Remarkable Resources | Best Reference Books 2022

From a quirky book on geology to a collection of maps, these reference works expand the possibilities of research for students, general readers, and scholars.  

From a quirky book on geology to a collection of maps, these reference works expand the possibilities of research for students, general readers, and scholars. Do not miss our 2022 selections of Best Databases and Best Free Resources.

The Aircraft Book: The Definitive Visual History. DK. ISBN 9780744027457.

Produced in association with the Smithsonian Institution, this work offers a great runway for aviation buffs, be they fascinated kids or seasoned pilots. The enthralling visual history packs every page with detailed illustrations and aviation photographs, along with wingspan measurements, engine specs, and much more for over 800 aircraft—from those created for commercial use to those operated by the military. Arranged chronologically, entries include floaty zeppelins, the groovy design of the 1960s Boeing 747, and the muscular Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

Bjornerud, Marcia (text) & Haley Hagerman (illus.). Geopedia: A Brief Compendium of Geologic Curiosities. Princeton Univ. ISBN 9780691212579.

This charming, information-filled work satisfies readers curious about Earth and its transformation. Seventy-four entries, each one to five pages long, cover everything from the oldest rocks found on the planet to lung disease developed from inhalation of volcanic ash. Headlines such as “Purple Haze” for an entry about amethyst add a touch of whimsy. Rock lovers will certainly enjoy this volume, but so will word fanatics and geology hobbyists. The quirkiness of this collection makes it a fascinating resource.

Brooke-Hitching, Edward. The Devil’s Atlas: An Explorer’s Guide to Heavens, Hells and Afterworlds. Chronicle. ISBN 9781797214474.

The afterlife takes center stage in this captivating book about heaven, hell, and everything in between. Brooke-Hitching’s inspiration stems from the 1650 French Map of the Kingdom of Heaven, with the Way to Get There. A full-color reproduction is included, along with other examples of art and facts about each locale. Scholars will appreciate the book’s lengthy index and extensive bibliography. This is a wonderful and unique entry into the study of religions and belief systems worldwide.

Cambodian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide. ABC-CLIO. ed. by Paul R. Bartrop. ISBN 9781440876530.

In this first-rate work, Bartrop and 13 subject-expert scholars impartially and insightfully convey details about the horrific events of the Cambodian genocide, during which up to two million Cambodians—one in every four people in the nation—were killed under the rule of dictator Pol Pot, from 1975 to 1979. The work includes a month-by-month chronology of those years and is structured in short chapters, with 87 encyclopedic entries covering everything from pivotal events and their consequences to victims of the genocide and the various global reactions. It’s hard to imagine scholars or general readers finding a source about genocide that’s more thorough than this one.

A Cultural History of Shopping. Bloomsbury Academic. ed. by Jon Stobart & others. ISBN 9781350027060.

Second only to the pleasure of shopping is reading about it. This illustrated six-volume set considers the cultural process, meaning, and means of shopping from antiquity through the modern age. Each fascinating volume addresses the same themes, including how and where shopping occurs, who shops, what is bought and what is longed for, and the significance of the process. The result is an impressive consideration of an endlessly complicated and faceted undertaking. Designed for college students and advanced studies, the work is also likely to intrigue general readers.

Cvorovic, Jelena & Kathryn Coe. Storytelling Around the World: Folktales, Narrative Rituals, and Oral Traditions. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781440872945.

There are plenty of resources that collect tales and myths from specific cultures, but this book details the how and why of these central stories as Cvorovic and Coe recount the intriguing history and evolution of storytelling. The book’s best feature is its representation of the storytelling traditions of 52 Indigenous societies—including the Ashanti, Zulu, Inca, Maori, Basque, and Kurdish cultures, among others—in Africa, South America, North America, Oceania and Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. This excellent resource offers an enchanting world history and anthropology lesson for scholars and college students alike.

Dennis, Yvonne Wakim & others. Indigenous Firsts: A History of Native American Achievements and Events. Visible Ink. ISBN 9781578597123.

Offering more than a compendium of Indigenous history makers, this impeccably researched survey sheds light on how being “the first” often comes with stressors, sacrifices, and trauma. The work includes an impressive 2,000 entries that focus on U.S. (including Native Hawaiian) and Canadian First Nations individuals, communities, and groups who are accomplished in the arenas of art, business, government, health, literature, media, military, religion, science, urban life, and sports. It is an accessible, affordable celebration of Indigenous peoples and their achievements, suitable for both historians and general readers.

Eastman, Cari Lee Skogberg. Free Speech and Censorship: A Documentary and Reference Guide. Greenwood. ISBN 9781440865381.

The freedom of speech is of critical importance in this era of banned books and hampered curricula in the United States. In this well-executed resource, Eastman puts key documents—and even tweets from Donald Trump (about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem)—into historical context by analyzing 56 significant texts. She clearly discusses the impact of each, along with its publication or creation date and its source. This work is an essential guide for those interested in the U.S. legal system, history, and current events.

Hillhouse, Grady. Engineering in Plain Sight: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Constructed Environment. No Starch. ISBN 9781718502321.

It may not seem like the words “fun” and “engineering” belong in the same sentence to non-engineers, but Hillhouse’s book is full of striking visuals and examples of how the two do indeed mesh perfectly. The author explains the engineering concepts, principles, and structures behind everyday items such as traffic lights, utility poles, and cellular communications. Highlights include a 23-page glossary and the “Keep an Eye Out” section, which is lighthearted in tone and includes detailed images. Hillhouse’s work is a joy to thumb through.

Larson, Kate Clifford. Harriet Tubman: A Reference Guide to Her Life and Works. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781538113561.

There are plenty of materials about Harriet Tubman, but this is a definitive testament to her life and lifesaving work. It includes hundreds of extensive entries that incorporate details about her actions to help freedom seekers, her legacy, friends, and associates. Also included are maps of Underground Railroad routes and haunting images, such as a reward poster for the capture and return of a person who sought freedom from enslavement. Primary documents include a register of Tubman’s missions, a prominent enslaver’s inventory list of people he enslaved, and a selection of Tubman’s quotes and speeches. Larson has created a superior source for public and academic libraries.

Nimo, Ken Kweku. Africa in Fashion: Luxury, Craft and Textile Heritage. Laurence King. ISBN 9781913947958.

This short work focused on clothing design offers stunning imagery on every page (except for the endnotes, bibliography, two-page glossary, and index). The vivid, colorful images of clothing, leather bags, and jewelry will make readers stop and linger, to best take it all in. Ghanian designer/researcher Nimo also presents readers with the evolution of African fashion, its textile traditions, and its craft cultures as he highlights designers and artists around the continent. Nimo doesn’t shy away from challenging stereotypes or European hegemony. It’ll be difficult for browsers and those interested in African history and fashion to put this book down.

1000 Design Classics. Phaidon. rev. ed. ISBN 9781838665470.

Paging through this fascinating work is sure to inspire dreamy sighs over design aesthetics, and sometimes, as in the case of everyday objects such as binder clips, a joyful exclamation of “I have that!” Fun for browsers and useful for starting researchers, each entry includes a photo of the item, its history, its designer (when known), and other relevant details. The compendium has been updated from its 2006 first edition and includes more objects designed by women and others underrepresented in the previous work.

Parker, Philip. The Atlas of Atlases: Exploring the Most Important Atlases in History and the Cartographers Who Made Them. Ivy. (Liber Historica). ISBN 9780711268050.

In this beautiful and absorbing text, suitable for both public and academic collections, Parker, a specialist in ancient and medieval political and military systems, showcases the importance of maps and their many layers. He gathers extraordinary examples of cartography and, through resonant images and a finely wrought text, explores what’s known, and unknown, about each. It is an illuminating journey. From the maps many still turn to today to the early maps that charted religious realms, this work offers wonders.

Rose, Sarah. Spiders of North America. Princeton Univ. ISBN 9780691175614.

This resource is chock-full of close-up color photos of all things arachnid. The guide, suitable for public libraries and science collections, offers a wide breadth of detail, including types of species, spider anatomy and life expectancy, preservation tactics, and arachnid ecological benefits. A lot goes into developing what the author calls a “spider sense,” or the ability to identify types of spiders from their actions, patterns, and other details. Even the most squeamish readers may develop a newfound appreciation for these astounding creatures.

Shugart, Herman & others. The World Atlas of Trees and Forests: Exploring Earth’s Forest Ecosystems. Princeton Univ. ISBN 9780691226743.

Readers will delight in this accomplished and wide-ranging consideration of the world’s forests. Replete with evocative images, explanatory illustrations, and solid text, it is a book necessary for all collections. Opening chapters pull readers into the scope and science of forests, explicating their diversity and range before narrowing in on types (boreal, rain, temperate, and more). Concluding chapters address climate change and ways of seeing forests. The addition of “further reading” lists keyed to each chapter extends the learning.

Smith, Rachelle M. Lies: The Science Behind Deception. Greenwood. ISBN 9781440867590.

Lies and deception are viewed through a scientific lens in this outstanding, one-of-a-kind study. Smith’s analysis indicates that the average person tells one to two lies a day. The book describes 30 different types of falsehoods and the personalities of those prone to telling them. It also probes deceptions such as fake news and catfishing, plus the impact of dishonest social media posts. Readers will appreciate that the book also serves as a guide to identifying lies more easily and the best techniques to avoid being deceived.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Asian Women Artists: A Biographical Dictionary, 2700 BCE to Today. McFarland. ISBN 9781476689258.

Snodgrass’s meticulously researched work is more than a guide, it’s a large looking-glass with heft and depth that magnifies the accomplishments of women artists from across Asia. Each entry not only provides context of the culture in which the artist worked and lived, but also offers insight into why they became artists in the first place. Structured chronologically, it starts as far back as 2700 BCE and ends with 2021. It’s insightful, illuminating, and suitable for general readers and researchers.

Unwin, Mike (text) & Ryuto Miyake (illus.). Around the World in 80 Birds. Laurence King. ISBN 9780857828958.

Birders are in for a treat with this uncommon guide that stresses delight over exhaustive detail. Selecting 80 species to explore, conservationist Unwin pens engaging essays that educate and entertain, while illustrator Miyake offers images that charm (robins’ eggs in a teapot; a cuckoo clock on the page devoted to the common cuckoo). There are plenty of birding titles, but this one stands out for its invitation to readers to curl up and enjoy before heading out with binoculars and notebook.

Weber, Joe. Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey. Univ. of Nevada. ISBN 9781948908405.

Those who love browsing will find a treasure trove to sort through in this singular work on Sin City. Weber shows Las Vegas in a vastly different light through 136 colorful maps created from free online data. Change—from the desert and land mostly populated with Indigenous people, to the renowned casino-filled area that Las Vegas is known for today—is the thread that runs throughout the entire book. The engaging maps come with compelling narratives that cartophiles, Vegas fans, and general readers will appreciate.

Xu, Wenying. Historical Dictionary of Asian American Literature and Theater. Rowman & Littlefield. 2nd ed. ISBN 9781538157312.

This phenomenal work spotlights the exceptional literary works and creativity of Asian Americans. The author expansively gathers artists whose heritage spans East, Southeast, South, and Western Asia. It covers the 1880s to 2021 through more than 700 entries written with clear expertise addressing writers, poets, memoirists, screenwriters, playwrights, and associated content, such as theater companies. Hefty and useful to researchers and lovers of literature and theater, the book’s bibliography comes in at a whopping 120 pages.

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