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Book Review 

by Cara Gardner

I realize this might not resonate with many of you, but I could dwell in the pages of an encyclopedia for hours, immersed in information, fact, story and description. Becoming absorbed in the texts of these word museums might seem anti-social, if not completely bizarre. But actually, learning helps me love the world. I do better with obscure pieces of information and random little anecdotes tucked away. It makes navigating the chaos more entertaining, at least.

So when I happened to catch sight of the behemoth New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, a comprehensive compilation of thousands of topics researched by Times writers and editors over the publication's many respectable years, I jumped at the chance to check out what fascinating pieces of the world the NYT decided to capture and bind together. What is essential knowledge? Is it common? Is it bourgeois or imperialistic? Is it helpful? Ahhh. No matter the judgments one could come up with about its Western perspective, or its determination of historic events, the book is necessary; indeed, the Guide contains essential knowledge. Throughout its 1,096 pages, Times Focus pieces appear -- succinct, creative articles juxtaposed to more encyclopedic descriptions of subjects. For example, Nicholas Wade's "The End of Evolution?" is published in the Guide's biology section, within the chapter on genetics. In this way the Guide fills the reader with a context for the multitudes of data.

Want to learn about wines? Interested in looking over the list of every Nobel Prize winner? Curious about genetics, Islam, jet engines or microeconomics? Pick up the Guide. Just about anything you could think of -- from a brief, 30,000-word history of the world to an explanation of all of musical forms, to every Super Bowl score -- the Guide to Essential Knowledge holds within its bindings information for just about any kind of person, on just about any kind of quest. Whether it will help you with crossword puzzles, aid in your research, settle long-standing bets or answer questions that you'd just never ask anyone else, this book is essential in your library.

Publication date: 12/09/04

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