Q: How do I write the summary of an entire book?

1 Answer to this question

To begin with, you need to know who the readers of the proposed summary are and why they would be reading it. In the case of abstracts of research papers, the readers of the abstract and of the full-length paper are the same, and they read the abstract mainly to save time, to decide whether they need to see the full paper. In the case of summaries of technical reports, on the other hand, the readers are managers and decision-makers, who need to act on the recommendations made in reports but have neither the time nor (usually) the required technical knowledge to understand the full report.

If you are writing the summary of an entire book for a book review, for example, then your readers are likely to be like the first group mentioned above: they will read the summary to know whether they should read the whole book. In addition, it will help them if your summary also compares the book with other relevant and comparable books and offers some recommendation or your assessment of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

So, you need to tell these readers why the book was written and who are its intended readers – its level, as it were – and then say whether that purpose was fulfilled or, if it was not, why the book fails on that count. You can even quote from the author’s preface or introduction and from the blurb. If possible, you may mention each chapter and briefly indicate its scope. If there are too many chapters, you need to categorize them (in case the author hasn’t done so) and thus briefly show the structure of the book. You may also comment on illustrations, data, references, index, and such adjuncts to the main text and on the production quality (the layout, printing, paper, binding, etc.).

If you are writing the summary for some other purpose, say for a catalog or a library newsletter, you may focus on giving the readers as clear an idea of the book’s contents as the space permits, without any judgment, but indicating who the book is for. The focus of the summary should be on description rather than evaluation.

In any case, you should include the bibliographical details such as the year of publication, edition (if other than the first), size and the number of pages, publisher, and the price, as applicable.

For more help with crafting a book review, you may refer to the following resources on the site:

How to write a book review

"Book reviews perform an important function for authors, readers, and the discipline as a whole."

Which style should I follow while writing a history book review?

Hope that helps. Happy reviewing/writing!

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