Paul Collier, The Bottom billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it
READ THE ENTIRE BOOK listed below and write a review on it according to the attached instructions.
Paul Collier, The Bottom billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can
be done about it (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)
A review (or “critique”) of a book or article is not primarily a summary. Rather, it analyses,
comments on and evaluates the work. As a course assignment, it situates the work in the light of
specific issues and theoretical concerns being discussed in the course. Your review should show
that you can recognize arguments and engage in critical thinking about the course content. Keep
questions like these in mind as you read, make notes, and then write the review or critique
1. What is the specific topic of the book or article? What overall purpose does it seem to have?
For what readership is it written? (Look in the preface, acknowledgements, reference list and
index for clues about where and how the piece was originally published, and about the
author’s background and position.)
2. Does the author state an explicit thesis? Does he or she noticeably have an axe to grind? What
are the theoretical assumptions? Are they discussed explicitly? (Again, look for statements
in the preface, etc. and follow them up in the rest of the work.)
3. What exactly does the work contribute to the overall topic of your course? What general
problems and concepts in your discipline and course does it engage with?
4. What kinds of material does the work present (e.g. primary documents or secondary material,
personal observations, literary analysis, quantitative data, biographical or historical accounts)?
5. How is this material used to demonstrate and argue the thesis? (As well as indicating the
overall argumentative structure of the work, your review could quote or summarize specific
passages to describe the author’s presentation, including writing style and tone.)
6. Are there alternative ways of arguing from the same material? Does the author show
awareness of them? In what respects does the author agree or disagree with them?
7. What theoretical issues and topics for further discussion does the work raise?
8. What are your own reactions and considered opinions regarding the work?
! Browse in published scholarly book reviews to get a sense of the ways reviews function in
intellectual discourse. Look at journals in your discipline or general publications such as University
of Toronto Quarterly, London Review of Books, or New York Review of Books (online at
! Some book reviews summarize the book’s content briefly and then evaluate it; others integrate
these functions, commenting on the book and using summary only to give examples. Choose the
method that seems most suitable according to your professor’s directions.
! To keep your focus, remind yourself that your assignment is primarily to discuss the book’s
treatment of its topic, not the topic itself. Your key sentences should therefore say “This book
shows…the author argues” rather than “This happened…this is the case.”
Prepared Fall 1999 by Dr. Margaret Procter, University of Toronto Coordinator of Writing Support
Over 60 other files giving advice about university writing are available at <http://www.utoronto.ca/writing>