HIST 615/635: History of the Cold War Prof. Steven E. Harris Re: Book Reviews and Book Review Presentations Why do we write book reviews? Along with books and articles, book reviews are a specific genre of writing that historians undertake. All of the major journals in history, such as the American Historical Review and the Journal of Modern History, feature a large number of book reviews in each of their editions. There are several reasons why historians write book reviews and read those written by other historians. First, the book review is one of the most basic ways in which other historians learn about recently published works and new trends and topics in historical scholarship. In addition, with so many books published yearly, book reviews help historians sort out what may or may not be worth reading. Second, a reviewer offers a professional critique of the book in order to point out its strengths and weaknesses. He or she evaluates the quality and depth of the historian’s research, the originality and strength of the book’s argument, and the quality of the historian’s writing and ability to present his or her evidence and ideas in a clear way. Third, a good reviewer reflects on the book’s place and importance in relation to other books written on similar topics. Does the book merely add more information to our understanding of a specific topic or does it also present us with a new and different way of thinking about that topic? Most good books do both. Your book review assignment: Your book review (about 4-5 pages, double spaced) should address the following: 1) an overview of the book’s main subject matter, the author(s)’ main questions, and the author(s)’ main arguments; 2) a critique of the arguments and their originality, the scholar(s)’ methodology, quality of research, strength of evidence, etc.; 3) the book’s relationship to the overall literature on the Cold War. You need not address these points in this order, but they should be covered over the course of your review. In critiquing the arguments of a book, be sure to draw upon specific chapters and evidence presented in the book. Your review should also give the reader a sense of the kind of sources used and whether or not they sufficiently support the arguments made. Of course, you need to be very selective when drawing upon specific examples since you only have 4-5 pages and want to use only the most illustrative ones in order to make your case. If you’re reviewing one of the collected volumes on the reading list, you probably won’t be able to mention the article of every contributor, so focus on the ones you believe to be the most important. On the book’s place in the field: You are not expected to have read the Cold War history canon in situating the book in the field! However, how does this book compare or contrast with books you may have already read on the Cold War, or with commonly accepted conclusions – popular and/or scholarly – about the Cold War? Did you actually learn something new – either factually or, more interestingly, about how to think about the Cold War historically? What type of history does this book adhere to – high politics, diplomatic, social and cultural, economic, military? And finally, what kinds of questions for future research does this book raise? At the end of the day, a good book review tells the reader what’s good about it and what isn’t. Be critical, even harshly critical, but be sure to back up your criticisms (and your praise for the book) with your own convincing points. Finally, some research advice: read what others have written about this book – specifically in book reviews, review essays, and review articles published in the major academic journals such as those indicated above (review essays address several works together on a common theme; review articles address an entire subfield). This is a good way to think about where the book fits in the field. Obviously, reading these reviews does not relieve you of the responsibility to read the book yourself and offer your own criticisms, but it can help in thinking about the bigger issues and sharpening your own thinking. Of course, if you draw something specific from a book review, review essay, or review article, be sure to cite it in your book review. Book Review Presentation: Your task here is to give a 5-10 minute presentation in class on the book you’ve read. Your presentation should cover basically the same ground as your book review. In order to address the larger historiographical issues and controversies of a book and its author(s), try to include, if possible, more in your presentation on what other historians have said about this book in their own book reviews, review essays, and review articles. Apart from that, the format is up to you. If you feel more comfortable reading from a script, you may do so. Alternatively, if you wish to speak from notes in a more conversational style, you may do so as well. Apart from covering the basics of your book review, a good presentation raises interesting questions about that book that helps to structure the class discussion on the book that follows.