Student Book Reviews.
A Sampling of
from Our Scholars.
Student reviews of books related to the concepts of European absolutism, enlightenment, and revolution were submitted in mid-February in fulfillment of the first major class assignment. The critical analysis of historical works from the point-of-view of the reviewer is important to the development of a deeper intellectual understanding of the period. Reviews are also a smart way to share information with other scholars who are looking for a useful source to illuminate their current intellectual passion.
We will publish student reviews as they arrive at the editor's desk. The second arrived this week. Melissa Moore shares her review of History of Peasant Revolts by Yves-Marie Berce. Thanks Melissa!
Outbursts of Collective Rage
Were a Way to Negotiate
with the Absolutist Government.
History of Peasant Revolts:
The Social Origins of Rebellion in Early Modern France.
By Yves-Marie Berce.
Amanda Whitmore, trans.
(Cornell University Press, 1986).
By Melissa Moore
Translated from the French, Histoire des Croquants, Berces' work concerning the history of the peasant revolts in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, is an expansive composition, fully detailed and thoroughly researched. Covering all aspects within the scope of this topic, Berces' opus (published in 1974) is considered a major addition to the study of comparative social history. Using historical material, Berce depicts the customary lives of all social classes involved during outbursts of "collective rage" found within southwestern France during this time....
A Conscious Genesis:
The Architecture of a King.
Louis XIV. By John Baptist Wolf.
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1968.
Pp. xix + 619, notes and index).
By April Guy
In 1638, France faced an uncertain fear for its future as the twenty-two-year marriage of their king, Louis XIII, and queen, Anne of Austria, had yet to produce an heir. Fates of nations teetered on the abilities of their leaders. Would a new heir emerge from the royal family? Yes! The miraculous news of an impending royal birth replaced uncertainty with dreams of greatness and new hopes for the kingdom. This newborn son the people called a gift from God. Louis le Dieudonné was welcomed by a collective sigh of relief....
Writing a Book Review:
Guidance and Suggestions
from the Professor.
What is the purpose of book reviews? There are many different types of book reviews and they have somewhat different purposes. They appear in newspapers (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette), popular magazines (Newsweek), scholarly journals (Journal of American History, The Historian), and in specialized review publications (New York Review of Books, Choice, or History: Reviews of New Books).
All book reviews exist to tell the reader something substantial about the book and so spare the reader from having to read it themselves. As a result of reading the review, the reader may want to buy it and read it, check it out from the library and read it, buy it for a library so that the library patrons can read it, or ignore the book because its subject is of no interest or because it quality is poor.
The audience for book reviews will vary by publication. Newspapers and popular magazines publish book reviews to let their readers know about important or interesting new titles. They are aimed at a popular audience and review works of fiction and non-fiction, that is often not at all scholarly in its intent.
Some publications are a bit more highbrow than others. New Republic, New York Review of Books, TLS [Times Literary Supplement, and New York Times Book Reviews tend to publish more scholarly reviews as their readers are professional and other intellectuals. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that reviews appearing in the New York Review of Books often spend more time talking about the book reviewer's ideas on the subject than those in the book.
Other book reviews are written to tell librarians about new books. These reviews generally are very short, providing a brief (100-200 words) description of the contents of the book and an evaluation.
Finally there are scholarly reviews of books. These appear in scholarly journals. Such reviews are 500 to 1500 words in length. They basically evaluate the books for other members of the profession. Book reviews written for this class will follow the pattern of a scholarly review.
A book review is not a summary of the contents of a book. Book reports summarize contents and they belong in high school. A good book review is a commentary on the book. That means that it analyses, evaluates, and judges the contents of the book.
Things to look for
when reading a book
for the purpose of reviewing it:
1) Find the author's point of view. This is often clearly stated in the introduction or preface.
2) Identify the author's major hypothesis, point, or contention. There may be more than one or there may be a main one accompanied by several lesser but still important hypotheses. Again, most authors will state their point or hypothesis in the introduction and the conclusion of their book.
3) What types of evidence does the author use? Look at the footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography.
4) How is the book organized to present its argument? Is the organization effective?
5) How does the author use the evidence presented in the book? Is the evidence sufficient, is it convincing, is it appropriate, etc?
6) Is the author's point of view appropriate? Is there a discernible bias, is the author objective? Is the author true to that point of view in the way the book has been written? Always remember to respect how the author wrote the book, as long as it is appropriate. Do not criticize an author from writing a book (or article) differently from how you would have written it. If you feel so strongly about it, write it yourself.
7) How does the book fit in to the existing literature? Are there other books on this topic? Is the book revising them, enhancing them, or contradicting them, etc? Or is this book unique?
8) Based on the organization, argumentation, and evidence presented, do you find the book contains a convincing argument?
9) If possible, compare the book with other books on similar topics.
10) Do you recommend this book to others? Why or why not? Comment on readability, whether the book grabbed your interest, was it useful, etc.?
The structure of a book review:
I. Supply a brief summary or overview of the book's hypotheses and contents.
II. Assess the nature and the quality of the evidence presented.
III. Compare the work with similar titles.
IV. Comment on the author's presentation: organization, writing style, illustrations, tables, bibliography, index.
V. Conclusion with final assessment and recommendation to readers.
When reviewing a book, there are several other key words that can guide your efforts. Ask yourself, what is the author's purpose for writing this book? That question encompasses both point of view and hypothesis. Ask yourself, what is the scope of the book? That question deals with what the book is about. What is its subject (person, time period, place, etc.?
It is also important to know something about the author. The keyword for this is authority. What is the author's authority? Does the author have expertise or a reputation in the subject? Beginning students will know little or nothing about the authors they are reading. That is why it is a good idea to look them up and learn about them. All the people on your reading list are well known and significant historians who are the subjects of entries in biographical reference works.
Beginning students do not know where a book fits into to the historical literature. One way to quickly find out where it fits in is to locate book reviews written by other scholars. How do they evaluate the book and why? Where do they say it fits? Their word is not necessarily gospel. Be sure you find good scholarly reviews, not simple library selection reviews, which are too short and lack detail for this purpose.
Remember, when writing your review, you audience is your classmates and your professors.
Your book review should be 3 to 4 pages long. Provide complete bibliographic information at the front, i.e., author's name, title, place of publication, publisher, year of publication, pages. Put your name at the end of the review. Look at various reviews published in scholarly journals and see how they do it.
Your book review is due on February 16.
Books Eligible for Review
M. S. Anderson,
War and Society in Europe of the Old Regime
Robert B. Asprey,
Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma
C. R. Boxer,
The Dutch Seaborne Empire
The Dutch Revolt
The Thirty Years War
C. V. Wedgwood,
The Thirty Years War
France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu
John B. Wolf,
Peter the Great
The Business of the Enlightenment
Anne of Austria
John T. Alexander,
Catherine the Great
Warfare in the Seventeenth Century
Artisans of Glory: Writers and Historical Thought in Seventeenth Century France
Paris in the Age of Absolutism
Isabel de Madariaga,
Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great
Farce and Fantasy: Popular Entertainment in Eighteenth Century Paris
R. J. W. Evans,
The Making of the Habsburgh Monarchy
J. H. Elliott,
The Count-Duke of Olivares
J. H. Elliott,
The Revolt of the Catalans
Peasant Uprisings in Seventeenth Century France, Russia and China
Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen
The French Peasantry in the Seventeenth Century
Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie,
The Ancient Regime
John P. Spileman,
Leopold I of Austria
Prince Eugene of Savoy
C. V. Wedgwood,
Richelieu and the French Monarchy
The Siege of Vienna
The Military Revolution
Yves Marie Berce,
History of Peasant Revolts
Reference Works Project
(Graduate Students Only)
Length: Four one-page reviews of reference works.
Due: 11 February 2002
Weight: 10% of course grade
Objective: To familiarize the student and the rest of the class with basic general and specific reference tools which will aid in the completion of the historians project and also providean introduction to some important tools for research.
Review should follow the format used by American Reference Books Annual and cover the topics of purpose, scope, authority, reliability, etc. of the work under consideration.
A copy of the review should be given to the instructor and the other members of the class. In addition to the bibliographical information supplied in an ARBA style review, the author of the review should provide a heading in the upper right hand corner of the review identifying the work as being primarily an index, a bibliography, a biographical work, a handbook, etc. Number should also be provided in the heading. In addition, on 24 January the graduate students should bring the works they reviewed or sample volumes of the works to class to show around. They should be prepared to make a short five minute presentation or more discussing the books that they reviewed.