Tutorial on how to write a review essay on a book

Writing a review essay can be a fun academic challenge. It requires that you understand the book, understand the conventions of reviews, and that you can combine these with an academic essay-like approach. This seems like quite a lot, so, how can you go about composing a review essay on a book?

Read the Book!

The first thing to do, obviously, is to read the book that you are going to write about. It might be a good idea to read one or two existing reviews, and from these to get an idea of the main themes. That means that when you read, you can find quotations and passages that support and evidence those themes, saving working out what those themes are.

Decide which Topics

In a review essay, you need to be able to identify the unique or significant narratives and themes of the work, and to write about them. You cannot write about everything, so select what you feel are the key aspects.

Read Reviews

The best preparation for writing a review is to read as many reviews as you can, on as many books as possible. These pieces of writing have a very specific tone, a particular voice, and the only way to learn is to read it!


When you compose your plan, you need to be aware that the review has to have several functions:

  • Provide an overview of the book
  • Describe the narrative
  • Describe characters and themes
  • Discuss the success of these
  • Also, provide and academic reading
  • Finally, provide a personal response

All of these elements are required.


Your introduction should tell the reader what you are reviewing, and essentially how you will do it, for example:

This review will discuss the novel Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. This novel, originally published in 1967 has often been read as a postmodern work about entropy. I want to develop this reading, and in this review I will suggest an alternative reading, supported by sources from the text.

So, read the book, make sure you understand the tone by reading reviews in good publications, and then make sure that all of your readings are supported by the book. If you can offer a fresh reading, or an alternative reading, then this always makes a review interesting.


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