Eyoh Etim

Department of English,

Akwa Ibom State University, Nigeria.

Introduction: Book Review is one of the most important topics in Use of English courses in universities across Nigeria and beyond. This is because book review itself is an indispensable skill which every educated person should be armed with. It is expected that at a certain stage in one’s career, one can be called upon to critically assess a publication in one’s field of study. The ability to objectively assess such a text and come up with a balanced verdict on its quality and relevance is central to the task of a book reviewer. The burden of such a responsibility can be well understood when one considers the fact that reviewers are usually the first set of people to read newly published books. In fact, the general reading public often depends on the opinion of reviewers in deciding whether to read a book or not. Again, it should be noted that before any book is presented to the public, particularly at a book launch, the book reviewer has to read the book and make necessary recommendations. In view of the importance of book review as hinted in the foregoing sentences, this paper will attempt a general guide on how students should go about the task of reviewing a book. Such a guide will, among other things, consider the definition, purpose and format of book review. It should, however, be noted that it is not only books that can be reviewed; films, music, albums, drama presentations, artistic paintings and even architectural masterpieces can be reviewed.

Definition of Book Review: Perhaps, before presenting what book review is, it is, first of all, necessary to say what book review is not. Book review is not the summary of a text. This is a common misconception especially among undergraduate students who offer Use of English courses. Though summary is an implied aspect of review, setting out with the sole aim of summarising a text in the name of book review constitutes an exercise in futility. In the words of Chukwuemeka Ike (1991:158), “A book review is a critical essay, not an exercise in writing summaries.” Though Ike (1991), as well as other scholars, view book review as “a critical essay”, book review is not all about condemning a book or preoccupying oneself with finding faults in a book. Far from it; in fact, the word “critical” as used in the context of criticism does not necessarily imply making negative or uncomplimentary comments, but rather it implies forming an objective, balanced and unbiased opinion about a thing.

Thus, a book review goes beyond contracting the length of a text, or pointing out all that the author did wrong, to making value judgement about a book. But then again, it should be sounded that book review is not about pouring out excessive eulogies on a text. As with other forms of literary criticism, a good review should honestly state the strengths and the weaknesses of a book, but should state more of the strengths than the weaknesses based on textual evidence. According to J. I. Obasikene et al (2005:307),

A book review is a kind of expository essay. It summarises a piece of work, explains its meaning(s) and techniques embodied in it, and expresses the reviewer’s opinion about it. Its aim is to provide a brief assessment of the quality and value of the reviewed material. And its method is largely analytical, with copious textual references to substantiate evaluative statements.

Another definition of book review which complements that of Obasikene et al is that given by Christina Myers-Shaffers (2000:364) in which she claims that “The book review… evaluates a book’s merits for the average reader within the projected audience for that particular type of book.” Myers-Shaffers’ definition hints at a very important aspect of book review, which is recommendation. The hallmark of any review is to, at the end of the interpretation and evaluation; recommend the book to the relevant readership. Indeed, without this recommendation, a book review can hardly be said to be complete. Having known what a book review is all about, the next section will deal with the purpose of a book review.

Purpose of a Book Review: The question this section of the paper intends to answer is: Why is book review necessary? Or what purpose does book review serve? As would be observed, some of these must have been treated or hinted at the introductory section of the paper. Suffice it to state that book review is a skill needed by every educated person as it could serve personal or public ends. An individual with the knowledge of book review can use it to determine the type of books he or she could read and those he or she should shun. This is based on the age-old assumption that not all books are to be “chewed and digested”. In the words of Francis Bacon: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and few to be chewed and digested” (Wikiquote, 1). Indeed, the books meant to be chewed and digested are very few, a situation which warrants critical assessment of books for their value.

One invaluable purpose, therefore, which the book review serves, is that of enlightening the readers on which book to read for maximum value realisation. The book market is teeming with myriads of reading materials on all subject matters that interest humanity; all competing for the attention and patronage of the reader. With that kind of scenario, choice on the part of the consumer can be very problematic. This largely explains why the reading populace has come to rely on the judgement or opinion of the reviewer on the choice of reading materials. Thus, book review helps readers to narrow down their choice of books. Part of a reviewer’s job is to classify books into their appropriate genres, apart from making statements about the value, worth or relevance of the books. Such attempt at classification also goes a long way to helping the readers make informed choices with regard to the type of books they should read.

A book review also acts as a marketing strategy. Publishers and writers, as well as readers, rely on reviews to determine if a particular book will sell a good number of copies or not. And readers tend to purchase books that have favourable reviews or books that are adjudged to be bestsellers. Thus, just as the book review serves as a marketing strategy, the book reviewer can be perceived to be a salesman or a marketer.

The book review equally serves as a feedback mechanism between writers and publishers, on the one hand, and the reading public, on the other hand. Through the instrumentality of review, publishers and writers get to know what books meet the taste of the reading public, while the readers are educated on what contents are actually available for reading.

The book review is also a medium of interpretation. The book review, being a form of criticism, is particularly concerned with unlocking the meaning of a work, which might not be readily available for the reader upon the publication of a book. It is actually this activity of interpretation that will aid the reader decide whether to read the text or not. There are many other purposes which book review serves, but with the ones already enumerated, one can see why the reviewer occupies a central position in the book distribution chain. This has made it necessary for the examination of the qualities a book reviewer should possess in view of the huge responsibility placed on him.

Qualities of a Book Reviewer: The book reviewer should be a voracious reader. There is a particular saying that the best writers are the best readers. There is no other aspect which the statement applies more than in book review. The quality of a book review depends on the quality of reading materials the reviewer has been exposed to overtime. A reviewer is not only expected to have a vast repertoire of knowledge in his or her area or field, but he or she is also expected to be well read in other fields. The implication this has for the reviewer’s reading ability is that he or she should read across board. In other words, a reviewer should not limit the materials he or she reads. Indeed, the instruction is to read everything.

The reviewer should be Honest. Honesty is an indispensable virtue of a good reviewer. As a virtue, honesty will guide the reviewer in the process of forming a critical opinion on a book. The reviewer is expected to tell the reader the truth about a given book, and nothing but the truth. If the book is great, the reviewer should say so, and where the book is poor, the reviewer is expected to be bold enough to state it without any fear or favour.

The book reviewer should be objective. To be objective entails making a balanced judgement about the materials under review. This means that the review should neither be characterised by excessive condemnation or fault-finding, nor should it be replete with shameless praises. In fact, the review should dwell on the formal features of a review, without being unduly personal. This leads the paper to the next section, which is the language of a book review.

The Language of a Book Review: Like every form of essay writing, book review has its own language which would guide the reviewer. Book review should be written using formal English. And in keeping with the rules of formal language, the book review should have a polite tone. English is generally perceived to be a polite language and the review should live up to that perception. Even while making damning comments about a book, such comments should be very polite. Another aspect of a formal language is the use of simple but effective diction. Every piece of writing aims at communicating with the readers. Thus, while the reviewer is expected to use technical terms relative to the field in which the book is published, he or she should be mindful of the need to communicate.

The review, being a formal mode of communication, should  deploy more of passive voice than active voice. It should avoid contracted forms as well as informal spellings. The language of the review should be impersonal. This means that the writer should, as much as it is possible, detach himself or herself from the review by using mostly the third person pronouns as done in this paper. This will, in effect, give the review the much needed sense of objectivity.

Steps to Writing a Book Review: There are certain useful steps that must be followed before writing of a book review. For O. A. Egbokhare (2002:120), there are three major steps in writing a good review, which are: previewing the text, reading the text and writing the review. However, for this writer, the first major step is that the material to be reviewed has to be read thoroughly, twice or thrice. A successful review begins with a proper reading of the book to be reviewed. The reviewer is expected to engage in critical thinking while reading the book. This implies that, in the course of reading the book, the reviewer should take down notes while forming a general impression about the book. The reviewer should, among other things, write down the striking statements in the book, note the contributions the book has made, observe the innovations proposed in the book, if any, and note down portions of the text that have spelling, grammatical and typographical errors.

Again, in the course of reading the book, the reviewer is expected to ask relevant questions such as: what is the purpose of this book? Has the author achieved the objective he or she set out to achieve? What is my overall impression about this book? Who should read this book? Is this book for children or adults only or can everyone read it? What is the quality of publication as far as this book is concerned? Has the book been well published? Is the author qualified to write this book? Is this book well written? Has the book been well edited?

All the foregoing questions and many others are relevant at the point of reading the text because the reviewer will be expected to answer them in the course of writing the review. In writing the review, the format should be understood.

Format of a Book Review: There is apparently no rigidly set format for a book review, but most scholars, like Luke Eyoh (2000), agree that book review should have, apart from the Relevant Data, the Title of the review, Introduction, Contents and Organisation of Contents, Evaluation, Conclusion and Recommendation. Each of these items will be treated individually.

Title of the Review

The review should have a title. An instance could be:


Relevant Data

The relevant data of the book come after the title and are usually listed out. They include: The Title of the Book, the Author’s Name, Year of Publication, Place/Town of Publication, Publishers, ISBN, Pagination, Price and the Name of the Reviewer. An instance of how the relevant data could be presented is given below:

Title: Effective Use of English Volume 2

Author: Luke Eyoh

Place/Town of Publication: Uyo

Publishers: Scholars Press

Year of Publication: 2000

ISBN: 978-2275-36-0

Pagination: Viii+161= 169 pages

Price: Not Stated

Reviewer: Blessing Menegbo

Introduction: This is where the reviewer makes some introductory comments on the book under review. Like all introductory parts of an essay, the aim is to capture the interest of the audience or the reader concerning the book to be reviewed. Apart from this, the introduction of the book review should acquaint the reader with the purpose of the book— the need that the book serves as intended by the author. While there is no singular format for going about the introduction of a review, scholars agree on certain points or facts that should be stated. For one, the reviewer is expected to make a general statement which touches on his overall impression about the book. The introduction should also attempt a brief classification of the book. Is it a novel? Is it a war novel? Is it an African novel? In all, the introduction should serve as a window through which one can have a peep at the entire review.

Contents and Organisation of Contents: The reviewer should, at this point, inform the reader about the contents of the book and how the contents are organised, including the number of sections, parts and pages allotted. Is the book written in chapters? How many chapters are there? Are the chapters evenly spread in relation to pagination? Are the pieces of information in the work organised in texts, graphs, charts and pictures? How do such methods of organisation help the reader in harvesting meaning from the book? These and other related questions are answered in this section of the review. The reviewer should also inform the audience of his or her overall impression about the contents of the book. Is it rich enough to interest the audience?

It should be noted that this section of the review is always the most bulky as the reviewer is expected to, in this section, highlight to the audience the wealth of knowledge contained in the book. It is this section that makes book review sound like summary. But care must be taken so that analysis of contents will not result in the reproduction of the whole work. The aim in this section is to get the reader interested in reading or buying the book, and not telling the reader everything about the book so that there is no longer the need to buy it.

There are a number of ways to go about the presentation of contents in book review. One of the ways is chapter-by-chapter analysis, that is, if the book is written in chapters. In this method, the reviewer informs the reader of the highlights of each chapter that makes up the book. Another method is to appraise the reader of some of the most useful information in the book without using a linear approach. The reviewer can also base his or her analysis of contents on some of the captivating issues in the work. Where the book being reviewed is a work of fiction, the reviewer is expected to acquaint the reader with the synopsis of the story. Again, the contents of a work of fiction can be analysed using such literary features as plot, setting, characterisation, point of view and language and style. In all, the presentation of contents in a review calls for tact and creativity on the part of the reviewer.

Evaluation: Perhaps, evaluation is the most important part of the review. In fact, some scholars have equated evaluation with the review itself. This is because it is in the evaluation that the reviewer passes judgement about the greatness or otherwise of the book. This is where the reviewer makes his or her assessment of the work’s success or failure. But to come to this position, the reviewer takes many things into consideration, beginning from the cover page information to the contribution the book makes to cultural knowledge.

To begin with, the reviewer has to make statements concerning the suitability of the book’s title. How creative and captivating is the title of the book? Does the title justify the contents of the book? In other words, has the title been well chosen? Next, the reviewer should discuss the cover illustration of the book. Do the cover graphics and pictures synchronise with the essence or ontology of the book? Does the colour combination send out the message as intended by the work? The evaluative statement should also touch on the font size used in the work as well as the general publication quality of the text. Is the font readable? Is the printing clear? What is the quality of the paper used in printing the book? What is the binding method for the book? Does it guarantee the durability of the book?

The reviewer can then make evaluative statements about the contents of the book; its achievements, innovations and contributions to the existing body of knowledge. Has the author been able to effectively handle the subject matter of the book? Is there anything problematic or irreconcilable about the information or facts presented in the book? Are there areas the author should consider revising in the subsequent editions of the book? Or does the book contain current knowledge for the education of the reader?

The evaluation should also talk about the language and style of presentation used in the book. Is the language simple and the style lucid or is it obscure? Is it written in contemporary formal English or does it make use of archaic diction and syntax? Is the work written in pidgin? In this, it should be noted that the language of a text usually targets a particular audience. If a book is written in pidgin, it could be that the author wants to reach a wider readership of barely educated people. The language can also determine the age grade of readers. Certain books, by nature of its language and contents, cannot be read by children. This parameter should guide the reviewer when it gets to the recommendation of the text.

Finally, the evaluative statement should say whether there are spelling, grammatical and typographical errors in the work. It should also state the extent to which such errors affect the message or contents of the work. Where there are errors, the reviewer should point them out with the page numbers where they can be found. It should, however, be added that the reviewer’s evaluation should be concluded, more or less, on a positive note.

Conclusion: As it is characteristic of the conclusion in any essay, the reviewer, here, sums up his or her overall or general impression about the book. The conclusion emphasises the salient qualities of the book in a bid to whet the reader’s appetite towards picking up a copy to read. The conclusion is an appropriate opportunity for the reviewer to persuade the audience to go for the book. The reviewer is expected to restate, in superlative terms, the achievements of the book and the central position it occupies as an indispensable fountain of knowledge.

Recommendation: This is a very necessary section of a review. Without recommendation, there is no review. The recommendation can be a sentence or two in which the reviewer places the stamp of approval (or, in very few cases, disapproval) on the book by urging the appropriate readers to read it. There is no much ado about the recommendation. It can be as simple as: I recommend Rome Aboh’s A Torrent of Terror to all readers who are interested in African poetry…

Below is an example of a book review done by the author of this paper and presented during the public presentation of the book in 2015.


Title: Nigerian Cinema

Author: Samuel Brown

Publishers: El-johns Publishers

Town of Publication: Uyo

Year of Publication: 2015

Pagination: ix + 87 = 96 pages

ISBN: 968-2275-25-5

Price: Not stated

Reviewer: Eyoh Etim, Lecturer, Department of English and Literary Studies, Akwa Ibom State University.

 Theme Quote

‘The man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.’


Introduction: An English poet and critic once defined poetry as the best that is thought of and expressed in the world. Implicit in this definition is the fact that poetry is the highest form of expression in the hierarchy of the human speech act or speech form. This, in turn, has a lot of implications about the mind of the poet – that is, the mind from which poetry proceeds. It ought to be the most perceptive, creative and imaginative minds who get to write poetry, and I can tell you, with every ounce of certainty, that Samuel Brown is made of such a mind. In one of my poems in which I attempted a definition of poetry, I have noted, among other things, that ‘the mind is the poet, not the man’ (Songs of Our Time). Indeed, through poetry, one can tell the dancer from the dance.

Samuel Brown’s anthology, Nigerian Cinema, is a confluence where poetry and philosophy meet and interact in a task to purge society of most of its socio-political ills. The collection is a poetic canvas on which is painted sordid contemporary societal realities. Samuel Brown’s artistry revolves around the cinema motif; in this, the anthology is, to a great extent, a dramatisation of Nigeria’s socio-political history. It is a stage on which many allegorical characters enact a tragic drama in the story of a deeply troubled and traumatised nation. Nigerian Cinema is faithful in its depiction of the timelessness and universality of human action. A glimpse at its contents will definitely cause the average person who appreciates poetry to salivate.

Contents and Organisation of Contents: Samuel Brown’s Nigerian Cinema is a beautifully written anthology which comprises over 50 poems arranged in three parts, dealing with a wide-range of topics, themes and issues that affect humanity. All these are preceded by a preface written by Prof. Ashong C. Ashong, stamping a lasting seal of quality on the poems that follow.

A close study of the collection reveals the poems, and indeed the poet, as being socially committed to ridding society of all unprogressive ideologies and self-destructive actions, especially those identified with the leadership class. The poems constitute a lament, a dirge on our collective socio-political woes caused by leadership failure. Yet there are personal poems expressing grief of immeasurable losses that have been perpetrated by Nature in carting away the human jewelries in the poet’s life. The poems do not only chastise; they also eulogise – they pay tributes and render encomiums to and on great African intellectuals and leaders, past and present, who are symbols of truth, honesty, bravery, tenacity and altruism. These, indeed, are leadership attributes which the younger generation of Nigerian intellectuals and leaders should emulate.

A particularly interesting poem in the book is the one which gives the entire collection its title – ‘Nigerian Cinema’. The poem charts the socio-political odyssey of Nigeria ‘after the return of the strangers/and the greed messengers’ – that is, from independence in 1960 to the present. It documents the various stations of the Nigerian political cross – democracy punctuated by military rule, disrupted by civil war, and plagued by corruption and abuse of power. However, the persona does not lose hope that a true Moses will emerge to lead the people to the Land of Promise and that a Daniel will eventually come to the judgement.

Evaluation: Samuel Brown’s Nigerian Cinema is an expression in artistry and poem-manship. It is written in lucid style, which conforms to Niyi Osundare’s belief that poetry should be open and accessible to all— the democracy of poetry. The quality of the publication can be attested to by the legible font, clear and clean pages, and creative organisation of contents, among others. The poems themselves are rendered with such humanistic touch, sarcastic clarity and rhetorical eloquence that leave the reader shocked, bemused, amused, pleasantly surprised and intrigued. For instance, in the poem, ‘ Why Should I Die?’, the persona asks: ‘Why should I die?… Is it for another assembly/of happy enemies/and sad friends?’ On page 33, the poet asks in another poem: ‘Can a pig be purified?’ and my answer is: ‘That’s the question!’ Indeed, such attempt at combining oxymoron with rhetorical questions to create effect abounds in the collection. All these go to show the mental maturity of the poet in the act of birthing poetry, as well as why this collection is a must-read for all. I must, however, point out that there are a number of typos which thorough editing would have removed, though their presence does not detract from the rich contents and aesthetics of the anthology.

Conclusion: Nigerian Cinema by Samuel Brown is an important addition to the already rich long list of anthologies in the poetry canon of African and Nigerian literature. It lends its voice in decrying systematic corruption, abuse of power and leadership ineptitude noted in Africa over the years. It is a voice that has refused to stay silent. The collection has also made major statements about the state of the Nigerian nation, and its vision lies in creating an egalitarian society, where every Nigerian will be a Nigerian anywhere in Nigeria. Having been attested to by the best minds in scholarship, and having recounted its many artistic qualities, I have no reservations whatsoever in recommending this book to the Nigerian readership and, indeed, that of Africa and world.

Recommendation: Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest book in town. It is a collection of heart-touching poems on the state of our nation, Nigeria. I recommend Nigerian Cinema by Samuel Brown to the Nigerian reading public. It should be read by the political class, leaders, students, teachers – everyone stands to gain a lot by reading this work. I thank you all.


Bacon, F. (1625). “Of Studies” Essays. Wikiquotes. 2016. Accessed: 8th February,


Brown, S. (2015). The Nigerian Cinema. Uyo: El-johns Publishers.

Egbokhare, O. A. (2012). “Types of Essays and Forms of Writing”. In: M. T.

Lamidi (ed). Effective Communication and Writing Skills: A Textbook for GES 201: Use of English II. Ibadan: The General Studies Programme Unit. pp. 101—124.

Eyoh, L. (2000). Effective Use of English Volume 2. Uyo: Scholars Press.

Ike, C. (1999). How to Become a Published Writer. Ibadan: HEBN Publishers.

Myers-Shaffer, C. (2000). The Principles of Literature: A Guide for Readers and Writers. New York: Barron’s Educational Series Inc.

Obasikene, J. I. et al. (2005). Effective Communication in English. Enugu: New Generation Books.

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