Guidance for Writing Book Reviews

Canadian Military Journal

  1. In order to contribute to its readers’ understanding of contemporary military and security issues, the Canadian Military Journal reviews new publications of potentially broad significance to the Canadian defence community. Here is some guidance for those who may wish to submit a book review to the Journal. Not all elements covered here are necessary or universally applicable. Individual flair is encouraged, and as always, common sense, fairness, and courtesy should trump all other considerations.
    1. Read the book. Resist the temptation to base your review either on a quick scan or on reviews already written in other journals. Before reading the entire work, gain insight into the author’s purpose and method by reading the preface, introduction, and concluding chapter. This will enhance your understanding of the author’s agenda and orient your exploration of his book.
    1. Identify the author. As economically as possible, introduce the author to the readership by describing his/her background, prior contributions, and motives in writing this book. Avoid clichés:  trite adjectives and stock descriptions do not ‘pack a punch.’
    1. Present an analysis. This is the centre of gravity of the review. While avoiding the temptation to summarize the book, evaluate the author’s success in constructing and presenting his thesis, major themes, and arguments. Present a balanced assessment of the supporting evidence as well as a frank appraisal of the sources used. Judge the author’s style in relation to how it reinforces or weakens his thesis and supporting arguments. 
    1. Retain a Sense of Proportion.  Do not ‘nit pick.’ Even the best book has flaws, so judge the overall value of the book rather than dwell upon minor criticisms. Point out inaccuracies, misinterpretations and typographical errors when they threaten the integrity of the book. No reviewer is under obligation to be negative; the professional duty is to be critical. 
    1. Flavour the assessment. Include short and lively quotes or anecdotes that add spice to your review. Tell the reader where and how the book fits into wider literature treating the author’s subject. Specify which type or level of audience would derive the most profit or entertainment from the book. 
    1. Remain courteous and fair. A book review is an act of scholarship: it mirrors the writer’s common sense and judgment. Reviewers who make personal attacks on the book’s author or resort to petty remarks on content or style undermine their own credibility. Courtesy, maturity, and respect for others remain the hallmarks of even the most critical review.
    1. Economy of Effort.  Consider the readership of the Canadian Military Journal as an informed audience. A 500-to-1000 word review on a single book will suffice, but it should not exceed 1000 words. Review essays, which evaluate several books treating the same subject, may be longer.  Do not feel you must say everything there is to say about the book. Leave something to the readers to discover for themselves; do not ‘steal the author’s thunder.’ 
    1. Personalize your review. To give depth to your review, you may wish to share your own thoughts, recollection, and experiences where they are relevant to the book’s context and purpose.  Avoid assuming an expertise you do not possess. Review the book as the author has written it.  Avoid giving your opinions on what kind of book you feel the author should have written.
    1. Formatting.  CMJ reviews follow a set format. They lead with information about the book, formatted as follows:

The Politics of Command
Lieutenant-General A.G.L. McNaughton
and the Canadian Army, 1939-1943
by John Nelson Rickard
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010
366 pages, $46.95
ISBN: 978-1-4426-4002-3

Reviewed by Daniel Gosselin

    1. Reviewer biography.   Reviewers should provide a very brief (two short sentences maximum) note with respect to self-identification. Consult previous issues [either in hard copy or on line at to get a feel for what is required].
    1. Cover scan.   In keeping with CMJ formatting, a high resolution scan of the book’s dust cover is required. (1 MB at 300 dpi will suffice). If the reviewer cannot provide, arrangements can be made with the CMJ Publications Manager to do the scanning.

Richard Marius and Melvin E. Page.  A Short Guide to Writing about History.  Fourth Edition (New York :  Longman, 2002).  This guidance is a paraphrasing of Appendix B ‘Book Reviews.’