Book Review

General Instructions

For the final, each student will write a review of a book on the Crusades from the list below. In week six, you will have an opportunity to discuss your book with the whole class and relate its topic to the course content.

The books are arranged in broad topical categories to guide you in your selection. Some books are narrowly focused and may be written for a scholarly audience, while others are broader and aimed at a general reader. A few books may be collections of essays linked on a topic, and thus present some special conditions for reviewing. Some, like Amin Maalouf's The Crusades through Arab Eyes, are quite controversial, in which case you will need to look at some of the print reviews.


Week 1: Pick out a few that interest you and go look at them in the library during the first week. PLEASE DO NOT CHECK ANY OF THESE BOOKS OUT until you have your chosen book assigned to you. Please browse through them in the stacks and return the book to its proper place on the shelf so that other students in the class can find them. On Thursday of the first week, submit a list of three favorites, in order of preference. I will then assign them so that noone is doing the same book and so that we have a balance of topics. If you know of a book not on the list (there are thousands!) that you want to review, come ask me.

Weeks 2-4: Check your book out of the library and read it (see reading guidelines below).

Week 5: Begin analyzing the book and writing your review.

Week 6: Be prepared to give an oral report on your book in class. The written review is due on Friday, the last day of class, in lieu of a final exam.


Idea of crusades Christianity and the Crusades Islam and the East Other Crusades Military Orders and Military History Cross-cultural Interactions Architecture, Art, Literature:

Book Review Guidelines

The idea of a book review is not to repeat what the book says or describe it--that is a "book report." Rather, a review analyzes the book and critiques it. Examine the thesis and arguments, use of evidence, contribution to the field, readability for its intended audience, and general usefulness. Read some sample reviews to get an idea of how this is done. Look in a scholarly journal or online:

Read with a purpose. Here is a secret: you don't have to read every word slowly and carefully. Preview the book by reading the Preface, Introduction and Conclusion, skimming the chapters (intros and conclusions, maps, pictures, charts, etc). Read a chapter at a time, focusing on arguments, not data. You might just read the introduction and conclusion first, to get the main idea, then locate the subarguments in the chapter. Do not take copious notes (and don't mark in library books!!!). Rather, read to the end of the chapter, keeping your main questions in mind, and then write a brief summary or set of notes after you have finished a chapter.

These are the questions you can ask as you read and address in your review:

  1. What is the purpose and thesis of the book? Look at the Preface or Introduction to find out what the author set out to do and why.
  2. What are the themes of the book? Look at the Table of Contents as well as the Introductory material to find out what key ideas and issues the author addresses.
  3. What is the author's point of view? Is there an unstated bias, or does the author clearly define the point of view or approach the book will take? Examine the thesis and arguments, as well as the handling of evidence, to see what that approach is.
  4. What sources does the author use and how effectively does the book use evidence to support arguments? Look particularly for primary source evidence.
  5. Who is the audience and how well does the author write in a style and with an organization that speaks to that audience?
  6. What structure, organization, and supporting aids does the book have that make it effective? Look at notes, bibliography, maps, charts, diagrams, etc.
  7. For the purposes of this class, how does the book contribute to our understanding of the Crusades? How does it fit in with other things we have read?

Obviously, these questions are interconnected, but you can still use them to organize your paper into clear paragraphs and sections. However, you should follow the usual rules for paper writing and have a good introduction and conclusion tying all of your thoughts together. In particular, you should relate what you thought about the book to what you learned in class.

Some warnings: revised 5/10/99