Book review

How to write a book review

Mar 17, 2007
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By David Woods

66So the editor has asked you to write a book review. You’re flattered. After all, the editor has presumably chosen you because you are knowledgeable about the book’s subject – possibly even an expert.

On the other hand, the editor might be desperate… looking for someone capable of reading a book without lips moving, and with the potential – maybe – to provide illuminating commentary. For it’s true that book reviews and not obituaries are the real graveyard of publishing.

Nonetheless, there are certain guidelines to help you write a reader-friendly and reader-useful critique:

  • Read other reviews, especially in such medical journals as the BMJ;
  • Clearly identify the book’s title, author, publisher, price, and ISBN number;
  • As with any other kind of writing, start with an arresting lead paragraph;
  • Make sure you read the whole book;
  • Briefly describe the author’s qualifications and intent;
  • Comment on the presentation and the quality of the writing – the emphasis should be on quality and flow, not in nitpicking comments about poor grammar or spelling unless they’re so prevalent as to wreck the overall project;
  • Don’t inject too much of yourself. Remember, your objective is to say what this book is about, and to recommend whether your reader should bother to buy it. It should not be an ad hominem attack on the author, nor an unbridled rant… although that doesn’t mean your criticism shouldn’t be strongly-worded where that is justified; and
  • Finally, ask yourself: is this a book you would want to buy – and why?

A sample book review, previously published in the British Medical Journal, is available here.

Book review: Methods for the economic evaluation of health care programmes – 3rd edition

Nov 13, 2006
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Edited by Michael F. Drummond, Mark J. Sculpher, George W. Torrance, Bernie J. O’Brien, and Greg L. Stoddart.
Oxford University Press, 2005, $55/£29.50, 379 pages.
Reviewed by Kevin D. Frick

39This book is an excellent addition to any collection on cost-effectiveness methods. It describes and gives usable examples of such methods.

The first edition was published in the mid-1980s; this third edition reflects new techniques, the many different recommendations for performing cost-effectiveness analyses, and recommendations for formatting descriptions of cost-effectiveness analysis results.

A key feature is the description of cost-effectiveness analyses conducted using either patient level data (such as analyses that are conducted alongside randomized trials) or decision analytic modelling. The authors highlight the strengths and weaknesses of both types of studies and make clear the challenges that an analyst will face in either type of study.

This book provides a balanced view of what economic evaluation may provide to enhance healthcare resource allocation.

Book review: Prevention effectiveness – 2nd edition

Oct 13, 2006
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Edited by Anne Haddix, Steven Tuesch, and Phaedra Corso, Oxford University Press, 2002, US$45, £26.99, 286 pages.
Reviewed by Kevin D. Frick

36This text is required reading for students in my introductory cost-effectiveness course. Why? Because it combines a discussion of the United States Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine’s recommendations, general readability, and an introduction to decision analysis.

First, for most students in an introductory course, knowing what the US Panel’s recommendations were and that they were the result of well-reasoned debate is sufficient. The US recommendations are likely to remain relevant to US audiences as they have been the only federal government-based recommendations.

Second, the Haddix et al. text is readable.

Third, the book provides an introduction to decision analysis, an integral part of many cost-effectiveness studies in the literature.

Finally, this is a useful text for an introductory cost-effectiveness course for anyone with no decision analysis background who needs to be aware of US recommendations.

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