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'Essential Knowledge' provides exactly that

N.Y. Times tome offers a treasure trove of data

THE NEW YORK TIMES GUIDE TO ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE: A DESK REFERENCE FOR THE CURIOUS MIND, Introduction by John Leonard, St. Martin's Press, 1,096 pages, $35.

Numerous editors are responsible for "The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge," a treasury of knowledge, which is categorized by "The Arts," "Economics, Business and Finance," "Geography," "History," "Law," "Literature and Drama," Mathematics," "Media," "Medicine," "Mythology," "Philosophy," "Religion," "Science and Technology" and "Sports."

In his introduction, the prominent critic John Leonard suggests the user of this huge book will find "a kind of timbered housing — the firm conviction that the world we live in can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, measured, and inscribed, including 'did it happen?' and 'will it come?' That, no matter what we are told by deconstructed agnostics about reality itself, there is genuine blood out there among the problematics — authentic dirt, deep time, secret police, footprints and bone deposits, prayer mats and astrolabes, bare ruined choirs and human genomes. The men and women gathered by The Times to canvass what we know about ourselves actually believe they can tell us stories in which intelligent action and moral purpose are made coherent."

The compilers endeavored to offer more information on a given subject than any other previous book, plus easy-to-access data that can be used in everyday living. They included numerous in-depth essays about a variety of subjects along with cross-referencing to make each essay even more valuable.

For instance, Jane Brody writes on health matters, Dennis Overbye on the Big Bang, Linda Greenhouse on the U.S. Supreme Court, Andrew Prevkin on the state of the world's environment, John Noble Wilford on the oldest human fossil, Michael Kimmelman on the origins of photography, Will Shortz on crosswords, Natalie Angier on war, and Nicholas Wade on how life began.

Also included is a biographical dictionary of about 1,000 of the most important people in every field, a copy of the U.S. Constitution, the most complete sports section found in any one-volume reference book, a 30,000-word history of the world — and a crossword dictionary.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com