How To Review Academic or Scientific Books Professionally
Despite dire predictions to the contrary, the scholarly monograph is far from dead, with some academic publishers, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, now producing more books per year than they did a decade ago. This is good news for both the authors who write scholarly books and the readers who benefit from the wealth of knowledge they contain. It is also good news for academics who wish to review new books, for every scholarly monograph requires at least one post-publication review, and many are reviewed in several of the journals dedicated to publishing scholarship in the same or a related field.

The benefits of reviewing scholarly monographs apply to all academics, but are especially appealing for any scholar who is just starting his or her career. Post-publication reviews are in effect publications that can be included on your CV and in scholarly biographies and publication lists, so they can significantly increase the number of pieces you have published when you are just beginning to write up the results of your first research projects. Reading an academic book carefully enough to assess its contribution and write thoughtfully about it provides excellent experience and training in critical reading and writing – experience that will prove useful for your own writing and teaching, and especially helpful if you decide to publish your research in book form. You may find that your colleagues will also make use of your critical skills by requesting your feedback on their writing projects, which enables you to help scholars at your own institution and within your personal research network, as well as the authors and publishers who produce the books you review and the editors of the journals who recruit you as a reviewer.

In addition, your efforts as a reviewer of monographs will help academics interested in reading the books you review. With so much new material emerging each day, many scholars have very little time to explore much more than reviews on a regular basis, so your critical work can give them the information they need to determine whether they should read a new publication or not. While therefore contributing to how others keep up to date with the latest scholarship, you will also ensure that you are aware of new trends and developments in your area of expertise, and you may even expand your horizons a little. You will also receive free copies (print or electronic) of the books you review, and although this may seem a small reward to some, it is a significant benefit for graduate students or new faculty who are working within a tight budget.

Acting as a post-publication reviewer of scholarly books is an important aspect of being an active contributing member of your scholarly community, and the recognition you earn can ultimately lead to doing pre-publication peer reviews and even being included on editorial boards and advisory committees. Given that reading and thinking about what you read is central to your research in any case, there is really nothing to lose and a great deal to be gained.