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Encyclopedic History

February 2024
1min read

OUR TIMES
Multimedia Encyclopedia of the 20th Century

Lorraine Glennon, editor in chief , Turner, 713 pages .

CD-ROM (for Windows and Macintosh), Vicarious, Inc..

Here is a massive, well-researched, and handsome history of the century in a novel form, all in bits and pieces. Each year from 1900 to 1994 gets six or eight oversize pages, and into these pages are poured perhaps a dozen text blocks about people and events of the year (1947 includes the Marshall Plan, the invention of the transistor, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jackie Robinson, and Matisse’s last collages), photographs and illustrations, lists of births and deaths, and more. It works surprisingly well, partly because it is thorough, well written, and presented with graphic clarity and partly because of two added highlights. First, each year gets one page devoted entirely to a single document of the time, and the selections are uniformly imaginative and absorbing, including testimony in the Leopold and Loeb case and at the Nuremberg trials, Helen Gurley Brown’s definition of “the single girl,” and O. J. Simpson’s “suicide” note. Second, each decade is introduced with an essay by a prominent writer on a major historical theme. The first is the novelist D. M. Thomas’s graceful summing up of Freud; the last, the journalist and historian Taylor Branch’s broad reflections on freedom around the world in the 1990s. Perhaps the most impressive is the great British critic Stephen Spender’s portrait of 1930s totalitarianism, its seductiveness made palpable by his account of his own brief affair with communism.

The work is also available in CD-ROM form; the CD-ROM is thoughtfully put together and attractively produced and contains everything in the book plus the full text of The Columbia Encyclopedia , but it cannot replace the pleasures of a solid book that offers so much on every page.

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