New York: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 1929. 24 vols.
OPPOSITE the title-page of each volume of the new Britannica stands a proud column of dates: ‘First Edition, 1768. . . . Eleventh Edition (last complete revision), 1910. . . . Fourteenth Edition, 1929.’ The appearance of a fresh edition of the premier encyclopædia in English is an event of the greatest importance in the world of books. It is like the sudden publication of a magazine with contributions by a thousand of the world’s leading authors and scientists.
This latest, edition is a startlingly new book. A few familiar features remain, and it is pleasant to see John Morley’s famous article on Burke and Macaulay’s on Goldsmith, standing beside those by G. B. Shaw on Socialism, Henry Ford on Mass Production, and R. A. Millikan on the Electron. But the old line-print sections are gone, and the ponderously long articles, from which specific facts had to be dug out with the help of the index. An astonishing wealth of illustration, both plates and text cuts, keeps one looking at pictures wherever one turns. The paper is heavier, the print clearer, and every article is broken up into convenient sections by clear captions in bold-face type. The maps, made by Bartholomew, are placed in the final volume, with the index.
Looking more deeply, one becomes aware of two things: the book is a unit, with a new perspective, that of 1929; and there is a new emphasis on the practical — on processes, as apart from history. How things are made, how business is conducted, how games are played, how birds and aeroplanes fly — these are all made clear. Less space is devoted to the biography of obscure men — old French authors, old English actors, old Scottish divines — and enormously more space to farms and football, to mining and dancing, than in the earlier editions. That which appeals to one reader in a million has been cut down or cut out, and that which appeals to the average college boy or business man has been treated with the greatest fullness, in an interesting and easy style, and illustrated so that the reader of ordinary intelligence cannot fail to understand.
Yet the old authority has not been sacrificed; it has simply taken a new form. It seems odd to see the names of Gene Tunney and Irene Castle beside those of Elihu Root and Albert Einstein; yet Tunney certainly knows about Boxing in America (his section of the general article on Boxing) and Mrs. Castle about Modern Dancing, just, as surely as does Mr. Root about the World Court or Einstein about Space-Time. Milton Work writes of Auction Bridge, Gilbert Murray of Homer, Frank Brangwyn of Mural Painting, G. K. Chesterton of Dickens, Cardinal Bourne of the Roman Catholic Church, Sir Oliver Lodge of the Ether, Jesse Lasky of Picture Production, George Haven Putnam of American Copyright, and Marshal Foch of Morale in War: no one could have chosen better persons to speak on these subjects, and they are typical of thousands. The old detachment is gone, and perhaps some of the distinction; but the authority remains.
The new book is not only ‘humanized’ and ‘picturized,’but Americanized. The attempt has been made to have every article intelligible to the average reader. The illustration is worthy of all praise; the thousands of line cuts in the text are clear and informing; the half-tone plates are very beautiful, the color plates are even more remarkable; and in every case the titles are fully explanatory, so that one has no need to hunt through the text in order to understand the picture. The Britannica has at last, escaped fully from its insularity, and is now addressed to the whole English-speaking world. A corps of American editors has seen to it that the American aspects of every subject are adequately treated; on all legal topics, for example, a separate section is devoted to American practice, and the same is true of sports and industry. A helpful feature of the book is the insertion at the head of each major topic of a list of the articles bearing on that topic, with an indication of the scope of each; ‘Chemical Articles,’for example, is a complete guide to the widely scattered material in the field of chemistry, while ‘Historical Articles’ is a means of quickly finding one’s way to the important summary articles — many of which have titles which would not immediately occur to the reader—in this great field. By such means and by abundant cross references, dependence on the index volume is greatly lessened.
A word should be said about the art features of the work. In no encyclopædia has so much attention been given to art in all its phases, including many that are not obvious. There are, for example, remarkable articles on such topics as Chinese Sculpture, with eleven plates, Glass, with eighteen plates (in addition to three on Glass Manufacture), and Bronze, also with eighteen plates. The plates devoted to each country beautifully illustrate the charm of its towns and cities; in a number of cases, fine reproductions of etchings are used for this purpose. The art direction of the whole work has been conducted with intelligence and enthusiasm, so that every volume contains many pages of pure delight to the eye.
There has been a thoroughgoing revision of all bibliographies, and many references of 1928 date are given. Nothing seems to have been neglected; the book has gained in general helpfulness far more than it has lost through the sacrifice of some of its old-fashioned literary aloofness. The twenty-four volumes are to be published as a unit during the coming autumn; the entire process of manufacture will have been accomplished in the almost impossibly brief period of nine months.
It is the belief of the reviewer that no one who inspects the book carefully can fail to share his enthusiasm, which is based on a detailed examination of the first eleven volumes.
FRANK H. CHASE
Reference Librarian, Boston Public Library