Best Reference Titles of 2017

It’s been a robust year for reference, as reflected in our best of list. While you’ll find tried-and-true reference, such as the most recent edition of Oxford Atlas of the World, we also attempted to surface the unusual—it’s not every year we see an Atlas of Beer! Though it was a particularly good year for history texts (with books on the Renaissance, the Holocaust, and the Vietnam War), we are particularly excited about the offerings that explored subjects that have gone unacknowledged, such as the Encyclopedia of Black Comics and Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archive. Speaking of photos, many of these books are just as visually stunning as they are informative, such as Endangered, Natural Wonders of the World, and Thomas Schiff’s lush and lovely The Library Book. Finally, be sure to check out our roundup of the top databases of 2017 and the best free resources, which include amazing apps, websites, and additions to works you already know and love.—Mahnaz Dar

ARTS & LITERATURE

Betzina, Sandra. All New Fabric Savvy: How To Choose & Use Fabrics. Taunton. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9781631868412. pap. $26.95.

Betzina, a sewing expert and host of the popular Power Sewing web series, updates her guide to fabrics, adding new selections and techniques. Readers will find 107 fabrics, listed alphabetically, from the common (cotton, wool, and silk) to the less used, such as camel hair, shearling, and rayon viscose (made out of wood pulp). Along with a visual glossary and frequent color photos, the author weaves in details on the materials that comprise each fabric and valuable information on cutting methods, threads, needles, and stitch lengths. The essential handbook for sewists of all skill levels. (LJ 9/15/17)

Collins, Michael & others. Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works. DK. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9781465463623. $30.

Sweeping in scope (from 3,000 BCE to the 20th century), this lush ode to influential books celebrates, among many others, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Collins (Pope Francis: A Photographic Story of the People’s Pope) and several contributors place these titles in historical context, examine their authors, and provide gorgeously reproduced excerpts. While not an exhaustive guide, it’s a delightful treasure trove of classic works, bound to turn even casual browsers into ardent bibliophiles. (LJ 11/1/17)

The Definitive Shakespeare Companion: Overviews, Documents, and Analysis. 4 vols. Greenwood. 1,987p. ed. by Joseph Rosenblum. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440834448. $415; ebk. ISBN 9781440834455.

Updating 2005’s Greenwood Companion to Shakespeare, Rosenblum offers a thorough look at the Bard, his plays, and his poetry. With new material such as excerpts from literary and historical sources and reviews of modern productions, this dynamic guide provides a nuanced perspective: not merely plot summaries and character descriptions but an exploration of language and imagery, authorship, and the cultural legacy of the work. Students, general readers, and those involved in the theater will come away with a richer understanding of Shakespeare. (LJ 9/15/17)

Howard, Sheena C. Encyclopedia of Black Comics. Fulcrum. 280p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781682751015. pap. $23.95.

In this targeted, much-needed encyclopedia, Howard (communications, Rider Univ.; coeditor, Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation) collects short biographies of creators, inkers, illustrators, website designers, and others of African descent in the comic and cartoon industry. The frequent color and black-and-white illustrations add vibrancy to entries on notables such as Ta-Nehisi Coates (who worked on a Black Panther reboot) and visual cultural historian Deborah E. Whaley, among many others. (LJ 10/1/17)

Race in American Film: Voices and Visions That Shaped a Nation. 3 vols. Greenwood. 1,026p. ed. by Daniel Bernardi & Michael Green. illus. index. ISBN 9780313398391. $293.99.

For any cinephile—and who isn’t?—this meticulously researched set brings together a varied group of cinematic experts who write with aplomb about U.S. movies, actors, directors, and genres, from the early days of film to present day. Although the focus is squarely on the ways race has been depicted on the silver screen, an even larger theme is how the motion picture industry influenced how Americans viewed race. Outstanding finding aids, stimulating topics, and authoritative content make this indispensable. (LJ 11/1/17)

BUSINESS & ECONOMICS

Encyclopedia of African American Businesses. 2d ed. Greenwood. 1,032p. ed. by Jessie Smith. ISBN 9781440850271. $198.

This accomplished and distinguished work, covering from the late 18th to the early 21st century, improves on its 2006 edition in every way, with more entries, statistical tables, and photographs. This iteration focuses on how African American businesses have developed over the last decade and the areas in which they have expanded during that time. In particular, Smith adroitly addresses the role of women and the emergence of African American businesses in global markets. (LJ 3/1/17)

FOOD

The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Univ. of Illinois. 344p. ed. by Carol Mighton Haddix & others. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252087240. $34.95.

This sumptuous volume demonstrates why Chicago is widely regarded as one of the world’s major food destinations. More than 300 alphabetically arranged entries by local scholars, journalists, authors, and food industry experts cover prominent restaurants, signature dishes, and famous chefs that have influenced the city’s cuisine. An outstanding resource for those traveling to the Windy City or anyone who just relishes food.

Hoalst-Pullen, Nancy & Mark W. Patterson. National Geographic Atlas of Beer. National Geographic. 304p. ISBN 9781426218330. $40.

Though lavishly designed, with spectacular photographs and detailed maps, this global look at beer is no frothy coffee-table book. Beer experts Hoalst-Pullen and Patterson provide rich historical context and insightful commentary and pour out helpful advice (where to find the best North American festivals, how to order a pint in Germany). As practical as it is gorgeous.

GENERAL Reference

Oxford Atlas of the World. 24th ed. Oxford Univ. 448p. maps. index. ISBN 9780190843625. $89.95.

Cell phones do many things well, but displaying the grandeur of planet Earth’s geography is not one of them. This oversize book features breathtaking aerial photography and updated extensive front and back matter (country summaries, world city maps, population, health and wealth statistics, and more). A remarkable way to become familiar with the countries of our world.

Purcell, Mark. The Country House Library. Yale Univ. 352p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300227406. $55.

Libraries covering British or Anglo-Irish history, library science, and architecture won’t want to pass up this meticulously researched, detailed volume on country house libraries of Britain and Ireland. Examining dozens of collections and collecting habits and bibliographic treasures from Roman Britain to today, the work also serves as an example of how bibliographic essays are best written and documented. It is heavily illustrated, with images from old and rare works and of the sumptuous homes where the volumes highlighted their owners’ erudition and wealth. (LJ 2/1/18)

Schiff, Thomas (text & photos). The Library Book. Aperture. 232p. ISBN 9781597113748. $80.

We love our information palaces, even as content now flows through the ether. Photographer Schiff’s astounding images, many wide-angle, showcase a range of architecturally arresting libraries around the United States. Novelist and editor Alberto Manguel’s knowledgeable essay on the history of the American library, from its elite subscription-member beginnings, adds depth. A feast for the eyes, this volume also asks us to consider the mission and cultural role of the public library. Road trip, anyone?

health & Medicine

Human Medical Experimentation: From Smallpox Vaccines to Secret Government Programs. Greenwood. 322p. ed. by Frances R. Frankenburg. index. ISBN 9781610698979. $89; ebk. ISBN 9781610698986.

Acknowledging that breakthroughs in medicine often have grim roots, namely experimentation on human subjects, this enlightening encyclopedia highlights events such as the Tuskegee study, experiments performed by the Nazis, Timothy Leary’s work with LSD, and much more. Though it zooms back to early medical history with Hippocrates and Galen, the bulk of the volume focuses on the 19th century onward. Featuring useful primary sources and reflecting excellent research, this enthralling title shines a light on an aspect of history that has often been glossed over; lay readers and researchers alike will be captivated. (LJ 4/15/17)

HISTORY

Byrne, Joseph P. The World of Renaissance Italy: A Daily Life Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Greenwood. 797p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440829598. $198; ebk. ISBN 9781440829604.

Broadening our attention from social and artistic elites to ordinary people and providing context for the renowned art of the period (1350–1600), polymath Byrne offers concise yet detailed articles on such varied topics as non-Europeans in art, pharmacopoeias, female mystics, nutrition, painting techniques, women’s letter-writing, and much more. Students of social history and those who fantasize about being dropped into 15th-century Florence will find a reliable guidebook here. (LJ 10/1/17)

Everleigh, Darcy & others. Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives. Black Dog & Leventhal. 304p. ISBN 9780316552967. $29.99.

Though many of the subjects captured here for the New York Times are famous—Aretha Franklin, Rosa Parks, Ralph Ellison, Jesse Jackson—quite a few are unknown. And this book is much more than photos: there are interviews, quotations, photographer anecdotes, context-rich captions, and commentaries. A half-­century of a history that has been submerged lives again.

The Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities. Family Tree. 224p. ed. by Allison Dolan. ISBN 9781440350610. $34.99.

This attractive book offers detailed maps of the 16 historically largest cities in the United States from 1800 to 1920, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles. During this ­period, American cities expanded greatly owing to immigration and the arrival of a large number of erstwhile rural residents in search of jobs. Genealogists and historians will find these maps invaluable in providing details about where their ancestors lived and worked.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro. Pantheon. 496p. ISBN 9780307908711. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780307908728.

Joel A. Rogers’s iconic 1934 work, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof, was among the first to celebrate black history and accomplishments, but critics often found fault with the journalist’s lack of scholarship. With this loving, impeccably researched tribute, Gates rectifies that flaw, interrogating our understanding of history (“Is most of what we believe about the Underground Railroad true?”) and calling attention to examples of black excellence (“Who was the first African-American writer to investigate and report the wrongdoings of a world leader?”). (LJ 8/17)

Gilbert, David T. Civil War Battlefields: Walking the Trails of History. Rizzoli. 336p. ISBN 9780847859122. $50.

Created in association with the Civil War Trust, the leading organization in Civil War battlefield preservation, and with a foreword by novelist Jeff Shaara, this impressive look at 32 major battlefields contains essays, detailed maps, historic photographs, and suggested hikes (ranging from .2 to 14 miles). Most striking are the images of the battlefields as they look today: beautiful, hallowed landscapes.

The Holocaust: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. 4 vols. ABC-CLIO. 1,890p. ed. by Paul Bartrop & Michael Dickerman. ISBN 9781440840838. $415.

This concise, accessible resource stands out from other encyclopedias on the ­Holocaust for several reasons. It offers numerous recent survivor accounts, is incredibly up-to-date (the last comparable work was published in 2009) and easy to use, and features a uniform format. Not just for academics, this is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in human history and our potential for good and evil. (LJ 2/1/18)

The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated History. DK. 360p. illus. index. ISBN 9781465457691. $40.

In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, editors at DK have selected striking visuals and well-written essays on Vietnam War topics, arranged chronologically and heavily illustrated with maps, photographs, and graphics. Fifty years after the U.S. troop withdrawal, this is an engrossing look at a complex subject. Approachable for high school students, with thoughtful time lines and information of interest to all readers. (LJ 9/1/17)

LANGUAGE & LINGUISTICS

Sergy, Lauren. The Handy Communication Answer Book. Visible Ink. (Handy Answer Book). 416p. illus. index. ISBN 9781578595877. pap. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9781578596522.

Acknowledging the importance of all forms of communication (writing, public speaking, social media, etc.), Sergy, a writer, professional speaker, public speaking coach, and LJ reviewer, answers general and practical aspects of the topic in this user-friendly guide. Via Q&A format, she explores real-world examples of the topic, such as Secretary Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and President Donald Trump’s reliance on social media, and, of particular note, offers a selection of 13 sample speeches and a debate, plus analyses. (LJ 5/15/17)

LAW & POLITICS

Roberts, Priscilla. Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Documentary and Reference Guide. Greenwood. 350p. ISBN 9781440843907. $108.

Why is this conflict not just a localized dispute? Who are the players? What efforts have been made already, and why have they failed? Readers can follow the history (back to World War I) through primary documents, supported by the illuminating commentary provided here. Roberts gives context for each document, a brief assessment of its significance, and a paragraph analyzing its causes and consequences, followed whenever necessary by a historical summary bridge to the next document, in concise and judicious prose. If we can’t solve it, might we at least ­understand it?

The State and Federal Courts: A Complete Guide to History, Powers, and Controversy. ABC-CLIO. 513p. ed. by Christopher P. Banks. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440841453. $105.

Banks (political science, Kent State Univ.) provides a current, succinct, timely overview of the complex U.S. judicial system. Covering both the state and the federal levels in a single volume, he highlights the interplay between the two. This title also reviews the judicial system’s impact on society and politics. This excellent update to older titles such as Susan Low and Vicki C. Jackson’s Federalism: A Reference Guide to the United States tackles more recent topics, including the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Affordable Care Act, and same-sex marriage. (LJ 4/15/17)

RELIGION & PHILOSOPHY

Fieldhouse, Paul. Food, Feasts, and Faith: An Encyclopedia of Food Culture in World Religions. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 671p. photos. index. ISBN 9781610694117. $189; ebk. ISBN 9781610694124.

Simultaneously wide-ranging and in-depth, this work establishes connections among food, culture, religion, and history—and makes good on its subtitle’s claim. Fieldhouse (human nutritional sciences, Univ. of Manitoba, Winnipeg) notes the essential components of any religion; examines social science, health science, and ethical dimensions of the subject; cites the roles of dietary codes (and their many variations and evolution); and describes the different functions of food within faiths. This richly informative work efficiently and accessibly adds to readers’ understanding of the subject and provides a solid jumping-off point for further research. (LJ 8/17)

War and Religion: An Encyclopedia of Faith and Conflict. 3 vols. ABC-CLIO. 1,095p. ed. by Jeffrey M. Shaw & Timothy J. Demy. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610695169. $310.

A thought-provoking work on the relationship between warfare and religion throughout the ages. Cogently organized and wide in scope (a smattering of its entries include the Crusades, Hezbollah, and the Ghost Dance movement), with useful primary sources, it sets itself apart by exploring the impact of a range of faiths beyond Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. “How can people today learn from the past in hopes of minimizing the potential for future conflict?” this volume asks. The insight found here will go a long way. (LJ 6/1/17)

SCIENCES

Cheshire, James & Oliver Uberti. Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics. Norton. 192p. ISBN 9780393634020. $39.95.

The geographic information system (GIS) and other advances allow us to see where animals go, whether by land (mountain lions, fishers, pythons, ants), sea (sharks, seals, otters), or air (gulls, storks, vultures, bees), not only during migrations but in mundane travels. Technology and data have never looked more beautiful than in these 50 four-color maps and watercolor images. This astute text conveys our latest understanding of animal behavior as revealed by this sophisticated tracking.

Flach, Tim (text & photos) & Jonathan Baillie (text). Endangered. Abrams. 336p. ISBN 9781419726514. $65.

It is impossible to look away from photographer Flach’s nearly 200 expressive, large-format images of animals whose gaze alone is a mute appeal—even without the informed commentary by zoologist Baillie. These exquisite color portraits make a compelling moral and aesthetic case for preserving the many birds, mammals, and other creatures and ecosystems under immediate threat. The poignant possibility is that some of the animals so beautifully portrayed will be preserved only in these pages.

Hoyt, Erich & others. Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Firefly. 300p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781770859418. $49.95.

Like humans, the class of social mammals known as cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) have large brains relative to their body size. Hoyt (research fellow, Whale and Dolphin Conservation; Creatures of the Deep), with the help of illustrations and stunning natural photographs from Brandon Cole, immerses readers in the world of these marine mammals. An excellent balance of scientific study combined with a deep concern for conservation and habitat preservation. (LJ Xpress Review 11/17/17)

Jackson, Tom. The Elements Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Periodic Table. DK. 208p. illus. index. ISBN 9781465456601. $22.99.

Each element has its moment of glory as Jackson (Mathematics: An Illustrated History of Numbers), in conjunction with the Smithsonian and the graphic artists at DK, showcases the history, everyday uses, and sheer physical beauty of elements in the periodic table. Full-page photographs of shining metals and callout boxes with information on scientists add further interest. Providing an extra scientific kick, this gorgeous volume organizes entries not alphabetically but by molecular structure. (LJ 7/17)

Natural Wonders of the World. DK. 440p. illus. index. ISBN 9781465464170. $50.

DK, long known for its breathtaking ­visual works, has outdone itself with this dazzling exploration of landscapes, geological marvels, and other awe-inspiring features worldwide. Through photographs that rival the likes of an IMAX film, detailed diagrams, and pithy prose, the book makes natural history accessible. The Grand Canyon, the Serengeti, and the Great Barrier Reef have never looked so good—and that’s saying something. (LJ 1/18)

Rousseau, Élise. Horses of the World. Princeton Univ. (Field Guides). 536p. illus. by Yann Le Bris. tr. from French by Teresa Lavender Fagan. photos. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691167206. $39.95.

Covering every known breed of horse (including extinct wild horses), this oversize guide boasts ample photos, maps, and succinct entries. The remarkable and detailed illustrations highlight the horses’ various colors, sizes, and markings, helping with identification. Front matter includes general topics (history and domestication, coat colors, growth patterns). Excellent for browsing or answering more specific questions about traits, population statistics, and geographic distribution. (LJ 9/15/17)

SOCIAL SCIENCES

America’s Changing Neighborhoods: An Exploration of Diversity Through Places. 3 vols. Greenwood. 1,277p. ed. by Reed Ueda. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440828645. $309; ebk. ISBN 9781440828652.

Author and historian Ueda explores the origins, developments, heritage, and traditions of the country’s ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods. He seamlessly ties these developments to contemporary U.S. society, offering a better understanding of our complex modern world. What distinguishes the work is its uncommon approach to the subject, excellent writing, and myriad useful demographics. An appendix of enclaves with the highest proportion of a particular ancestry is superb. (LJ 1/18)

Infinite Suburbia. Princeton Architectural. 784p. ed. by Alan M. Berger & others. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781616895501. $75.

This remarkable collection of essays on suburban design and development is visually pleasing and dynamic. The photographs, aerial drone shots, drawings, plans, diagrams, maps, and charts alone are enough to make the work essential, but the erudite writing and scholarly research elevate it into an even higher level of accomplishment. (LJ 11/15/17)

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender. SAGE. 2,064p. ed. by Kevin L. Nadal & others. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781483384283. $550; ebk. ISBN 9781506353241.

Presenting a general overview of the psychological effect of gender on society, entries ranging from abortion, androgyny, and anorexia to breast-feeding, Native Americans and transgender identity, nature versus nurture, and spirituality and gender concentrate on psychological issues involving gender and its role in society. The narrative chronology of psychology and gender from the mid-1800s through the early 2000s presents a fascinating view of gender psychology through the ages. (LJ 2/1/18)

200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World. Chronicle. 395p. ed. by Geoff Blackwell & Ruth Hobday. ISBN 9781452166582. $50.

Businesswomen, philanthropists, novelists, activists, fashion designers, chefs, athletes, journalists, artists, and more are featured in this work, which introduces influential persons such as primatologist Jane Goodall, author and feminist Roxane Gay, and Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza. They each respond to the same questions: what is important, what makes them happy/unhappy, what they’d change, and what one word most defines them. The portraits and interviews are fascinating and inspirational; an archive of a memorable moment in social history.

TRAVEl

Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel. DK. 440p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781465464149. $50.

Travel all over the globe—and back in time—with this survey of voyages and discovery through the ages. Lavish ­modern and period maps, photos, diary and correspondence excerpts, and reproductions of ephemera galore (Viking coins, a Greek passport, the health inspection card of an immigrant to the United States) enhance compact, accessible text. Spanning ancient times to the age of flight, this delightful volume will have even the most ardent homebodies booking their next trip. (LJ 11/15/17)

Rhoads, Loren. 199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die. Black Dog & Leventhal. 240p. photos. index. ISBN 9780316438438. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316473798.

Far from morbid, this fascinating travel guide may have readers planning excursions to a burial ground for champion race horses or a Viking graveyard in Norway. Rhoads (cemetery consultant, Travel & Leisure; Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel) provides striking photographs and a riveting narrative of roughly 100 U.S. cemeteries (the rest are global sites). Armchair travelers will appreciate the atmospheric images of monuments and vistas, while those with a bucket list can add destinations for future exploration. (LJ 11/1/17)

The World: A Traveller’s Guide to the Planet. 2d ed. Lonely Planet. (Travel Guides). 992p. ISBN 9781786576538. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781787012493.

Produced by the world’s largest travel guide publisher, this impressive guidebook contains entries on every country on Earth from A to Z (Afghanistan to Zimbabwe). Each chapter includes a brief country overview, the top recommended travel experiences, and information on how best to get around. The guide is supplemented with colorful maps, practical travel info, suggested itineraries, and almost 1,000 gorgeous photographs. Highly recommended for travelers trying to decide their next vacation destination and for those eager to learn more about the world overall.

Mahnaz Dar is Reference & Professional Reading Editor, LJ and School Library Journal; Maggie Knapp is a Librarian,Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX; Patricia Lothrop retired from teaching at St. George’s School, Newport, RI; Dave Pugl is a Librarian, Ela Area Public Library, Lake Zurich, IL; Laurie Selwyn formerly worked at the Grayson County Law Library, Sherman, TX; Christine Sharbrough is the Librarian, First Baptist Church, Bellville, TX; and Rob Tench is a Librarian, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA

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Comments

  1. There is a typo in the first line of the review of Professor Rosenblum’s Shakespeare book!

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