How to write a book review

The Army Leader Guidance on Book Reviews

By Timothy Heck, Book Review Editor

The Army Leader reviews non-fiction books, with reviews focusing on the leadership, strategy and management lessons of the book. Often these books are not purely leadership titles; some are based on military operations, strategy and history. We seek to expose our readers to the rich intellectual discussions on topics that impact our success or failure as leaders.

Reviewing a Book

If you have a book you wish to review, please contact the Book Review Editor at [email protected]. While we accept reviews on spec, it may be that another author is already publishing a review of the book. This also allows the reviews editor to provide you advice and highlight any synergies with already published articles.

Alternatively, join The Army Leader’s pool of reviewers. Publishers often provide books to the Army Leader to review. These get offered to our pool of reviewers, depending on their areas of expertise. To join The Army Leader reviewer pool, please email [email protected] with your details, experience and any areas of expertise and interest. We will email when we have a book available that might suit you.

Guidance When Writing

Book reviews should aim to explain the central arguments of the book and help readers determine if the book is worth further exploration or purchase. Please follow the following guidance when writing:

  • Length: 800-1500 words. Longer reviews are preferred to short ones.
  • Writing Style Guide: Please follow The Army Leader’s submission guide for details on formatting, grammar, punctuation and style.
  • Timeline: We expect reviews to be returned within 4-6 weeks of receipt of the book. If you expect difficulties meeting this obligation, please inform the book review editor when requesting the book.

Once received, reviews will be evaluated by the book review editor and/or members of The Army Leader editorial board. Reviews will be formatted to meet style and formatting consistency. If significant changes are needed, the Book Review Editor will send an edited copy to the author for approval/revision.

Writing Your Review

While the review is your personal assessment of the book and should be written in your style, there are several elements to a successful book review. Book reviews should include:

  • The book’s purpose: Why was this book written? Who is its audience?
  • The book’s thesis: What is the central argument of the book? Is it trying to convince you of something?
  • A summary of the book’s content and structure: This can be done in several ways. Ultimately, the goal is to lay out for the reader what they are going to encounter in the book.
    • Option A: A by-chapter breakdown. “Chapters one through eight cover the development of leadership in the Mesopotamian military program. Chapters nine through twelve examine the impact of the Bessarabian war on leadership styles. Chapter thirteen concludes and summarises the conflict and its legacies. The book also includes three appendices, multiple helpful maps and a bibliography.”
    • Option B: Thematic. “The book discusses the Mesopotamian military leadership development programme through analysis of the principals of war. Themes include mass, tempo and surprise. This analysis is summarised in the book’s concluding chapter.”
  • The book’s place within the larger literature: Where does the book fit with others in the field? Is this a revolutionary new idea? Is it an echo of another book or idea? Is it the third book in a series on the topic?
  • Any significant errors: not necessarily things like typos but if there is a consistent issue with the product that is typographical (example, they misspelled a person’s name for the entire book) it should be mentioned. These errors tend to reveal a sloppy editorial process and may be an indication of other problems with the text.
  • The author’s credentials: Why (or why not) is this author qualified to write this book? Consider academic, professional, and experiential qualifications.  
  • The final recommendation: The most important part. You have read this and so you are an expert on it (and hopefully the topic it covers). Tell the readers if this is worth their time. Tell the readers if the book succeeds in its thesis or in its goals. You can subdivide your recommendation as appropriate: “Artillery officers/rising NCOs/staff officers/historians will find this book useful because…”

Equally, reviews should avoid a few things:

  • Jargon: This is particularly hard for military writers writing for a military audience. Pretend you’re showing this review to the woman or man on the bus next to you. Would she or he understand it?
  • Colloquialisms and Clichés: The Army Leader’s readership is broadly international. A phrase used in Australia might not translate to an American or British audience. English is a second or later language for some of our readers. Avoid potential comprehension or misinterpretation issues.

Negative reviews

Sadly, not all books are good books. Some books have significant flaws in writing, editing, or scholarship. Regardless, do not go after the author with personal or political attacks. If you encounter one of these books, contact the Book Review Editor ([email protected]) to discuss options. The Army Leader is in no way obligated to publish praiseworthy reviews of books that do not deserve praise but we want to find ways to help frame your analysis.

Available Titles

For a list of the titles we have available for review, please email the review editor.