Beneath the Starry Flag

One of the salient points of a book review is that it presents potential readers with a perspective on a book. It is supposed to interweave the thoughts and feelings of the reviewer along with the actual contents of the book. Any good review would provide a brief overview of what the book is about along with what it is trying to convey. An ideal review would point out the thoughts and feelings of the reviewer on how the book is written, how it is presented, and even how well researched it is. All in all, the reviewer is supposed to present the reader with a window to the book so that they can make an informed choice.

However, the review of the book, “Beneath the Starry Flag” by Alan A. Siegel on Rutgerspress starts with all the accolades it has received from various publications. Before even presenting the reader with an idea of what the book is about or how it is written, readers are, in what looks like a marketing spiel for the book, presented with four glowing reviews, one of which is from Rutgers Magazine itself. Not only does this sound like marketing spiel, it leaves readers flabbergasted with the blatant promotional campaign for the book.

What’s more these glowing reviews are not followed up by the reviewer’s opinion of these reviews. Had these reviews been followed up by what the reviewer thought about Siegel’s writing would have been invaluable. In fact, the reviewer’s opinion of the book would have drawn readers to the book and would have ensured that they are able to connect with the book and the reviewer.

Yet, the reviewer has taken the pain to explain what the book is about. The reviewer points out the unique selling quotient of the book by pointing out that despite the numerous publications on the subject of the American Civil War, none have touched upon the personalized experiences of the people involved in the war. Yet, even this description is found lacking because the reviewer presents this in a drab, factual manner. The reviewer doesn’t play up this aspect of the book and doesn’t include a vivid description of the characters, their emotions, or even their experiences. Such linear presentation of the unique selling quotient of the book takes away from the charm of the book and does a disservice to the work of Siegel, who has been highly praised by the various publications whose excerpts are included in the review.

Not surprisingly the rest of the review continues to stay drab and factual, not giving away any of the thoughts or feelings the reviewer might have about the book. Yet, all these facts seem to indicate that the book is an excellent read. This can prove to be quite confusing for the reader, who faces an uninteresting review claiming that the book is an above average read. The only vividness in the review seems to come from the various excerpts provided at the beginning of the review.

What is even more surprising is the fact that no mention has been made about the Siegel’s writing style or even the believability of the people narrating their experiences. Weaknesses of the book are not pointed out at all. Even the minute details of the book are not analyzed – the focus of the review seems to be a simple summary of what the book contains, making the book sound like a text book!