Book Review Essays, Spring 2014


This term we’ll talk about book review essays a lot. I insist on tacking the word “essays” on the back end of that phrase to help differentiate between those we’ll be reading, and those which might first come to mind. The latter might include reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads, reviews that offer a quick-glance judgment by seeing four-out-of-five stars reddened. If you’ve regularly read around in newspapers and magazines, you might think of a slightly more sophisticated version, a review that tells you in a more nuanced fashion about a newly-published tome, its strengths and weaknesses, and at least an implied final evaluation.

The essays we’re going to talk about do some of that, but more. They are essays in their own right, about the topic at hand, at some point discussing a recent book on that same subject.

To that end, I’ll frequently refer to the New York Review of Books, a magazine (and, of course, website) which publishes this and other sorts of essays (this morning I find an essay on freedom and spying by German Chancellor Angela Merkel). Clicking there this morning I see several great examples for us. Essays on books about weighty historical topics like slavery and anti-Semitism. There’s another about women at the top of their fields. Each of these is after something greater than even the kind, well-read man or woman at the sales counter of your favorite book store. Each is also an essay, in the sense we’ve discussed all year, hoping to persuade the reader of something, often hoping to change our focus on the world just a little.

When you need to find your way back to these essays, or those like them, click over on the right there, on the tag “book reviews.” It will take you to the posts over the past few years where I’ve linked to many such reviews.

UPDATE: Here’s Steve Coll’s essay, “The King of the Foxes,” which we discussed on Friday, which is a biography.

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