Book Review Project Guidelines
For the semester project, students will select any widely published self-help book and complete
an objective review based on the guidelines outlined here.
The book review should be 2-3 typewritten pages with standard parameters (i.e., single spaced,
size 12 font, Times New Roman or similar, 1” margins, etc.) and should include the following:
(a) a bibliography
(b) information about the author
(c) a decision regarding what main points (thesis) the author had for writing the book
(d) evidence as to whether or not the author supported the thesis
(e) summary of the thesis, evidence, and results
(f) a conclusion of your overall impressions of the book and the material or advice presented.
A sample book review and a sample book review grading form will be available as documents in
the Course Content.
Students must have approval for their book title by Sept 25, as indicated on the syllabus.
How To Evaluate A Self-help Book
Following is an outstanding synopsis taken from a textbook by Carole Wade and Carol Tavris
(1999) entitled Invitation to Psychology.
If you wander through the psychology section of your local bookstore (perhaps called
“psychology and self-help” or “personal growth”), you will find rows of books promising
to fix anything that ails you. They will tell you how to make money, how to use your
mind to cure your body, how to recover from heartbreak, and how to find happiness in
seven easy steps. They will keep you from becoming too independent, too dependent, or
too codependent. They will help you find a relationship, fix a relationship, or end a
relationship. People in the United States and Canada, countries with long historical
traditions of self-improvement and do-it-yourself attitudes, consume self-help books like
peanuts — by the handful. Which are helpful, which are harmful, and which are just
Some self-help books, if they promise a specific program for the reader to follow, can be
as effective as treatment administered by a therapist (Christensen & Jacobson, 1994). The
problem is that many readers fail to follow through. Also, not all books are good ones —
and the fact that a book has been written by a psychologist or a program that has been
endorsed by the American Psychological Association is no guarantee of its merit.
After serving as chair of the APA’s Task Force on Self-Help Therapies, which
investigated the proliferation and promises of self-help books and tapes, Gerald Rosen
(1981) concluded, “Unfortunately, the involvement of psychologists in the development,
assessment, and marketing of do-it-yourself treatment programs has often been less than
responsible. Psychologists have published untested materials, advanced exaggerated
claims, and accepted the use of misleading titles that encourage unrealistic expectations
regarding outcome.” The situation remains the same, if not worse, today.
Rosen recognizes that self-help books and programs can be effective in helping people, however,
and thus offers consumers some research-based criteria for evaluating a self-help book:
• The authors should be qualified, which means that they have conducted good research or are
thoroughly versed in the field. Personal testimonials by people who have survived difficulties or
tragedy can be helpful and inspirational, of course, but an author’s own experience is not
grounds for generalizing to everyone.
• The book should be based on sound scientific theory, not on the author’s hunches,
pseudoscientific theories, or armchair observations. This criterion rules out, among other kinds
of books, all weight-loss manuals based on crash diets or goofy nutritional advice (“Eat popcorn
and watermelon for a week”).
• The book should include evidence of the program’s effectiveness and not simply the author’s
unsupported assertions that it works. Many self-help books offer programs that have not been
tested for efficacy. The book should not promise the impossible. This lets out books that promise
you perfect sex, total love, or high self-esteem in 30 days. It also lets out books, programs, or
tapes that promote techniques whose effectiveness has been disconfirmed by psychological
research, such as “subliminal” tapes.
• The advice should be organized in a systematic program, step by step, not as a vague pep talk
to “take charge of your life” or “find love in your heart”; and the reader should be told how to
evaluate progress. Some books do not meet all these criteria. But as long as people yearn for a
magic bullet to cure their problems — a pill, a book, a subliminal tape — quick fix solutions will
find a ready audience
Sample Book Review
Your Name, Introduction to Psychology (PSYX 100)
Clark, L. (1985) SOS! Help for parents. Bowling Green, KY: Parents Press.
Information about the author
Lynn Clark, Ph.D. is a graduate of the Counseling Psychology Program at The University of
Kansas. He is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Western Kentucky
University. He has been an adjunct professor at Boston University and a visiting professor at
schools in Germany and Italy. For a decade, he served as a consultant to the Barren River
Comprehensive Care Center in Bowling Green, KY. He is married and has two sons.
Main points (thesis) of the book
SOS! Help for Parents is touted as a practical guide for handling common everyday behavior
problems. The author discusses why children behave and misbehave and generally takes a
behavior modification approach to correcting behavior problems. The book is perhaps a
monument to the efficient use of time-out to control children’s behavior.
Dr. Clark’s main points include:
• Good behavior should be rewarded. To be effective rewards must immediately follow the
child’s desirable behavior. Don’t accidentally reward bad behavior.
• Clear communication promotes effective parenting. Parents must agree about which behaviors
are desirable and undesirable.
• Plan ahead to be an effective parent. Anticipate your child’s needs before his bad behavior
forces you to meet his needs. Help your child practice behavior you want him to learn.
• Natural consequences should be allowed to occur for certain misbehavior. A parent should
create logical consequences for unacceptable behavior.
• Time-out may be the most effective way to control a child’s behavior. Time-out means time-out
from reinforcement, rewards, attention, and freedom to play.
• Time out is effective in correcting persistent misbehaviors, which are impulsive, aggressive,
emotional, or hostile.
• Time-out lasts one minute for each year of age. A time-out place needs to be dull, boring,
easily accessible, and safe. Place your child in time-out quickly – using no more than 10 words
and 10 seconds. The child should be talked with after being placed in time-out.
• Points, tokens, and behavior contracts can be very useful in controlling children’s behavior.
• Time-out procedures can be used with more than one child at a time. In this situation, they
should be sent to separate time-out places. Objects (i.e., toys) that cause a behavior problem can
be placed in time-out instead of a child.
Evaluation (how the author supports the thesis)
The book is filled with cute cartoons illustrating each main point. The author lists 78 specific
professional references that SOS! Help for Parents incorporates in its philosophy. The references
include an impressive list of nationally recognized leaders in psychology and psychiatry
including individuals with behavior modification and child-centered approaches to parenting
(i.e., Bandura, Dinkmeyer, Dreikurs, Hobbs, Schaefer, Skinner). Dr. Clark has effectively
assimilated into his book most of the key concepts promoted in child psychology over the past 30
years. He augments each point with case examples of various child behavior situations he has
experienced during his life as a parent and career as a psychologist. Virtually any question a
parent would ask regarding help in dealing with child behavior problems is addressed (i.e., What
if my child refuses to go to time-out?). The book contains checklists and charts regarding
efficient use of time-out procedures and other popular approaches to behavior modification such
as home token economies and behavior contracts. It is the most comprehensive, concise,
entertaining, relevant, and practical treatise on the subject I have read.