“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
Musician Tom Waits, as quoted in the Yale Book of Quotations
For years I’ve urged people to consider giving great reference books as holiday gifts, especially to families. Not many $25 bestsellers deliver as much value as the $12.99 World Almanac and Book of Facts, more than a thousand pages packed with sports statistics, election results, the most popular baby names, documents like the Gettysburg Address and more. And in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal Donald Altschiller, a librarian at Boston University, offers a terrific starter list for shoppers in the form of a quintet of reference books that he sees as essential for a home library.
Four of Altschiller’s choices have appeared — in some cases, repeatedly — on my own lists of gift-book recommendations: the Yale Book of Quotations (Yale, 2006), the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), the Merck Manual of Medical Information: Second Edition (2003) and that World Almanac and Book of Facts (World Almanac, 2008). So I’ll take his word for the fifth: the Oxford Atlas of the World (Oxford University Press, 2007). Altschiller explains his choices in “Five Best” online.wsj.com/article/SB122125935106030191.html?mod=2_1167_1 (which accurately describes, for example, some advantages of the Yale Book of Quotations over Bartlett’s). His article also contains a few facts that, as often as I’ve written about these books, I didn’t know. One involves the World Almanac: “In November 1963, during the rushed swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson recited the presidential oath from this invaluable resource.”
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.