From: (Steve Brock)
Subject: Reviews of new and recent reference books
Followup-To: rec.arts.books
Date: 15 Aug 1995 03:46:25 MET
Organization: University of Colorado, Boulder
Here are several short reviews of new and recent reference books. All reviews are written by Steve Brock:

THE CAMBRIDGE THESAURUS OF AMERICAN ENGLISH, edited by William J. Lutz. Cambridge University Press, 40 W. 20th St., New York, N.Y. 10011-4211, (800) 872-7423, FAX: (212) 691-3239. 515 pp., $16.95 cloth. 0-521-41427-X

Though there are times that I use it, the thesaurus that comes with Wordperfect is worthless (fruitless, futile, ineffectual, useless) junk (filth, refuse, remains, rubbish, trash, waste), and I've heard that, though it's better than Wordperfect's, the thesaurus for Word is also insufficient (deficient, inadequate, incomplete, lacking, missing). As a result, writers who do their work on a computer, whether they be students or office workers, need a supplemental thesaurus. I highly recommend the recently published Cambridge thesaurus, which provides a wide range of word options with over 200,000 thousand alphabetically-arranged synonyms and antonyms that utilize verb phrases as well as single-word alternatives. At only $16.95, it's also a steal. One should be packed with every freshman going off to school. Grade: A-.

CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY'S POLITICS IN AMERICA 1996: THE 104TH CONGRESS, WITH CD-ROM, by Philip D. Duncan and Christine C. Lawrence. Congressional Quarterly Books, 1414 22nd Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20037, (800) 638-1710, (202) 887-6706. CQ books may be ordered on the Internet by sending e-mail to The CQ book catalog is available at Illustrated, index, maps. 597 pp., $89.95 cloth (1-87187-843-7), $54.95 paper (0-87187-844-5).

With the influx of new Republican faces, this is the most important edition in the book's 14 years of providing information on Congress, since so many of those elected are little-known. Alphabetically-arranged by state, each entry contains a governor description and state information, a map of its districts, and profiles of its senators and representatives with the following information: biographical summary, committee membership, actions in Washington and in their home state, election returns, key votes, results of three CQ voting studies (presidential support, party unity, and support of the Conservative Coalition), ratings by four interest groups (Americans for Democratic Action, AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., and the American Conservative Union), and, for representatives, a profile of the district they represent. This edition is the first to include a CD-ROM, which includes all the information in the book, as well as district information from the book "Congressional Districts in the 1990s." "Politics in America" is an essential research tool for lobbyists (who isn't one?), journalists, and anyone desiring congressional information. Grade: A.

JOHNS HOPKINS SYMPTOMS & REMEDIES: THE COMPLETE HOME MEDICAL REFERENCE, Simeon Margolis, medical editor. Published by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (Medletter Associates, Inc.), distributed by Random House Books, 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022, (800) 726-0600, FAX: (212) 572-8700. Illustrated, index. 704 pp., $39.95 cloth. 0-929661-19-2

Published by "America's best overall hospital" (U.S. News & World Report, 1994), this medical guide is split into two sections. Section one is one long alphabetical list of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, heartburn, confusion, and nausea. If someone has, for example, unusual hunger, the possible diagnoses are anemia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia and tapeworm. These possibilities are followed by the distinguishing features for each. Section two provides more information on each disorder, including a description, symptoms, causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and when to call a doctor. Most users of the book will first look up symptoms and then refer to the associated disorders, and that could be a problem, as section one is quite repetitious. Chest pain and indigestion could be combined, for example, and indigestion seems to be more a disorder than a symptom. The book is recommended as an aid to determining the seriousness of a medical condition, not as a substitute for medical advise. Grade: B.

HUXFORD'S OLD BOOK VALUE GUIDE, SEVENTH EDITION. Collector Books, P.O. Box 3009, Paducah, KY 42002-3009, (800) 626-5420, FAX: (502) 898-8890. 415 pp., $21.95 cloth. 0-89145-644-9

Huxford's is a very selective guide to the value of the more common antiquarian books and modern first editions. With its almost 25,000 entries, the book lists prices taken from collector lists that have been issued within the past year. Most are in the $10 to $40 range, of which half can be expected from a book dealer. Also included are lists of author pseudonyms (readers of rec.arts.books know all of these already: John Lange = Michael Crichton, Kilgore Trout = Philip Jose Farmer, etc, but they may not know in what novel by what author was Kilgore Trout a character), buyers of books classified by subject specialty, and a list of booksellers who have provided lists to "Huxford's." Definitely not the last word on prices or where to price a one-of-a-kind book from the 1600s, but a good place to consult for a ballpark figure on a first edition of John Barth's "Giles Goat Boy" in fine condition with a clipped price ($50). Grade: B. Answer to the above: Kilgore Trout was in Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" (1965, and you passed American Literature of the Twentieth Century?).

THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY, edited by John S. Bowman. Cambridge University Press, 40 W. 20th St., New York, N.Y. 10011-4211, (800) 872-7423, FAX: (212) 691-3239. Occupational index, index of names. 941 pp., $44.95 cloth. 0-521-40258-1

Need a quick bio of Russell Means, Margaret Sanger, or Cool Papa Bell? This one-volume biographical encyclopedia contains over 9,000 short biographies of important Americans, both living and dead, with a special focus on women and minorities. Each entry contains the following information: dates of birth and death, birthplace, occupation, and a brief description of the person's life, written in a prose style that makes the book entertaining to browse as well as a reliable research tool. Recommended for both homes and libraries. Grade: B+.

THE BIG BOOK OF LIFE'S INSTRUCTIONS: SIMPLE SOLUTIONS FOR COMPLICATED LIVES, edited by Sheree Bykofsky and Paul Fargis. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., (HarperReference), 10 E. 53rd St., N.Y., NY 10022-5299, (800) 242-7737, (800) 822-4090 FAX. Illustrated, index, bibliography. 510 pp., $19.95 paper. 0-06- 273371-0

While "Life's Instructions" won't tell you how to book a hotel room for the Bluegrass Festival in Telluride on the day before it starts or how to stop your daughter from seeing the "boyfriend from hell," "Life's Instructions" delivers a myriad of timely explanations for such important things as hooking up a VCR, delivering a speech, cleaning carpets, reading music, recycling trash, sewing on a button, researching a stock, and performing the Heimlich maneuver. The best of the book, though, is found in the less important clues, such as solving crosswords (but not those confounding acrostics), using chopsticks, throwing a cocktail party, flying a kite, how to meditate, giving yourself a pedicure, chess strategy, how to ask for a date (no tips on how to propose marriage?), and an essential for me: "Edit Your Own Writing." You might think this book is something you'll never use, but life in the 90s will have you reaching for it more often than you think. This is a gift that will be appreciated over and over. Grade: A-.

THE DICTIONARY OF FILM QUOTATIONS, edited by Melinda Corey and George Ochoa. Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022, (800) 733-3000, (800) 659-2436 FAX. Two indexes. 448 pp., $24.00 paper. 0-517-88067-9

Some reference works are so comprehensive that they are desirable as books to read as well as books to consult, others leave out so much information that they are suspect as either. "Film Quotations," unfortunately, falls in the latter category. Though it's easy to use (the book is arranged alphabetically by movie title, indexed by speaker and subject, and each quote is given a one-sentence description: speaker and to whom spoken and the barest bit of background), the book suffers from a distinct lack of thoroughness. Movies whose entire scripts are quotations are given the best, though this is cursory, treatment. "Gone With the Wind," "Casablanca," and "Annie Hall" earn the most quotes (the top number seems to be nineteen), and the last lines from most of the movies are listed. Many of the included quotes also fall flat, as they are isolated from their context, especially in the Woody Allen and Mel Brooks extracts. Many make me wonder why they were thought to be memorable, such as John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) saying "Welcome to Jurassic Park." This is a flawed work, though it may be of use in reference departments of public libraries who receive many calls to settle disputes. Grade: C.

THE OLD WEST: DAY BY DAY by Mike Flanagan. Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322-8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. Illustrated, indexes (name and subject), bibliography. 510 pp., $60.00 cloth. 0-8160-2689-0

Much in demand by writers of western fiction who demand historical accuracy, this chronology of the Old West, concentrating on a period from the mid- to late-1800s (roughly from the discovery of gold in California to the battle of Wounded Knee), has been reissued in an updated and expanded edition. In addition to news events by date of occurrence, selected events and people are described in more detail, such as biographies of Magnas Coloradas, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and John G. Neihardt, and descriptions of the driving of the golden spike and the spread of smallpox, make this an indispensable resource for anyone with an interest in western history. Grade: A-.