writing a review

Interview with scholar and RSJ book review editor, Stephen Donnachie

RSJ Blog: What should a book review for the journal include? what do you hope the reviewers convey to the readers in the reviews?

Stephen: Ideally a good review should contain a thorough description of the book, its layout and its central arguments. It’s important to know what new directions the book is taking, what new things are being said, and what its overall strengths and weaknesses are. I hope reviews are able to convey a detailed impression of the work for readers so that they might judge where it stands in the wider body of literature already published.

RSJ Blog: How long should the reviews be?

Stephen: Generally a length of about 1000 words should be sufficient for a single book review, give or take a couple of hundred either way depending on the tome.

RSJ Blog: How old can the reviewed book be? Does the journal primarily review new releases? or are older books  also relevant for the field of Royal Studies?

Stephen: New releases are always better, it allows us to keep up to date with current publishing and developments in the field. If a book has been released within the last couple of years it should be suitable. Older works that have been updated or reprinted are still viable for review.

RSJ Blog: How do you match reviewers and books?

Stephen: We try to match books to reviewer’s expertise and areas of research so that those who know the field best can comment with authority. That is often easier said than done since some areas prove more popular than others. By appealing further afield and promoting the journal we can hopefully attract more potential reviewers and so include a greater diversity of books.

RSJ Blog: How do you select which book reviews make the journal? Are there thematic clusters, or just whatever is ready at this moment?

Stephen: It’s always good to try and get a bit of a thematic and chronological spread so as to appeal to a wider audience. It’s very easy to focus upon medieval and early modern periods for example, but there is an awful lot of other material out there. As its early days we are a little limited but as more issues come out I hope the range of reviews grows.

RSJ Blog: How can I search for a book review on the journal homepage?

Stephen: There is a general search function for the journal website as well as the ability to view the latest and previous issues.

RSJ Blog: How long does the process between submitting a book review and having it published usually take?

Stephen: The process can be very short. The journal will be published every six months so as long as the reviewer is prompt in returning their review to the journal it could appear in the next issue.

RSJ Blog: Are there any differences from the technical/administrative side between authors and reviewers?

Stephen: Not specifically, it’s really just a question of size. Reviewers are still held to similar standards as authors are.

RSJ Blog: Is there anything additional about the book reviews you’d like to add?

Stephen: Don’t be afraid to be honest in a review, give praise and criticism where it is due.

RSJ Blog: can you tell us a little bit about your current research? What is your most recent project?

Stephen: My current research focuses upon the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in the early thirteenth century and how it recovered politically, socially and economically from its near destruction by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. I’ve bee trying to determine what impact such a disaster had upon not only the physical aspects of Frankish civilisation in the Crusader States, but also its effect upon mentalities in the Holy Land, Islam and Europe at large. My most recent work has been examining the prosopography of the Kingdom of Jerusalem around 1200, trying to determine changes to political culture and also attempting to identify trends of immigration.

RSJ Blog: What led you to pursue this topic? Where did your passion of Medieval history originate from?

Stephen:  This topic came out of the research I did for my PhD at Swansea University. I was originally doing an examination of the reign of Saladin but that soon changed as I became more engrossed with the consequences of the Battle of Hattin. I suppose I should blame my parents. They had the audacity to live in Warwickshire in the shadow of two fine castles at Warwick and Kenilworth which were everyday landmarks when I was growing up. Whenever we went on holiday or a trip we would always swing by some sort of medieval ruin or another.

RSJ Blog: Thank you, Stephen!