By David Woods

So 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?