v26 #2 From the Reference Desk

by | May 12, 2014 | 0 comments

by Tom Gilson  (Associate Editor, Against the Grain, and Head of Reference Emeritus, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29401) 

Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography (2014, 9781933782669 $595) is a three-volume set structured using a chronological approach as it offers one hundred thirty-five biographies of influential figures in Chinese history.  The set is edited by Kerry Brown of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and draws on the knowledge and expertise of an international list of more than one hundred contributors.  Coverage spans the time periods from the early Xia Dynasty (2100 BCE) through the Tang (618-907 CE); the Song Dynasty (960-1279) through the Ming (1368-1644); and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) up to People’s Republic and the modern opening of China in 1979.  There is also a Volume 4 (2014, 9781614729006, $175, pre-publication price) set for release later this year that will bring coverage to the present.

While this is a biographical reference, the focus is on more than biography.  The goal of the set is not only to provide facts about the lives of leading figures.  The attempt here is to use these biographies to provide readers an understandable context from which to view the whole of Chinese history.

The entries are substantial and range from shorter sketches of 1,000 words to full-blown essays that come in at close to 8,000 words.  Coverage includes both well- and lesser-known figures and features scientists and inventors, philosophers and religious figures, dynastic rulers, statesmen and military leaders, as well as poets, authors, artists, and scholars.  As one might expect, the vast majority are men but some prominent women are covered. Each entry has a similar structure that provides the subjects dates, their role, and a brief summary of the person’s life and importance.  This is followed by the text of the article enhanced by relevant sidebars and visuals including maps and a portrait of the subject.  All articles end with a list of primary and secondary sources for further reading and exploration.

The articles are written in an accessible, reader-friendly style but grounded in academic scholarship.  The biographies are both factual and evaluative including accounts of the life and achievements of the subject while at the same time offering assessments of their influence.  But perhaps more importantly, reading these entries gives a sense of the historical context within which the person lived.  References are continually made to the time periods being discussed and readers can use the chronological table of contents and list of articles to place each time period within an overall historical framework.  Added to this is a helpful chronology of events for all time periods covered.  Other aids and appendices include a listing of entries by subject, a short pronunciation guide to Mandarin Chinese, and a conversion table between pinyin and Wade-Giles transcription systems, an index of Kings, Emperors, an index of geographical locations and other rulers, and a general index.  In addition, there is a glossary of pinyin terms, a bibliography of standard references and resources, and a list of all of the prominent people mentioned in the set with those having articles devoted to them in bold.

The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography reflects a rich but complicated history stretching back to 2100 BCE and does so in a way that enables the non-specialist to locate not only the biographical facts but grasp the broader context of the lives being discussed.  While there have been other biographical works on specific dynasties and time periods, this set is unique in that it provides life accounts from all eras of Chinese history while simultaneously offering a framework from which to view the overall history.

With its scholarly approach, the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography is a natural fit for academic libraries but it will also appeal to larger public libraries where there is patron interest.  Libraries that already have the publisher’s well-received five-volume Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (2009, 978-0977015948, $675) will definitely want to consider this new set.  It will prove a valuable companion and supplement to the older, well-established reference.

Digital editions are available via major eBook and database services and a print/digital bundle is being offered in cooperation with Credo Reference.


Published by SAGE Reference the Encyclopedia of Military Science (2014, 978-1412969338, $595) is a four-volume set edited by G. Kurt Piehler.  While the coverage emphasizes issues directly related to modern warfare and American military science, this set also provides a broader perspective.  Numerous articles offer discussions of social, political, and economic elements relevant to the military as well as the efforts of related services like homeland security, the border patrol, and the Coast Guard, as well as the CIA and FBI.

As you might expect, many entries treat key military activities like operations and tactics, supply and logistics, recruitment and training, and modern weapon systems.  However, the complex relationship between civil and military authority also garners a good bit of attention, as do modes of leadership and command and issues related to the law and military justice.  Specific U.S. allies and adversaries are covered in individual articles as are broader issues as they relate to the military like diversity, medical care, family concerns, and values and ethics.  In addition, all of America’s major conflicts from the colonial era to today’s involvement in Afghanistan have their own entries.  The set is text rich but there are a number of photos and illustrations that offer visual relief.  It also boasts value-added features from article-specific bibliographies to a topical Reader’s Guide to appendices containing relevant primary sources and useful statistics.  Access to specific topics and subtopics is provided by a well-designed index.

Each article provides historical background for the topic as well as its current status along with mention of possible future developments.  The writing is descriptive, fact-filled, and to the point.  The articles are informative, well researched, and free of jargon.  Multiple audiences from students and researchers to bloggers and journalists will find it a valuable resource to get relevant facts and solid background.

The Encyclopedia of Military Science is an impressive effort that offers readers a comprehensive perspective on a multifaceted topic.  It is much more that a collection of articles dealing with the nuts and bolts of military strategies and operations.  Editor G. Kurt Piehler and his contributors have fashioned a reference that looks at the American military using a wide open lens providing insightful and factual observations.  Academic libraries and larger public libraries will want to give it serious consideration.  It may even find is way on to some high school library shelves.

The set is also available online via SAGE Knowledge at: http://knowledge.sagepub.com/view/encyclopedia-of-military-science/SAGE.xml.


M.E. Sharpe recently published the second edition of American Immigration: An Encyclopedia of Political, Social, and Cultural Change (2013, 978-0-7656-8212-3, $399).  Edited by James Ciment and John Radzilowski, this four-volume set revises, updates, and reorganizes the first edition published in 2001 under the title of the Encyclopedia of American Immigration.

Abandoning the chronological arrangement of the first edition, this set opts for a framework that divides coverage among six major categories starting with causes, processes, and patterns then moving on to the history of immigration from the earliest Spanish settlers to post 9/11.  The third section consists of entries dealing with the numerous themes related to society, culture, and politics.  This section is followed by two sections that offer articles discussing nations of origins and U.S Destinations and those covering international perspectives.  The set ends with a collection of 80 documents and primary sources that complement the other entries.

The thematic structure works well for this set giving readers a built-in context along with the related detailed information.  However, an arrangement like this requires good indexing and finding aids.  Fortunately this set possesses them.  Each volume starts with a complete listing of contents for the entire set and there is a well-designed and thorough general index at the end of the last volume.  In addition, there is an index to the numerous tables and figures that are interspersed throughout the set supplementing and informing the text.  Each entry provides lists of further readings, and there is a collected bibliography as well as a glossary of terms adding value to the set.  The entries are informed by recent scholarship and are written in a style that is appropriate for upper division high school students, undergraduates, and interested lay readers.

American Immigration: An Encyclopedia of Political, Social, and Cultural Change treats a seminal topic in the American experience that has historical importance as well as current relevance.  Examining this encyclopedia makes it clear that successive waves of immigration have been essential to the development of the United States.  The set also portrays immigration as a multifaceted phenomenon with complex ramifications that can be viewed from multiple perspectives.  It is a compliment to the editors and their contributors that American Immigration… does so in a factual, scholarly fashion providing readers a valuable source for further study and understanding.  This encyclopedia should find its way on to the shelves of college and high school libraries as well as many public libraries where there is interest.

This title is also available via Sharpe Online Reference (http://www.sharpe-online.com/).


The European Union Encyclopedia and Directory 2014 (978-1857436990, $895) is the latest version of a standard reference that made its first appearance in 1995.  Published by Routledge, this one-volume work has evolved into an annual publication that provides information on both the EU’s history and its current operation with an emphasis on facts and details.

The new edition continues the basic structure of past editions starting with an A-Z list of entries that offers factual discussions of the numerous EU institutions and operations, the member nations and those that are applying for, or are considering membership, as well as other countries that have “relevance to the Union.”  Brief biographical sketches of key individuals who have been influential in the development of the EU are also provided.  Lending a sense of context are essays that offer updated background on the EU and its legal framework, economic concerns, social issues, external relations, migration and asylum policy, future prospects, and the continuing discussion of membership enlargement.  There is also a new essay on environmental policy.  These essays are followed by the Directory of the European Union that has a section on each institution of the EU including the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and numerous other EU agencies.  The information provided in this section includes addresses, phone and fax numbers, email and Web addresses, and information on officers and their work.  The book is rounded out by a statistical survey of the EU with population figures and various economic indicators and statistics.

The single-volume European Union Encyclopedia and Directory 2014 is unique in the amount of information that it provides on the EU.  With its combination of encyclopedic entries, involved essays, directory information, and statistical tables, this reference provides interested students and researchers with an authoritative, comprehensive, and balanced resource.  The main audience for this work will be academic libraries and businesses and government agencies concerned with EU related issues.  However, given the cost of the book those on tight budgets who have the 2013 edition may want to wait for the 2015 edition due in November of 2014.  It does not appear to be available online.


Extra Servings

April 2014 sees CQ Press publishing a couple of references that will be of interest.

•    Political Handbook of the World 2014 (978-1-4833-3326-7, $375) by Thomas Lansford has “more than 200 entries on countries and territories throughout the world,” with “coverage of all major and minor political parties and groups in each political system.  It also provides names of key ambassadors and international memberships of each country, plus detailed profiles of more than 30 intergovernmental organizations and UN agencies.” According to CQ Press it “has been updated to include coverage of current events, issues, crises, and controversies.”

•    Landmark Legislation, 1774–2012: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties, (978-1-4522-9228-1, $175) is a second edition that contains “information about the most important laws and treaties enacted by the U.S. Congress — including an additional decade of new legislation since the first edition was published.  Detailing more than 1,300 bills that became law, the Second Edition… expands its coverage to include the last five numbered Congresses, which have seen landmark legislation in the areas of health insurance and health care reform, financial regulatory reform, fiscal stimulus …”

SAGE Reference has just released two new multivolume sets.

•    Encyclopedia of Humor Studies (978-1-4129-9909-0, $350) is a two volume set edited by Salvatore Attardo that “explores the concept of humor in history and modern society in the United States and internationally.  This work’s scope encompasses the humor of children, adults, and even nonhuman primates throughout the ages, from crude jokes and simple slapstick to sophisticated word play and ironic parody and satire.  As an academic social history, it includes the perspectives of a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, child development, social psychology…”

•    Encyclopedia of Deception (978-1-4522-5877-5, $350) is another two-volume set.  Edited by Timothy R. Levine, this work “examines lying from multiple perspectives drawn from the disciplines of social psychology, sociology, history, business, political science, cultural anthropology, moral philosophy, theology, law, family studies, … and more.  From the “little white lie,” to lying on a resume, to the grandiose lies of presidents, this two-volume reference explores the phenomenon of lying in a multidisciplinary context to elucidate this common aspect of our daily lives…”

ABC-CLIO is also publishing a couple of new sets in April.

•    Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia (978-1-61069-285-4, $189) is edited by Michael Newton and provides “complete and up-to-date coverage of assassinations of key figures throughout history and around the world… Each entry identifies the assassination target and summarizes that person’s significance; discusses the person’s assassination, including the factors that led up to it and its political and cultural contexts; and explains the powerful effects of the assassination in world history. … In addition, 23 primary source documents provide accounts of assassinations throughout world history.”

•    Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (978-1-61069-177-2, $189)  Editors Coeli Fitzpatrick and Adam Hani Walker, offer readers “more than 200 A–Z entries” that “summarize views of Muhammad from the earliest editors of the Qu’ran to contemporary Muslim theologians” and  “explores the traditions, ceremonies, and beliefs of Islam as they have spread worldwide, and examines Muhammad’s role in other religious traditions as well as the secular world.”

IGI Global has recently added one new title to their reference list.

•    Encyclopedia of Business Analytics and Optimization (9781466652026, $2560) is a five-volume set edited by John Wang that looks at the “challenges of information retrieval in the age of Big Data by exploring recent advances in the areas of knowledge management, data visualization, interdisciplinary communication, and others.  Through its critical approach and practical application, this book is … for the professional, leader, analyst, or manager interested in making the most of the knowledge resources at their disposal.”

Wiley has also added a new reference to their list.

•    The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior and Society (978-1-4443-3076-2, $795) is co-edited by William C. Cockerham, Robert Dingwall, and Stella Quah and provides a “comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and international reference work on all aspects of the social scientific study of health and illness…”

In case you missed it, January saw Oxford University Press add a number of new titles to their online Oxford Quick Reference collections.

•    A Dictionary of Genetics (8 ed.)

•    The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3 ed.)

•    A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition (4 ed.)

•    A Dictionary of Epidemiology (5 ed.)

•    A Supplementary Dictionary of Sports Personalities (1 ed.)

Oxford also added one title to its online Oxford Reference Library.

•    The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation (1 ed.)

You can find more information along with relevant links at: http://www.oxfordreference.com/page/new/whats-new.


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