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HIST 101: Historical Writing

Why would you want a book review?

There are different types of book reviews that serve different purposes. Reviews of current popular books, for example, are a kind of advertisement for the book. They can also become something of an editorial or a debate on the qualities of a particular book, especially on a hot topic. You will find reviews like these in general databases like OmniFile, Academic Search Complete, and Book Review Digest (see below for details on using this unique tool!).

Academic books, in this case books written by historians, get reviewed in history journals and are an opportunity to comment on the quality and importance or value of a new history book. These reviews can almost become a debate! You will find these reviews in America: History & Life or Historical Abstracts. Just search under the title of the book!

Links to databases mentioned above:

Book Review Digest

Book Review Digest will help you find reviews in major popular and general interest magazines and newspapers for books published since 1908! Sources are mostly American, but also include a few other English language titles, too.

Once in the database, you need to formulate a search. Searching for book reviews is not like any other kind of searching, so it is critical that you search following the formula described here. You are going to use the SURNAME of the 1st author listed and keywords and phrases in the TITLE of the book. It is wise to ignore words containing any internal punctuation whenever possible. Consider the book pictured here, Unbought & unbossed by Shirley Chisholm. It was published in the 1970s.

The ADVANCED search would look like this:

In the Results, look for the book title. The entry will look like this:

Click on the book title to see the full book description. Within that description will be a LINK to the REVIEWS:

Click on it to get to the actual reviews.

None of these will be fulltext, but you will get a link that says  Click on it to find the fulltext of the reviews! You COULD get a link directly to the fulltext of the review or you could be directed to the database containing the periodical with the review or to an OSCAR record for the print periodical. And, if we do not have the periodical in any form, you will be sent to an interlibrary loan form. If you fill out that form, you will get an email with the PDF file of the review in a few days.

Paper Indexes for older & still older books!

A Blast from the Past

Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Scholarly Journals 1886-1974

Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Humanities Journals 1802-1974
CALL NUMBER: Z6265 .C65 1982

Book Review Digest does take you back to 1908! However, these two PAPER indexes go back even further. Beyond that, though, they also cover more academic sources of reviews that Book Review Digest may have missed. So, if you are looking for reviews of books published during the years these indexes cover, you'd be wise to go for the new experience and try out a paper index. It'll be fun.

You will find these two gems in the REFERENCE COLLECTION in the Lower Level. They are in the far back corner of the basement ... away from most of the books. If you go down the BACK stairs, past the elevators, walk forward, past the elevators and look to your left. You'll see some movable shelving in the corner. That's them!


  • Reviews in these print indexes are listed under the Author's LAST name.
  • Be alert to the abbreviations used for the titles of the periodicals in these indexes.
  • Don't guess! ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS look them up.
  • The abbreviations are in the first few pages of the index.
  • You can always ask for HELP at the front desk.