Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum Volume 1, Issue 1

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum

Boatner III, Mark M. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, 3rd Ed. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1994. xx + 1290 ppg.

            As a historian of the American Revolution and Early Republic I often needed a handy reference book available to me instead of shelves of books when looking for quick pieces of information. This volume fits the bill quite nicely. While it is not an in depth study of the war in any way, it is a good desk reference. One could have several volumes on the Revolution and I already have far more than several volumes on that event and still am lacking in several areas. This encyclopedia does allow a researcher to quickly confirm dates, names, and places which is one of its greatest uses. In that regard alone it is a valuable time saver.

            Boatner’s work is older, but still relevant. It is not dedicated to exploring the ‘why’ aspects of the period, but rather the ‘who, what, when, and where’ aspects. In this regard it excels mightily while also remaining relevant to the study of the period. Few books manage this feat after a few decades as historians and their interpretations changed over time. Boatner included hand drawn maps in this volume, but no pictures. If there is a drawback to this work, the lack of illustrations and pictures is it. However, including pictures for each entry would probably come close to doubling the price of the work and it is not a cheap purchase. I personally have found it worth every penny I paid for it though.

            It is easy to get lost in reading the many entries and more than one comment has been made about the time involved in reading the volume. That is a sign of a good book and this is only an encyclopedia. I myself have found a few hours disappearing when I opened the book to look up an entry only to explore its connections in greater detail. That could be a downfall, but then that is also a great way to use my time in my opinion. All in all, I really recommend this book for students of the period. I do caution potential readers that this is not a narrative, but an encyclopedia. In depth analysis of specific entries will require the use of other sources, but then that is something any student of history learns quickly.

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