From Abravanel to ZCMI, the Utah History Encyclopedia gives readers a glimpse into the people, organizations and events that have left an indelible mark on the state.

At the same time, the new book is leaving its own mark on the local publishing world, nearly selling out its first printing in less than a week."It's been a phenomenal success," said Max Keele, marketing director for the University of Utah Press, which underwrote the production and distribution costs of the encyclopedia.

More than 2,000 copies of the hefty encyclopedia have been sold since its release Dec. 16, breaking the University of Utah Press's sales records. Fewer than 500 first editions are left.

"That makes it a smash hit even if sales trail off now," Keele said. But he doesn't expect that to happen because the book is being marketed in conjunction with Utah's centennial celebration, which is still a year away. A second printing has already been ordered.

No one is more surprised by the book's commercial success than its editor, Allan Kent Powell. Public history coordinator at the Utah State Historical Society, Powell said the authors and publishers were worried that the $50 price tag would scare buyers away.

That hasn't happened, he suspects, because readers are finding the encyclopedia worth the cost both in terms of production quality and, more importantly, content.

Working without compensation, 270 historians and writers contributed more than 500 articles dealing with long-gone figures and events - such as "Outlaws in Utah" - as well as up-to-date ones - "Utah Shakespearean Festival."

The encyclopedia was the brainchild of historian John C. McCormick, who brought the Utah Historical Society and University of Utah Press together on the project in 1987. When McCormick left the society for a college teaching job in 1988, society director Max J. Evans asked Powell to take over.

One of Powell's first worries was whether historians and writers would contribute their work without pay.

"Then as we got into it, we realized it would probably come out about the same time as the centennial and so we hit on the idea of making the contributions a centennial gift to the people of Utah from the history community."

Fewer than a handful of historians turned him down. "That's one of the remarkable things about this project - that so many distinguished historians and writers were willing to contribute their valuable time," he said.

With an advisory committee selecting about 500 topics from a preliminary list of more than 2,000, the authors went to work. The topics were arranged in six categories - individuals, events, organizations, institutions, places, themes and subjects.

According to Powell, the committee picked the topics that it considered essential and important. Of course, a lot had to be left out, he said.

In the book's preface, Powell writes, "Some readers may perhaps disagree with certain selections that are included, while more may be troubled by what has been excluded."

But he welcomes a debate on those issues, saying readers' observations and comments could lead to changes in forthcoming printings or to new information being archived by the society.

The contributing historians and writers were invited to interpret topics as they saw fit. "We talked about that and decided we didn't want a rigid formula; we wanted them to write it the way they wanted to," Powell said.

He added, "One of the positive things we're hearing about the encyclopedia is that people like the fact that not every entry is the same." Individual authors' names appear at the end of each entry.

The encyclopedia makes no effort to hide or gloss over blemishes in Utah's history, Powell said. However, he said, "We don't belabor those points."

Powell said the encyclopedia was designed to appeal to all ages, from a young student doing a report on Brigham Young to a businessman who needs some background for a corporate report.

Photographs from the Utah Historical Society's own archives are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. Many of the articles also include lengthy bibliograhies for additional research.

Copies of the encyclopedia will be made available to every public and university library through a grant from the Utah State Centennial Commission. Private copies can be purchased at most local bookstores - the ones that haven't sold out.