All students will write a 4-5 page, double spaced book review of Lawrence H. Keeley’s book War Before Civilization. In order to fully review a book, it is essential that you have closely read each chapter. Your book review should include the following:
1. A statement of the topic or the key question that the author is trying to answer. This part will come early in your review (perhaps the first few sentences) and gives structure to the rest of your review.
2. An identification and analysis of the book’s thesis and arguments. The thesis can be understood as the author’s answer to the question he or she is researching. For example:
If Sigmund Freud’s question is “is warfare part of human nature,” his thesis is “warfare is part of human nature.”
This is usually the longest part of the review and includes not only the thesis but the smaller arguments that help the author get to his or her thesis. In a clearly argued book, the author usually foreshadows his thesis and overall arguments very early in the book.
3. Organization and themes. How does the author structure his or her book? Does he or she follow the story chronologically, or are chapters divided into themes. Does each chapter present its own argument, or do the link together, or both? Who are the major actors in the book? Who is included and who is not included? Does the author use comparison to get his or her point across?
4. Methods and sources. What types of evidence does the author use to prove his or her point? Does he or she use examples, primary documents, archeological, or anthropological evidence?
5. Context and historiography. Where does this book fit into existing literature? For most historians, this includes references to other works on the topic. For our class, I would like you to answer the question of “how does this book fit into readings we have already discussed?”
6. Evaluation. This is your criticism, positive and/or negative. This can be the shortest portion of the review, and may only be a few sentences at the end, but it is important. Is the writing style accessible to a general audience, or do you need to be an expert to understand the argument? Does the evidence support the argument? Try to avoid criticizing the author for things that are “left out,” because it is impossible to include everything. Only do so if you firmly believe that those “left out” topics are essential to the author answering his or her question.