POLS 150 Written Assignment (25% of Final Grade)
Book Review of Cicero’s On the Commonwealth
For this short assignment, your task will be to read and write a review of Cicero’s On the Commonwealth, an important work that was published during the Roman Republic. It is a really short work (approx. 100 pages) so it shouldn’t take long to get through. Here is the bibliographic information you need to get it:
Cicero. On the Commonwealth and On the Laws. Edited by James E. G. Zetzel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Directly next to where you found this assignment outline on our Blackboard page are links to a series of YouTube videos made by Professor Kyle Harper of the University of Oklahoma. Before reading the book, I highly recommend that you watch these videos on “Cicero and Roman Republicanism” because they will do a great job of introducing you to Cicero, his worldview, and the time in which he wrote.
The review should be 1000-1500 words long. The font should be Times New Roman, size 12. Double space your work and have 2.54 cm margins.
Write concisely so that you can produce a comprehensive evaluation of the book. Be creative in the way you communicate your critical evaluation of the work. What is Cicero’s purpose, thesis, contentions, and methods of analysis? Is he convincing? What are the strong points and shortcomings of the book? Beyond what the book is about, does it achieve what it is trying to do? Is the book well written? Who do you think the audience is?
Whenever you use an idea from the book (which you must do), I want you to reference it at the end of the sentence you are writing. Here is an example:
(p. 46) or (pp. 47-50)
Your review must also have a cover page. At the centre of the cover page, the following information must appear:
Title of Assignment
First Name and Last Name
Course Code and Title
Structure of the Review
An introduction to a book review is generally short and direct. However, it must provide two key elements: background and thesis.
Background: First, your introduction should identify the book and author under review along with any essential historical or historiographical background: What time period and region are discussed? What is the historical question or topic that the book addresses?
Thesis: Somewhere in your introduction (generally toward the end) you must provide a succinct, clear evaluation of the book. This evaluation is the thesis for your book review. Your thesis should encompass three main components:
What the main argument of the book is.
Your evaluation of the book such as its strengths and contributions or weaknesses and shortcomings.
Why and/or in what ways you think the work demonstrates these strengths and weaknesses.
As you will see from the examples below, there are many different ways to write a thesis for a book review. However, all of the thesis statements have the three qualities mentioned above. Please note that the authors mentioned below are fictitious.
Example A: In her work, Jones successfully argues that slave women in the American South had a different experience than did male slaves, an experience that opened up some unique freedoms for women but also created gender-specific hardships; while her book is well supported through her creative use of slave narratives and provides a crucial examination of a little-studied group, her failure to acknowledge the importance of religion to slave culture leads her to miss a crucial area of gender difference within the slave experience.
Example B: Smith argues that Indigenous peoples during the nineteenth century faced insurmountable cultural and physical losses through both warfare and assimilationist practices. His argument is supported with detailed evidence. However, his work fails to recognize the limited agency that Indigenous peoples maintained throughout their experience and thus does not illustrate how Indigenous people met the challenges of their new surroundings; ultimately, the book does not explain the cultural continuity that some Indigenous peoples were able to maintain.
Example C: Mankad argues that the Black Death affected cities far more than it did the countryside; while one might question whether his work ignores the secondary effects of the Black Death on rural populations, his innovative use of artistic and literary sources makes his argument convincing and a significant contribution to a field that has been dominated by demographic and statistical evidence.
II. Summary of Key Arguments
After your introduction, you should generally provide a brief summary or overview of the book. Take great care not to simply repeat or mirror everything in the book. Step back and identify what its essential arguments are and briefly summarize them.
You may want to comment on:
What is the book’s thesis? How is it similar to or different from other historians’ work on a similar topic?
How is it organized? What are the major arguments?
What types of evidence are presented?
This section should constitute the bulk of your review. In it, you need to explain and develop the evaluation made in your thesis. Make sure to use examples and quotations from the book to illustrate and prove your assessment of the work. For example, if your thesis argues that the work provides a careful and detailed examination of a topic, you should point toward places in the book where it does so. Similarly, if you argue that the work fails to recognize a particular perspective, give examples of places in the text that you think would have benefited from attention to that perspective.
Your conclusion should provide a succinct summation of your review. Overall, what does this work contribute to its field? What limitations does it possess? Does it suggest interesting avenues for future research? How does your analysis of the book help readers to understand the time period being studied or how historians have understood that period?
The due date is on the syllabus, which is available on our Blackboard page under “Course Content.” The late submission policy is clearly stated on the course outline, which again can be found under “Course Content.” The assignment must be submitted in hard copy format, meaning that you are to print it out and submit it in person. You can hand it in at the beginning of class or to the School of Liberal Arts & Science office, which is located in the “A” building at Lakeshore campus. I will not accept an electronic version.