Sander Gilman, professor of Germanic studies at the University of Chicago and author of Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient (Routledge, 1995). He is coeditor of the forthcoming Yale Encyclopedia of Jewish Writing in German (Yale).
Gilman says that what is most notable about his reference shelf is what's missing: "My American Heritage Dictionary, my Roget's Thesaurus, my Cassell's German Dictionary, all have been moved elsewhere. Why? Their functions are met as part of my computer's armament of services. But some works are so uniquely pleasurable in book form that no little silver CD-ROM disc can do them justice." Two examples: William F. Bynum and Roy Porter's Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine (Routledge, 1994), which Gilman says "is simply exhaustive in its critical and historical coverage of every aspect of illness and its institutions across the world"; and The Weimar Republic Sourcebook (California, 1994), by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg, a collection of newly translated primary source documents useful, says Gilman, both as "building blocks for our contemporary sense of the modern, and as signposts pointing toward the Shoah."
"Attempting to make pictures through print, novelists occasionally find themselves at a loss for words," says Grimes. "The Macmillan Visual Dictionary, edited by Jean-Claude Corbeil and Ariane Archambault (Macmillan, 1992), fortunately, illustrates, then names, the arcane minutiae of virtually everything: electron microscopes, offshore oil rigs, hats, house furniture, weapons dating back to the Stone Age. Sometimes, the volume is a bit literal. A woman in tennis whites swings a racket at a furry yellow ball. What's on her foot? A 'tennis shoe.' Nevertheless, for accuracy, the dictionary is indispensable. If you want to know the always confusing distinction between 'ruffled rumba pants' and 'nylon rumba tights,' buy this book-and take it home in your 'shopping bag' (page 381)."
Hugh Kenner, professor of English at the University of Georgia and author of more than twenty-five books, including Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings (California, 1994) and The Pound Era (California, 1971).
Kenner recommends Our Times: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the 20th Century, Lorraine Glennon editor (Turner Publishing, 1995): "In 713 big pages, nearly a million words present ten decades, each with an authoritative introductory essay-don't skip Stephen Spender on totalitarianism, which heads the 1930-1939 section. Each decade offers ten thumb-indexed years, eight to ten pages each, chronicling significant events, with copious color photographs, and listing births, deaths, Nobel Prize winners, and that year's innovations. Thanks to heroic design, the book looks amazingly uncluttered. I was intrigued to learn that I share a birth year with Diane Arbus and Charlton Heston; my youngest son with Cindy Crawford and Mike Tyson."
Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia, is the editor of Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (Oxford, 1993); coeditor of The Reader's Companion to American History (Houghton Mifflin, 1991); and author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1867-1877 (HarperCollins, 1988).
"My favorite works represent opposite ends of the reference spectrum," says Foner. "In an age when cultural studies reigns supreme, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Kraus, 1989) seems irremediably obsolete. But it contains an indispensable collection of data on every conceivable subject in American history, from population shifts to economic production, motor vehicle deaths to sources of energy. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (Carlson, 1993), is one of those rare reference works that virtually creates an academic field rather than simply summarizing it. The volume surveys the role of black women in topics ranging from slavery to gospel music, and offers biographies of scores of individuals, most of them unknown even to historians. Its subliminal message: Historians can no longer ignore black women by invoking the canard that theirs is an unrecorded experience."
Anthony Grafton, professor of history at Princeton, is the author of Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450-1800 (Harvard, 1991), and Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship (Princeton, 1990).
Notes Grafton, "Almost twenty-five years ago, two friends gave my wife and me the one wedding present that we've used every day since: a slightly crumbling set, bound in brown, of the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, first published in 1910. In a quarter of a century, we haven't come close to exhausting the maps, biographies, literary anecdotes, detailed outlines of philosophical positions, and sharp expressions of strong prejudice that make every jagged, ornate corner of this Crystal Palace of a reference book come alive. A CD version? Sure, it would make consultation easier. But it would destroy something precious: the memory of all those strolls down the eleventh edition's closely printed columns, and all the associated memories of hours in long-lost Fourth Avenue bookstores."
T. Corey Brennan, assistant professor of Greek and Latin at Bryn Mawr, has recently completed a manuscript titled "Praetorship in the Roman Republic."
"Some may smirk at the title, but over the past few years I've probably picked up Calvert Watkins' American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) more often than any other reference work," says Brennan. "Here Watkins summarizes the prehistory of about 10,000 English words, and, in the process, throws in a lot of expert discussion of etymologies for other Indo- European languages, from Sanskrit to Icelandic and all the relevant ones in between, including old favorites Greek and Latin. It's also an eye-opening introduction to Indo-European culture. Unfortunately, the book-which I once bought in bulk to give out at Christmas-is now out of print, and survives only in a truncated version as part of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language."
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, is the author of People's History of the United States (Harper & Row, 1980) and You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (Beacon, 1994).
Says Zinn, "For anyone who works daily in the field of American history, Henry Steele Commager's Documents of American History (Prentice Hall, 1988) is indispensable. Want to know the exact language of the Monroe Doctrine, or Lincoln's exchange of correspondence with Horace Greeley, or the notes exchanged between the United States and the Soviet Union on the U-2 affair? It's there, as well as the text of many important Supreme Court decisions." In addition, Zinn says that alongside his Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, he keeps handy The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes (Citadel, 1983), "where I can find juicy quotes by Emma Goldman, who is not in Bartlett's, and those radical statements of Helen Keller's that are too hot for that estimable classic."
Sandra Gilbert, co-editor of the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English and co-author of the three volume No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (Yale).
"I've used The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present, edited by Virginia Blain, Isobel Grundy, and Patricia Clements (Batword, 1990) a lot lately. Susan Gubar and I have just finished a new edition of our Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, and we've found the Feminist Companion invaluable: wide-ranging and authoritative, yet concise and lively. The book especially appeals to me because it includes an entry on myself as a poet, not 'just' a critic. Now that's a decision I consider savvy!"
Chris Hables Gray is coeditor of
Cyborg Handbook (Routledge, 1995), the
Technohistory: Using the History of Technology in
Interdisciplinary Research (Krieger, 1996), and the
Postmodern War (forthcoming from Guilford).
"In computing," notes Gray, "old programs never die; they become embedded.
So the ancient
Hacker's Dictionary, edited by Eric S. Raymond (MIT, 1991) is still
surprisingly useful for exploring new electronic places. It also makes a
serviceable OED for computer historians. The best new reference book,
judging by what I've seen of it, is the long-delayed Technological
Failures: An Encyclopedia, edited by Susan Davis Herring (forthcoming from
Garland). As seductive technologies proliferate, we should keep this
encyclopedia close at hand to warn us of our mortality."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.
"In computing," notes Gray, "old programs never die; they become embedded. So the ancient New Hacker's Dictionary, edited by Eric S. Raymond (MIT, 1991) is still surprisingly useful for exploring new electronic places. It also makes a serviceable OED for computer historians. The best new reference book, judging by what I've seen of it, is the long-delayed Technological Failures: An Encyclopedia, edited by Susan Davis Herring (forthcoming from Garland). As seductive technologies proliferate, we should keep this encyclopedia close at hand to warn us of our mortality."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.