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Avoid the Hustle

Book review / compare

Category: Book Report


(Fall, 2014)


2.  Each student is also expected to write at least one longer paper (4-5 pages) on a book of his or choosing.  Students who submit papers then should deal with books that relate to the pre-1939 period.  These students may also write papers at the end of the course.  (See the last two sentences of the preceding paragraph.) For either paper, any of the books listed as one of my “Suggested Readings” will  be acceptable.  If you want to write on books that are not listed there, please check with me first.  If you do go this route, resist the temptation to select books that make few intellectual demands on their readers.  You need not pick books that are very long and difficult (although if you do, and if you handle them well, I shall certainly take note).  You should, however, pick books that have either scholarly, intellectual, or literary merit.  Works of history should generally have footnotes and bibliographies.  Primary sources are unlikely to display such features, but any that you select should give the reader something substantial to chew on.   I have not listed—and you should not select—books that consist of essays by more than one author, which are generally much harder to discuss than books written by individual authors.

Each review should begin with about half a page of discussion of what the assigned reading has to say about the subject dealt with in the book that is being analyzed.  (For example: “Gilbert and Large [or one of the other historians from whose work a briefer assignment is made] in their treatment of X on pp. ??, emphasizes Y.  Extra author expresses a similar view of X, delving, however, much more deeply into discussions of Y-1, Y-2, and Y-3, all of which go along well with Y.”  Or: “Extra author differs markedly, emphasizing Z, which does not coincide at all well with Y.”  There are lots of other ways to frame the comparison.  Use your ingenuity.  In any case, it should be easier to bounce the selected book off against something else than to discuss it simply on its own terms.   It is of course conceivable that you will have chosen a book that deals with a topic that is hardly mentioned at all in the assigned reading.  That’s OK, but you need to point up that fact. Please take note: if you simply discuss a single book and make no effort to relate it back to the assigned reading, you cannot receive a grade higher than a C+, no matter how good your paper is.   Part of the point of this assignment, as in the case of the assignment that is due on September 24, is to get you to think about the matter of contrasting vs. complementary perspectives.  If you just discuss one book in isolation, you are at best doing only part of what I want you to do.

The major portion of each analysis  should treat matters such as the following: what the book is about (i.e., the subjects, events, etc. it considers); the kinds of sources it uses; the kinds of arguments it advances and conclusions at which it arrives; the kinds of judgments (normative and evaluative as well as analytic) it offers and the attitudes its expresses.  Insofar as you feel that you can make judgments of your own about how well the author has treated her or his subject and made her or his case, you are encouraged to do that too, but you can just concentrate on interpretation and analysis if you prefer to.  If you are dealing with a work of contemporary commentary or a memoir, be sure to say something about the time and place when it was produced and the situation of the person who produced it, as you will have done in the paper due on September 27.  (A discussion of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf that fails to discuss it as a self-promoting autobiography written in 1924 after an attempt by the leader of the Nazi Party to overthrow the Weimar Republic will have missed a pretty basic point.)


3.  For all of your papers, please bear in mind the following points (inattention to which will inevitably reduce my opinion of what you submit). [1] Papers should be printed in twelve-point type, double-spaced, with one-inch margins on all sides. [2] They should not be placed in plastic binders.  Instead, they should be stapled, and each student’s last name should be indicated in the top left corners of first pages. [3] They should be revised and proofread carefully. Large numbers of misspelled words, grammatical errors, and typographical errors will have adverse impacts on grades. [4] Lengthy quota­tions and heavy reliance on secondary sources should be avoided. [5] Plagiarism, the act of presenting another person’s words or ideas as one’s own, must be avoided.  It is an egregious form of academic dishonesty, and it is subject to severe penalties. [6] Copies or rough drafts must be kept in case papers are lost. [7] Formal footnotes are not required.  Put page numbers in parentheses in the text to identify quotations (and do not put anything else in the parentheses, unless you need to do so to make clear to me the work to which you are referring, which in most cases should be apparent anyway). [8] Papers on books should include relevant bibliographical information at the top of the first page. For example: John Jones.  The Causes of World War One: An Analysis of the Debate.  New York: Macmillan, 1997 (379 pp.).