Persuasive Writing: The Book Review
A review is a particular type of persuasive writing. A review is a report on a book, short story, poem, movie, play, piece of music or art, or exhibition. The purpose of a review is to introduce the reader to the piece, express the reviewer’s opinion about it, and finally persuade the reader that the piece is (or is not) worth reading, seeing, or hearing.
Book reviews are one type of persuasive writing. They usually contain a brief overview of the content of the book, followed by a commentary on its strengths and weaknesses. The reviewer concludes with a recommendation as to whether someone should read the book or not. The recommendation can be stated directly or implied. Book reviews can be of fiction or non-fiction books.
Reviews of fiction books, such as a novel, usually have an overview that contains some basic information about the plot (basic story), the setting (physical environment, period of time), and the characters (people, animals), without revealing information that tells the end of the story and spoils the reader’s enjoyment. The reviewer then points out strengths and/or weaknesses in the plot, setting, characters, and writing style.
Reviews of non-fiction books, such as a popular science book, have an overview that usually contains an outline of the basic theories, concepts, or arguments presented in the book. The reviewer then comments on the strengths and/or weaknesses in the content and writing style.
In both fiction and non-fiction reviews, the reviewer often uses descriptive language and provides short excerpts, quotations, and/or examples from the book. The language and examples support the reviewer’s opinion of the book, and give the reader an idea about the content of the book.
Basic Structure of a Book Review
- Author’s full name
- Title of the book
- Basic information about author, genre, audience, themes, characters, and/or plot
- Indication of reviewer’s opinion
- Overview of content, plot, and/or themes
- Presentation of central argument (non-fiction)
- Character description (fiction)
- Strengths and/or weaknesses
- Quotations, excerpts, and/or specific examples from text to illustrate reviewer’s main points
- Reviewer’s recommendation (directly stated or implied)
Model Text 1: Book Review (Fiction)
Girl with a Pearl Earring
A GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier is a B thoroughly engaging C historical novel that follows the life-changing experiences of D a quiet housemaid named Griet over the two years she serves the Delft painter, Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). B It is hard not to like this good and obedient protagonist, E for she struggles with universal yearnings such as love and an escape from poverty. Her life is a fairly solitary one as she finds herself growing apart from her family while living as an outsider in another’s home.
2 Body Paragraphs
D The Vermeer family, with the exception of the painter himself, is not fond of the strange […] girl; and as Maria Thins, the grandmother, says, G “Never so much trouble with a maid before.” The real trouble comes, however, when the artist takes a liking to the young girl and allows her to assist him in his work.
F Griet is granted the privilege that no other family member has—helping Vermeer in his studio. Not even his wife Catharina is allowed to enter the studio, so this arrangement causes a great deal of tension within the household. Griet begins her work by cleaning the various still life objects that Vermeer will paint later that day. She is also given the responsibility of grinding the paints and even purchasing the colors from the apothecary. As if these “privileges” were not causing enough disquietude within the family, matters only get worse when Vermeer agrees, at a friend’s request, to paint Greit.
The moments in which Vermeer paints Griet are the H most spellbinding of the book. The reader feels Griet’s nervous emotions as she sits as still as possible under the close eye of the awe-inspiring man she has grown to love. F Her inner struggle is intensified by jealous Pieter, the butcher’s son, who has made no secret of his intention to marry Griet. The young maid, however, seems devoted only to her master and obeys his every wish. When he tells her to wear his wife’s pearl earrings for the painting, Griet agrees even though she knows it could lead to her downfall.
This book is I written with the same extreme care that Griet takes when cleaning her master’s studio. While Griet is quiet and obedient, the reader can see how full her heart is, as the emotions are conveyed magnificently across the page. The reader also has a very clear image of what Vermeer himself may have been like, and his J remarkable character draws the reader in as much as Chevalier’s charming history of a most intriguing painting.
Model Text 2: Book Review (Non-Fiction)
The First Home-Cooked Meal
Have you ever wondered when early humans first began cooking their food? Harvard professor A Richard Wrangham has some ideas. His latest book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, explores the role of cooking in human evolution. In this B fascinating and very readable book, Wrangham challenges us to look at one of the most common of human activities in a completely new way.
2 Body Paragraphs
Scientists have found evidence of campfires from 800,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that humans first learned how to control fire around that time. And because fire is needed to cook, archaeologists believe that the first home-cooked meal could not have been served any earlier than 800,000 years ago. C But biological anthropologist Wrangham does not agree with those dates. He argues that early humans started cooking long before that. In fact, Wrangham believes that cooking played an essential role in the evolution of our ancestor, Homo erectus, 1.8 million years ago. In other words, modern humans did not invent cooking—cooking invented modern humans.
Wrangham does not deny that the archaeological evidence of cooking goes back only 800,000 years. C However, he uses the evolutionary record, not the archaeological one, to support his theory. In evolutionary biology, it is widely accepted that modern humans’ early ancestor, Homo erectus, first appeared about 1.8 million years ago, when it evolved from an earlier species, Homo habilis.
Homo habilis had larger stomachs, teeth, and jaws than Homo erectus, but much smaller brains. Why were their bodies like that? C Wrangham thinks it was because they ate raw food. Those early human ancestors needed big teeth and jaws to chew all that raw food. They also needed large stomachs and intestines to digest it. And eating and digestion used up so much energy that there wasn’t enough energy left to feed a large brain.
C Wrangham argues that the shift from eating raw to cooked food enabled the evolution of the larger-brained Homo erectus. How? Cooking makes more energy from food available for the body to use. Cooked food is also softer than raw food, so the body uses less energy digesting what it takes in. Thus, cooking is extremely important to supporting a large brain, which consumes a quarter of the body’s energy. D “It’s hard to imagine the leap to Homo erectus without cooking’s nutritional benefits,” writes Wrangham. “It’s the development that underpins many other changes that have made humans so distinct from other species.”
Cooking also makes eating faster and easier. Most of our primate relatives spent half the day chewing tough raw food, such as the stems and roots of plants. C Wrangham argues that because cooking freed early humans from all of that chewing, they could then spend time on more productive activities, such as the development of tools for agriculture, and social networks.
Many other scientists believe that eating meat, rather than cooking food, led to the evolution of Homo erectus. C That might explain Homo erectus’s large brains, but not their small jaws and teeth, argues Wrangham. Wrangham does not deny the importance of meat-eating to human evolution. However, he believes that meat-eating played a role in an earlier stage of evolution, from Australopithecines to Homo habilis—a species about the size of a chimpanzee, but with a larger brain.
Wrangham’s book leaves at least one important question unanswered. Why isn’t there any archaeological evidence of cooking until 800,000 years ago, at the earliest? E Many scientists see this gap in the archaeological record as evidence against Wrangham’s theory. They have a very good point. Nevertheless, F Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human provides the reader with some very rich food for thought.
Reporting the Author’s Words and Ideas
The first time the author’s name is mentioned, the reviewer uses his/her full name. After that, only the last name is used. When reporting what an author has written, reviewers use a variety of reporting verbs and expressions. Several are used in the review of The First Home-Cooked Meal.
1. Common reporting verbs followed by a noun clause
Many reporting verbs are followed by a noun clause (= group of words with a subject and a verb) that usually begins with that:
Wrangham argues that early humans started cooking long before that.
Wrangham thinks (that) it was because they ate raw food.
2. Common reporting verbs not followed by a noun clause
Other reporting verbs are followed by different grammatical patterns:
- challenge (someone to do something)
- explore (something)
- provide (someone with something)
Wrangham challenges us to look at one of the most common of human activities in a completely new way.
His latest book explores the role of cooking in human evolution.
The book provides the reader with some very rich food for thought.
Using Specific Descriptive Language and Examples As Support
Reviewers use specific, descriptive language and examples that will give the reader an idea of what they can expect from the book, rather than just saying that they liked or disliked a book:
It is hard not to like this good and obedient protagonist, for she struggles with universal yearnings such as love and an escape from poverty.
The reader can expect to like the main character, who is good and obedient. The reader can also expect the book to discuss universal themes such as love and escape from poverty:
In this fascinating and very readable book, Wrangham challenges us to look at one of the most common of human activities in a completely new way.
The reader can expect the book to be fascinating and easy to read, but at the same time challenging because it has completely new ideas.
For reviews of fiction, the narrative simple present and present progressive are used to write about the action taking place in the book as you read it:
Her life is a fairly solitary one as she finds herself growing apart from her family while living as an outsider in another’s home.
For reviews of non-fiction, the reviewer uses the same tenses that the author has used in presenting the information:
In evolutionary biology, it is widely accepted that modern humans’ early ancestor, Homo erectus, first appeared about 1.8 million years ago, when it evolved from an earlier species, Homo habilis.
In both fiction and non-fiction writing, the reviewer’s comments, opinions, and recommendations are typically written in the simple present, as are the reviewer’s summary of the author’s arguments:
The reader feels Griet’s nervous emotions as she sits as still as possible under the close eye of the awe-inspiring man she has grown to love.
Wrangham does not deny that the archaeological evidence of cooking goes back only 800,000 years.
Wrangham’s book leaves at least one important question unanswered.