Citing Book Reviews

Extreme close-up of a dictionary entry for the word "review."

Spotlight on CMOS 14.201—4

Chicago-style source citations are designed to be both concise and informative. Ideally, readers should be able to tell what a citation refers to despite its abbreviated nature.

Distinct, predictable citation formats for books and journal articles work in support of this goal. Readers learn to recognize “book” or “article” from format alone, and these citations are easy to create with the help of software.

Reviews, however, are a special case. Whether you use the “Cite” feature for a review published online or rely on a program like Zotero to get that same info, you probably won’t end up with a true Chicago-style citation.

Let’s cite a book review to find out what happens—and how to fix it.

Book Review or Article?

Reviews typically take the form of an article published in a newspaper, magazine, or journal. Some publications devote an entire section exclusively to book reviews. Let’s look at a book review published in Critical Inquiry, a journal from the University of Chicago Press.

In volume 49, issue number 3, published in March 2023, Kirsten Silva Gruesz reviews Planetary Longings, a book by Mary Louise Pratt published in 2022 by Duke University Press.

Here’s how that review would be cited using data acquired by Zotero from the publisher’s page for the review and formatted as a Chicago-style bibliography entry:

Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. “Mary Louise Pratt, Planetary Longings.” Critical Inquiry 49, no. 3 (March 2023): 492–94.

Good, except italics should be applied to the book title within the article title (see CMOS 14.95):

Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. “Mary Louise Pratt, Planetary Longings.” Critical Inquiry 49, no. 3 (March 2023): 492–94.

Now the citation looks right and makes sense. But can you tell it’s a book review?

From Article to Review

The key to citing a review in Chicago style is to add the words “review of,” followed by information about the item being reviewed. Here’s how the book review by Gruesz would be cited according to CMOS 14.202:

Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. Review of Planetary Longings, by Mary Louise Pratt. Critical Inquiry 49, no. 3 (March 2023): 492–94.

Notice that there’s no title for the review. Technically speaking, it doesn’t have one; instead, the journal lists the review under the details for the book being reviewed (more on that below).

If it did have a title—as many reviews do, especially reviews published in newspapers and magazines—that title would be added in quotation marks. Otherwise, the format is the same:

Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. “Title of Review.” Review of . . .

With or without a title, the revised version of the citation tells us (a) that the article is a review and (b) who is reviewing what, and by whom. This requires some manual intervention, but the extra steps make the citation easier to understand.

The Limits of Data

The identifying details for a journal article presented online are stored as metadata—literally, data about data. The metadata for the Gruesz article gives us a good idea of why an automated citation doesn’t end up matching Chicago’s format for citing reviews.

Critical Inquiry offers downloadable citation data in several formats (under Article Tools), including RIS, which stands for Research Information Systems and can be read by Zotero and other reference management programs. Here’s the RIS metadata for the Gruesz review:

T1 - Mary Louise Pratt, Planetary Longings
AU - Gruesz, Kirsten Silva
Y1 - 2023/03/01
PY - 2023
DA - 2023/03/01
N1 - doi: 10.1086/723671
DO - 10.1086/723671
T2 - Critical Inquiry
JF - Critical Inquiry
SP - 492
EP - 494
VL - 49
IS - 3
PB - The University of Chicago Press
SN - 0093-1896
M3 - doi: 10.1086/723671
UR -
Y2 - 2023/05/21
ER -

Some of the fields are redundant (the journal title, publication date, and DOI each appear more than once), and some aren’t used in Chicago style—which, for example, doesn’t require an access date for journal articles or an ISSN for the journal itself.

But notice that there’s no field for “review,” making it unlikely that any of the citation options offered with the article (all of which use variations of the same metadata) would construct a proper Chicago-style review citation.

Instead, any automated citation will rely on the title in field T1, which consists of the name of the author of the reviewed book followed by the title of that book. This title allows for a standard citation for a journal article, but as we noted earlier, the review doesn’t technically have a title (and isn’t an article in the conventional sense).

Context Is Everything

We humans know it’s a review, even if the RIS metadata doesn’t say so. First, Critical Inquiry puts articles like the one by Gruesz in a section called “The CI Review,” a heading displayed at the top of the review online:

THE CI REVIEW. Mary Louise Pratt. Planetary Longings. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2022. 352 pp. Kirsten Silva Gruesz. PDF, PDF PLUS, Full Text

That heading is also used as a running head in the print/PDF version, as this screenshot from the top of page 492 shows (and note that Critical Inquiry’s running heads are in italics, so “CI” is in roman, or reverse italics):

492 The CI Review

These headings help us to understand that we’re reading a review. But again, this context isn’t part of the citation metadata and therefore won’t show up in an automated citation—not unless you add it manually.

Summing Up

It’s not the end of the world if you cite a review without adding “review of.” The example at the beginning of this post that cites the Gruesz review as if it were a regular journal article will still lead readers to the intended source. And chances are good that the context requiring the citation in the first place will make its nature clear.

But when an author or editor takes the time to adjust such a citation to specify that it’s a review, the result will be meaningful regardless of context. For more on this subject, see “Editing Automated Source Citations,” also at Shop Talk.

Dictionary image by TungCheung / Adobe Stock.

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