Best of the Reference Backlist: Food, Health, and More

Proving that print reference is alive and well, these backlist titles explore a variety of popular topics. Online resources round out the list.

Contrary to popular belief, print reference is alive and well. These backlist print titles explore a variety of popular topics. You’ll also find some strong online resources that have long been staples but that may have fallen off your radar. Users have been bombarded with false information about health, so this listing collects relevant texts and online resources, as well as a couple of offerings aimed at pet owners concerned about keeping their nonhuman companions healthy, too. Food keeps us alive and healthy, while providing a great deal of pleasure, and we rounded up resources to inspire cooks. Religion can be the cause of division but also a source of hope, and we have a variety of titles on the topic. Finally, a solid grounding in history gives us a foundation with which to approach current events; accordingly, we have a variety of texts, from a look at Black history to a volume chronicling 5,000 years of Chinese history.



Ashkenazi, Michael. Food Cultures of Israel: Recipes, Customs, and Issues. Greenwood. 2020. 227p. ISBN 9781440866852. $63.

Israel is a young country with a diverse population, and its foods reflect that. This book explores the intersection of food and culture by looking at history, ingredients, holidays and special occasions, street food, and food issues and dietary concerns; recipes are included, too. Ashkenazi’s definition of Israel includes “all Israelis: Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel”; the food culture of Palestine is not included in the scope of this work.

Bittman, Mark. How To Cook Everything: Completely Revised 20th Anniversary Edition; Simple Recipes for Great Food. Mariner: HarperCollins. 2019. 960p. ISBN 9781328545435. $37.

This excellent resource from the popular food writer offers both experienced and novice cooks guidance on techniques, innovative uses for ingredients, and classic recipes such as roasted vegetables and fried chicken along with simple one-pot pastas and soups.

Madison, Deborah. In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Familiar Vegetarian Recipes. Ten Speed. 2017. 296p. ISBN 9780399578885. $32.50.

The doyenne of vegetarian cookery provides 100 vegetarian recipes that are simple, light, and flavorful. The book is profusely illustrated and focused on essential ingredients.

Ottolenghi, Yotam & others. Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook. Ten Speed. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780399581755. $35.

The title says it all—the flavor combinations in this collection of vegetarian dishes are intriguing and mouth-watering, from spicy mushroom lasagna to a berry platter with sheep milk labneh and orange oil. Well-known chef Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, of Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, explain the cooking techniques effectively, though some ingredients may be difficult for some readers to find locally.

Rombauer, Irma S. & others. Joy of Cooking: 2019 Edition Fully Revised and Updated. Scribner. 2019. 1,200p. ISBN 9781501169717. $40.

The latest update of this classic work includes more than 600 new recipes along with favorites from the previous edition. The material has been revised to include more vegan and vegetarian dishes and gluten-free recipes and to discuss techniques such as sous vide and fermentation.

Samuelsson, Marcus with Osayi Endolyn (text) & Angie Mosier (photos). The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food. Voracious. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780316480680. $38.

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Samuelson mixes recipes (corn and tomato soup, Island jollof rice, and tigernut custard tart) with history, culture, and international ingredients to showcase the critical contributions of Black chefs to American cuisine.

Stevenson, Tom. The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. rev. ed. National Geographic. 2020. 800p. ed by Orsi Szentkiralyi. ISBN 9781426221415. $75.

Finding the right wine to pair with specific foods is simple with this guide. The latest edition of this encyclopedia offers information about wine making, the fine wine market, storing and tasting wine, and more than 14,000 wines from all over the world. There are ample illustrations and maps to supplement the text.


This site from the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers basic information about nutrition, food safety, diet, shopping, and meal planning. Anyone looking for the nutritional composition of food or information about obtaining food assistance will find it here as well.



Halperin. Alex. The Cannabis Dictionary. Everything You Need To Know About Cannabis, from Health and Science to THC and CBD. Mitchell Beazley. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781784726607. $20.

Halperin details the history of cannabis through alphabetical entries covering science, medical issues, famous users, and recent commercial marketing efforts.

Medical Symptoms: A Visual Guide. DK. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781465459145. $19.95.

This well-illustrated guide to medical symptoms is divided into three parts: The first covers symptoms that affect the whole body, such as fever, pain, and nausea; part two focuses on specific body parts, including the head, eyes, and shoulder; and the third section discusses conditions affecting whole body systems (musculoskeletal, respiratory, etc.). The language is very accessible, with clear instructions to consult health-care professionals. A glossary defines medical terms.

The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 20th ed. Merck. 2018. 3,500p. ed. by Robert E. Porter. ISBN 9780911910421. $79.95.

Though this classic resource, now in its 20th edition, is written for health professionals, lay readers will also find the detailed information about illnesses, conditions, and treatment options extremely useful.

Merck Veterinary Manual. 11th ed. Merck. 2016. 3,325p. ISBN 9780911910612. $65.

Like its counterpart for humans, this manual aimed at professionals working with animals offers comprehensive coverage of health, diseases, and conditions, with treatment options.

Pandemics, Plagues, & Public Health. 2 vols. Salem. 2020. 800p. ed. by Michael Shally-Jensen. ISBN 9781642657333. $295.

As Shally-Jensen reminds us, this isn’t the first time that the world has encountered a major disease. This set takes readers back in history to learn about the bubonic plague, typhus, and public health issues related to overcrowding, child labor, industrial illnesses, and war. Primary source documents and factual essays offer engaging overviews of important issues.

Pregnancy Day by Day. DK. 2018. 496p. ed. by Paula Amato & Maggie Blott. ISBN 9781465468376. $40.

In this detailed, heavily illustrated volume, two obstetricians, one American, one British, cover pregnancy from conception through birth, labor, and delivery; diet and exercise; illness and medications; potential hazards; issues that may arise while traveling; and newborn care. A glossary and a resource guide are included.

Weitzman, Gary. Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness: The Veterinarian’s Approach to At-Home Animal Care. National Geographic. 2019. 400p. ISBN 9781426219658. pap. $24.99.

The author, a veterinarian, provides detailed, holistic information about the care and training of pets. The focus is mainly on dogs and cats, but birds and fish are covered, too. Weitzman explores all life stages of an animal’s life; a bibliography is included.



This free resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine provides health news and accurate, vetted information about health and disease, drugs, and anatomy.

Merck Manuals.

Merck makes all three versions of its manuals—professional, consumer, and veterinary—available in multiple languages.



Bartrop, Paul R. & Eve E. Grimm. Children of the Holocaust. ABC-CLIO. 2020. 346p. ISBN 9781440868528. $97.

Two Holocaust scholars provide moving and chilling accounts of the experiences of children during the Holocaust. There are more than 150 entries and 10 primary sources that include personal accounts, Nazi statements, and diaries.

Imperial China. DK. 2020. 400p.ISBN 9780744020472. $50.

This beautifully illustrated account chronicles 5,000 years of Chinese history, from prehistoric to modern times. Inventions, wars, and geographic sites are among the many subjects covered.

Kille, Kent J. & Alynna J. Lyon. The United Nations: 75 Years of Promoting Peace, Human Rights, and Development. ABC-CLIO. 2020. 581p. ISBN 9781440851568. $97.

The United Nations has helped to eliminate smallpox, promoted work on climate change, and arms control and, through UNICEF, saved the lives of 90 million children, but some see it as antiquated. This book examines the history of the UN, looking at both its achievements and shortcomings.

Roydhouse, Marion W. Votes for Women! The American Woman Suffrage Movement and the Nineteenth Amendment. ABC-CLIO. 2020. 298p. ISBN 9781440836701. $65.

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment—women in the United States could not vote before that time, and even after its ratification, BIPOC women were still not guaranteed the right to do so until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its 1975 extension. Covering the contributions of Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Alice Paul, and others, Roydhouse offers an inspiring account of the brave women who struggled for this civil right.

Smith, Jessie Carney. Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events. 4th ed. Visible Ink. Jan. 2021. 704p. ISBN 9781578597413. $74.95.

Smith spotlights the many achievements and important roles of Black politicians, artists, scientists, and more. Inventors, lawyers, judges, Olympic athletes, and slave rebellion leaders are just a few examples of the individuals readers will encounter in this source that simultaneously provides information and promotes pride.

Voting and Political Representation in America: Issues and Trends. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 2020. 774p. ed. by Mark P. Jones. ISBN 9781440860843. $204.

Given the recent erosions in voting rights that disproportionately affect people of color, this resource that examines issues of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and more is extremely timely.

Werner, Stephen A. The Handy History Answer Book: From the Stone Age to the Digital Age. Visible Ink. 2020. 640p. ISBN 9781578596805. $24.95.

Anyone needing a refresher course on the last 5,000 years of history or the answer to a Jeopardy! question will find it here. Covering everything from war to disease to business to religion, Warner answers more than 1,600 commonly asked questions.



American Religious History: Belief and Society Through Time. 3 vols. ABC-CLIO. 2020. 1,150p. ed. by Gary Scott Smith. ISBN 9781440861604. $335.

This fascinating resource explores the influence of religion on U.S. history, politics, life, and culture, looking at faiths that originated in America and that were brought to its shores. Smith considers the religions of Indigenous peoples, Calvinism, Judaism, Mormonism, and much more.

Christianity: A Historical Atlas. Belknap: Harvard Univ. 2020. 224p. ed. by Alec Ryrie. ISBN 9780674242357. $35.

This stunning color atlas documents the history of Christianity by tracing its spread throughout the world, beginning with the early consolidation of Constantine’s empire.

The Islam Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. DK. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781465491480. $25.

With photographs of people, diagrams, and color illustrations depicting Islamic art and architecture, this vibrant work covers the basic tenets of the religion, its history, and art and culture. Given the rise in Islamophobia and misinformation about Islam that has spread, this book is especially necessary now.

Levine, Amy-Jill & Marc Zvi Brettler. The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently. HarperOne. 2020. 512p. ISBN 9780062560155. $34.99.

The editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament analyze texts from the Hebrew Bible quoted in the New Testament to see how various groups during different times have interpreted the creation, Jonah, and Psalm 22, among other stories. This respectful examination promotes ecumenical discussion.


Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan organization that presents information on a wide range of topics. Its religion site offers current news and information on all the world’s religions, including non-belief.


This free database that makes available major Jewish texts such as the Tanakh, Kabbalah, Midrash, and Talmud will be useful for scholars and lay people alike. Patrons seeking other religious texts will be well served by and

Barbara Bibel is a reference librarian and consumer health information specialist retired from the Oakland Public Library in California.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing