How To – The Book Review Assignment Step-by-Step

By | February 24, 2015

Rationale & Objective

Through this course, you are dealing with quite a few new concepts, some theories, new terms, and a fair amount of history of different countries and economic systems.  I’ve only selected one, free, relatively short book as a required text – the Maddison book. One of the reasons I have not selected a traditional textbook for this course is that I wanted to bring in a mix of perspectives. That’s also part of the reason I’m having you blog. So, that’s the purpose of this assignment: expose your thinking to multiple viewpoints.

Now, I could assign a whole bunch of readings and books to each of you. Then each of you would be exposed to a variety of perspectives and topics within comparative economic systems. After all, there are a large number of books that deal with these issues. But it would be impossible for each of you to read all or even a very large number of them during this course. Heck, it’s impossible for me to read all the books I would like on this topic and I get paid to do it! It might be productive and valuable, but it would take an enormous amount of resource (your time and money). It would be inefficient.

Fortunately this is an economics course and economics suggests a different approach. We are going to use the time-honored method of improving economic productivity: specialization, division of labor, and trade. Specifically, I’ve developed a list of very interesting and relevant books. Each of you will pick a book and read it “for the others”. That is, I expect you to read it and develop a report or review of the book for your fellow students. Then each of you reads and reviews each of your fellow students’ book reviews. My hope is that each of you will be exposed to a couple of particular viewpoints in-depth (the books you read) and will gain at least a passable understanding of the main points/ideas/viewpoints of multiple other books.

Keep this objective in mind as you work on this assignment. Ultimately this is the standard by which I and your fellow students will grade you:
Have you helped your fellow students learn something interesting & insightful from the book you read?

What to Do: Step-by-Step

To complete this assignment, follow these steps:

  1. Review the “Book List” and Select your books.  The list provides some suggested titles to read. If one of them strikes your interest, then pick it. If you want, you may suggest a book that’s not on the list. I would like to approve your selection before you do it, though. I’m not trying to censor choices, but I am interested in making sure that the topic actually fits with the course, the book is somewhat research based (as opposed to straight opinion or propaganda piece), and that it’s not written at such a high level that only Ph.D economists are likely to understand it.  Feel free to browse the list.  The books on the book list page are actually links to’s website.  Clicking on the links will allow you to go to the Amazon site and get a better description of what the book is about.

    Disclaimer: You may get your book from any supplier, bookstore, or library.  If you do click-through on the book list links to Amazon, a small commission (no increase in price) will be paid. All commissions received are donated to Malartu Inc, a non-profit organization that supports productivity improvement in higher education faculty. Malartu by the way, makes the blogging infrastructure and hosting for this course possible.

  2. Post your selection & get approval.  The best way to do this is to simply add a comment to the bottom of the Books List page.
  3. Acquire your books. Of course, once you select your book, you need to get a copy to read. You may purchase the book either new or online from Amazon or a similar online bookseller, buy them at a local book store, or get a copy from a library — whatever works for you.
    • Side thought: If you get a copy from a library, you might want to ponder and even blog about the nature of libraries in the economic system. Libraries: an established institution based on sharing rather than exclusion from private property.
  4. Read the book. These books are generally what are called “trade books”: books written for popular audiences. They are not intended as heavily foot noted, pure academic treatises (although the Sen book can be a bit stiff). Nonetheless they are definitely college-level material. They were written to be very readable. Most of them contain lots of stories and personal anecdotes. It is unlikely you will just sit down and “knock it out” in a single afternoon while lounging on spring break like you might read some tremendously engaging novel.  Still spring break is an excellent time to work on reading your book. Take your time, curl up in bed or a chair or wherever you like to read, and enjoy.
    • Suggestion: Start by reading the grading rubric first so you know what you need to eventually write about. Then take brief notes or highlight the book as you go or make notes in the margin to yourself. It will help you later.
  5. Do some research about the book. Go on the Web and do some searching using the book title, the author, or some key ideas from the book. In particular, look for what others are saying about the book and the ideas in the book. What do critics say? Who else agrees with the author? What is controversial about what the author said in the book?
  6. Think about your review first – do a draft first. Then edit your draft. I When you first create your page (review) you should “Save Draft”.  That means it won’t be public yet and you can come back later and edit. If you email me, I will review your draft and give you some feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  7. “Publish” the post. When you are ready, go into the edit page and click “publish”.
     Due dates for Publishing your Reviews: April 26 (due date for end of Unit 7) is the absolute last date. However, it will be very useful if you can finish and post earlier. If you post earlier, you can get feedback and comments from fellow students on your report.  You may then revise and update your book review post prior to grading, even if it has already been published.
  8. Write and Submit a Multiple Choice Question:  The last step is to write an original multiple choice question that could be easily answered if someone had read your book review.  You need to submit it using the Book Review Multiple Choice Question Form (form available after March 1). There’s a very good chance that your question will end up as part of the quiz for Unit 8, so write it accordingly.  Try to strike a balance between not being trivial and not being obscure. The idea is to make sure someone read and absorbed the key idea(s) you were trying to communicate. You must submit at least one question. You may submit more if you wish.
  9. Read your fellow students’ reviews. In the last weeks of the course you will take a quiz where the questions are based on these student book reviews. 

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