What Makes A Book Review Great

What can make a book review great? It’s an important question because there will always be more books published and available than you can read in a lifetime, or ten lifetimes. There are many different kinds of reviews also, from your generic say-nothing “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” to long sophisticated expositions that deconstruct the book and its elements. Book reviews can contain spoilers or not, depending on the audience of the reviewer. So, with that in mind, what makes for some great reviews?

Who is the audience for the reviewer?

The reviewer is writing for two audiences, those who have already read the book, and those who have not. A great review targets those who have not read the book. Great reviews persuade the would-be reader to dive in or tack the book onto their reading list. Great reviews also dissuade people from reading a bad book, since book reading takes an exorbitant amount of time.


A great review is honest with the reader. And for this reason, I usually seek out reviews that are not 1, 2, or 5 stars. 3 and 4 star reviews tend to be the most honest and give an argument for their score. Sometimes a 2 star review can be great, but I will balance a well-written 2 star review with others.

Honest reviews are when the reviewer attacks or commends the arguments, story, or elements of the book itself, and not the author. It should also go without saying that a great review is definitely only possible if the reviewer read the book. Beware of fake reviews from those who haven’t bought or read the book.

Great reviews come in batches.

No single review will tell you enough about a book you are on the fence about reading. Biases and the reviewers’ level of understanding differ, and so, the only way to get a balanced view is to great half a dozen reviews. The more reviews a book has, the better. The more of those reviews that are honest, is a goldmine. If a book has a ton of 5 star reviews, I become suspect. A 5 star review means a book is lifechanging, or an absolute must-read. This is extremely rare and people tend to overrate their book reviews. I do not subscribe to the corporate “if it’s not 100% its 0%” view, and neither should an honest reviewer.

Reading a book is not about having a high customer service score. Someone should want to read the book for a very good reason, and that’s the reviewers’ job.

There should be specifics.

Great reviews contain details that support their arguments. They are not blurbs and do not contain saccharine emotional blather (“This is the best book!”). You should be able to know something about the book, and what someone was able to take away from it, from their review. If the review could be for any book, it’s a verified stinker.

It should not be cliff-notes.

A great review is not a summary. It is a good friend telling you why you need to (or not need to) read this book right now! Someone is explaining to you why you should devote your next 20 free-time hours to a book, not trying to save you 19 hours by deconstructing the book, or squeezing all the juice out of it. A great review leaves you intrigued to learn more, not wrap it up and move on (unless that was the specific intent).


A great review is piece of art. It should be able to stand the test of time. It is not a critique or essay about a book, it is a sales pitch. The great reviewer is someone who has taken the time to read the book and finds it good enough to want others to read it so they can talk about it together. They want this book to become a part of society, or to reach the right person. If someone has written something that is truly lifechanging and can help many people if they knew about it and read it, then it is the reviewers job to explain why, so the book will have the chance to expand.

The title of a great review acts as the hook. The body of the review demonstrates what the reviewer learned or gained, with specific details and examples, avoiding generalizing language and vagueness. Lastly, honesty is the most important part of any great review, because I want to know what you really thought.



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Some serious and some satire articles. Only I know the difference.