual
material as well as personal perspective? Where does the
author fail to do so? If solutions to a problem are offered,
are they believable, misguided, or promising?
 Which parts of the work (particular arguments, descriptions,
chapters, etc.) are most effective and which parts are least
effective? Why?
 Where (if at all) does the author convey personal prejudice,
support illogical relationships, or present evidence out of its
appropriate context?
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Keep your
opinions distinct
and cite your
sources
Remember, as you discuss the author’s major points, be sure to
distinguish consistently between the author’s opinions and your
own.
Keep the summary portions of your discussion concise,
remembering that your task as a reviewer is to re-see the author’s
work, not to re-tell it.
And, importantly, if you refer to ideas from other books and
articles or from lecture and course materials, always document
your sources, or else you might wander into the realm of
plagiarism.
Include only that material which has relevance for your review and
use direct quotations sparingly. The Writing Center has other
handouts to help you paraphrase text and introduce quotations.
Write the conclusion
You will want to use the conclusion to state your overall critical evaluation.
You have already discussed the major points the author makes, examined how the author
supports arguments, and evaluated the quality or effectiveness of specific aspects of the
book or article.
Now you must make an evaluation of the work as a whole, determining such things as
whether or not the author achieves the stated or implied purpose and if the work makes a
significant contribution to an existing body of knowledge.
Consider the following questions:
 Is the work appropriately subjective or objective according to the author’s purpose?
 How well does the work maintain its stated or implied focus? Does the author
present extraneous material? Does the author exclude or ignore relevant
information?
 How well has the author achieved the overall purpose of the book or article? What
contribution does the work make to an existing body of knowledge or to a specific
group of readers? Can you justify the use of this work in a particular course?
 What is the most important final comment you wish to make about the book or
article? Do you have any suggestions for the direction of future research in the
area? What has reading this work done for you or demonstrated to you?

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