The book is called 1491:New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus written by Charles Mann. ISBN is 978-1400032051
You are required to write a scholarly review of one book-length work of historical scholarship
(either a classic or more recent work) on a topic within the temporal and topical parameters of
the course. This paper is designed both to get you to think critically about historical scholarship
and to help you learn to express those critical thoughts in writing.
A review does more than simply explain what the work is about and offer an opinion on the
pleasure or knowledge the work offers the reader. A good review assesses the argument,
methodology, evidence, and contribution the work offers. A review informs readers of how the
book advances historical knowledge of its particular subject.
Reviews tend to follow a particular format. Check the book reviews in important historical
journals like the American Historical Review and Journal of American History for examples.
Longer reviews offer historians an opportunity to write more interesting and intelligent reviews;
you can find them in Reviews in American History.
When you write your review, you should seek to provide information essential for any competent
review (see below), but you should also write your review in a fashion that makes the reader
remember it. Like any other writing, the best reviews are those that demonstrate that the author
thought carefully about organization, style, and argument, and structured the essay around some
The following are suggestions for writing an excellent review:
Make sure you answer the following four questions:
1. What is the work about? Remember, the readers of reviews typically have not read the work
under review, so it is the writer’s job to acquaint the reader, as much as possible, with the
topics and themes explored in the essay or book.
2. What argument does the author make, and how does he or she make it? What sorts of
evidence does the author provide to support this argument? Does the author employ a
particular theoretical (Marxist, postmodern, Whig, etc.) or methodological (privileging of a
particular type of sources, linear narrative, etc.) approach in constructing her/his
3. Is the argument convincing? Why? (Include here an evaluation of the evidence provided and
the theoretical / methodological approach adopted. You will have to scour the footnotes and
4. What is the work’s contribution to our understanding of the past, and how does that
contribution add to, challenge, confirm, or refocus other interpretations of the same subject?
Answering those four questions tends to give reviews a certain format. Your first paragraph, of
course, should be an introduction that lets the reader know your paper’s topic and draws the
reader into the essay. Your introductory paragraph should also contain a thesis that is essentially
a short summary of your critical evaluation of the work you are reviewing. Like any other piece
of good writing, your review needs to have a point, and you need to structure your essay around
supporting this point.
After the introduction, you should then write a section that summarizes the topic and argument of
the work. Here you should explain not only what the author argues, but also how that argument
is made. Describe the sources that provide evidence for the argument, and discuss any particular
theoretical or methodological approaches the work takes.
Next, evaluate the argument, explaining both how the author adds to our understanding of this
particular topic or time period in history and how convincing the author’s argument is. This
section answers questions 3 and 4 about the essay, requiring you to express your informed,
intellectual opinion about the work. You need, of course, to use the text to support that opinion.
Pay particular attention to how well the evidence the author uses supports the work’s argument.
Does she/he interpret the sources appropriately? Are there other sources that might disprove or
significantly challenge the argument? Does the author’s theoretical or methodological approach
to the crafting of historical knowledge add anything to the overall argument? This is the section
where you are supposed to shine as a critic; you don’t have to be universally negative or positive.
You have to instead provide a subtle evaluation of both the strengths and weaknesses of the
argument. In this evaluation, you should also explain how the book serves as a contribution to
the broader field of U.S. history. Does it provide information previously unexplored topics?
Does it force historians to reexamine their assumptions about topics that they thought had
already been explained adequately? Does the work provide new methods and perspectives that
subsequent scholars will have to take into account? Or, does the work offer nothing new, simply
rehashing older arguments?
The last section of your essay should be a conclusion. Don’t merely summarize what you’ve
already written or repeat points you’ve already made. Rather, offer the reader some final points
to consider, both about the work you’ve reviewed and how that work enhances (or diminishes)
our understanding and knowledge of U.S. history.