January 9, 2013

How to Write Better Reviews of Atheist Books

There are way too many good books on atheism waiting to be read, and nobody wants to waste their time on the lesser of them. This is why I really appreciate it when atheist bloggers post book reviews. Of course, not all book reviews are equally helpful. In this post, I'll give you an example of the sort of book review that captures my attention, take a look at why it is so effective, and offer some quick tips for those of you reviewing atheist books.

I want to start with an example of the sort of book review that really gets my attention. Check out Al Stefanelli's great review of Alan Jeskin's Outgrowing God: Moving Beyond Religion.

Outgrowing God: Moving Beyond ReligionI added this book to my wish list right after reading the review. Why? What was it about Al's review I found so compelling?

What I particularly liked was that he highlighted what made the book stand out to him. Book reviews are too often little more than a summary of the book's contents. For textbooks or reference books, this may be adequate, but I have found that this is rarely sufficient for atheists looking for their next read.

Another thing that makes Al's review work was that he considered the book in the broader context of other books on atheism. Reviews that do this tend to be most effective because they use material with which the reader is already familiar to help them evaluate the book under review. If I love everything by Richard Dawkins, and you tell me that a book reminded you of one of Dawkins' books, that is going to get my attention.

Based on this review, it sounds like Jeskin's book is different enough that it may appeal to those of us who have read so many of the books on atheism that they have started to blur together. Because I am definitely in this camp, I have been looking for something a bit different - a way to take a break from the usual. It is good to know I may find it here.

When you sit down to write a book review, here are some suggestions:
  • Keep it brief. 4-5 paragraphs is usually enough. Beyond that and you are probably summarizing too much.
  • Tell the reader what, if anything, made the book stand out to you. We have many choices these days; why would this be a good (or bad) one?
  • Assume that most readers have read other books on atheism and use that to your advantage. Help us consider how this book fits (or doesn't fit) with the others we might have read.
  • Not all reviews have to be "fair and balanced." If you loved the book, tell us why. If you hated it, tell us why. Reviews can certainly note pros and cons, but those that sound overly neutral are rarely helpful.
  • Tell us if there is a Kindle edition available. I'm certainly more likely to buy the book if there is one.
Do you have other tips for those writing reviews? If so, share them in the comments.

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