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Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary

Product Description
Newly revised and updated, Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary provides essential information about important people from throughout history and around the world. This comprehensive reference is one of the most extensive collections of biographies ever presented in a single volume–from Michelangelo to Richard Nixon, Liang Ch’i-ch’ao to Theidore Review
Weighing in at a hefty 1,170 pages, this addictive reference volume supplies bri… More >>

Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary

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  1. #1 by PLB on April 17, 2010 - 5:39 am

    The producers of this book think only surnames matter. Examples:

    1. How do you pronounce the “Vita” of “Vita Sackville-West”? Uh, is it “VEE-tuh” or “VIE-tuh”? Who cares? Let’s just tell the buyer how to pronounce “sackville” and “west”, in case that’s not obvious (?).

    2. How do you pronounce the “Childe” of the painter “Childe Hassam”? Who cares? Might be like “child” or might be like “chilled” — too much trouble for us to research it, and any idiot must know how it’s pronounced, huh? So let’s just show the “hassem”-sounding part, and let the buyer guess about the given name.

    Even when only the surname is in question, they can get it wrong. Example,

    3. How do you pronounce the last name of the artist Charles Demuth? M-W says de-MOOTH (rhymes with “the Truth”). But the Demuth Foundation tells me “The Demuth family appears to have pronounced their last name de-MOOTH (similar to the German). Charles Demuth appears to have taken some artistic liberties with that pronounciation. The artist pronounced his last name DEE-muth after about 1915.” In other words, let’s ignore the way he pronounced his name during his prolific years from age 32 to his death at 52, and show the pronunciation he used before he had his first solo exhibit in 1914.

    Buyer beware. If you go by this book’s pronunciations (or lack thereof), you might look as dumb as it does.
    Rating: 1 / 5

  2. #2 by Anonymous on April 17, 2010 - 6:04 am

    The editor decided to not to include any living persons in this reference book for their stated reason, “it is impossible to keep it up to date.” But since the stated purpose of the book (on its jacket) is “to introduce you to the world’s best known and most important people,” how can we leave out such people as Bill Gates or Bill Clinton? If you were looking for current facts about them, you would check newspapers, magazines or the internet. But it would be nice to think of any famous person and find something about them in one reference work. A person would likely refer to this book when they have read about a person in another book, a newspaper or magazine article, or heard about some person in a TV show, movie or conversation, and wanted to check the facts or find out more. Many of the personalities you would most want to know more about are persons living today- movie and sports stars, TV personalities, people in the news. The book would be far more useful for its typical user if it did not limit itself to deceased persons
    Rating: 1 / 5

  3. #3 by Anonymous on April 17, 2010 - 8:39 am

    Merriam Webster’s Biographical Dictionary is an excellent source of information on more or less important dead persons (yes, only someone who has already died can qualify for an entry!). It covers all fields of human activities – politicians, rulers, writers, inventors etc. Even a small Slovenian nation has its representatives in this comprehensive volume (e.g. composer Jacobus Gallus, poet France Preseren, writer Ivan Cankar, politician Anton Korosec), though, unfortunately, the real nationality of two very important Slovenes who lived in Austria (physicist Josef Stefan and Nobel laureate Fritz Pregl) haven’t been revealed.

    It’s not surprising that in such comprehensive and informative book (it has circa 30,000 entries!) there are some mistakes (e.g. wrongly spelled first and even last names like in the cases of Viet Stoss – correctly spelled first name is Veit – and B. J. Feijoo y Montenogro – correctly spelled last name is Feijoo y Montenegro), and overlooked important persons (e.g. famous Welsh novelist and playwright Richard Llewellyn, who died in 1983, doesn’t have an entry!)

    However, it’s still definitely one of the most authoritative biographical dictionaries available (it’s simply the best, just like its twin brother Merriam Webster’s Geographical Dictionary is in its field – see my review there!), and is worth every single penny or cent. I use it pretty often and hardly wait for a new edition with new entries and, of course, some necessary corrections (some of them contributed by me).
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. #4 by Anonymous on April 17, 2010 - 11:02 am

    If the browser in Jacksonville had read the preface, he or she would have discovered that the dictionary does not cover living persons. So as estimable as Mr Crystal, et al, surely are, they aren’t as yet eligible for inclusion. That aside, the book is as accurate as any reasonable person could need it to be and as complete as it can be without becoming unwieldy. And the price is excellent.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. #5 by sweetmolly on April 17, 2010 - 12:40 pm

    This dictionary has over 30,000 entries with preferred pronounciation. I particularly wanted an American publisher so I would have more American entries. The material is detailed enough to begin referencing. The print is adequately sized–just barely(approx. 8 pt. headings and 6 pt. entries). It is easy to use, though I would have liked a thumb-guide. It’s a very good price. I am quite satsified with my purchase.

    A note on the choice of entries. A biographical dictionary does not contain living entries. For that sort of information you need a Who’s Who type of publication that has constant updates. It is usually a very expensive purchase, and the buyer has to be meticulous to be certain he is getting the “type” of persons in which he is interested. In this day and age of 15-minute celebrity, to include everyone anyone has ever heard of would take a constantly shifting entire library.
    Rating: 4 / 5

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