THE NEW DICTIONARY OF CULTURAL LITERACY: What Every American Needs to Know

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Author, Joseph F. Kett, Joint Author, James S. Trefil, Joint Author . Houghton Mifflin $29.95 (672p) ISBN 978-0-618-22647-4

This third edition of the 1988 reference, full of the same back-to-basics philosophy of the earlier volumes, promises to once again serve as a lightning rod for lively discussion. Divided into chapters such as "The Bible" (the editors point out that, regardless of one's religion, it is impossible to be culturally literate without some Biblical knowledge, just as one needs to know the Koran to be literate in Arab culture), "Technology," "Idioms," "World Geography," "Mythology and Folklore" (which includes everything from Medusa to Mickey Mouse) and "Literature in English," the book is a compendium of thumbnail definitions of the bedrock items that make up society. This latest volume includes about 500 (out of nearly 7,000) new entries, 200 of which are in the science and technology chapters. Other entries have been revised and updated. It's entertaining, snappily written, extremely handy and reasonably inclusive (although there are bound to be readers who will find issue with Hirsch's well-known conservative ideologies). Although the book will be a godsend for home schoolers and teachers looking to give students a basic reference, ultimately it may be seen as a giant list, along the same lines as the much-debated list of essential literature that Harold Bloom included in The Western Canon. Arguments over it will probably not center on its stylistics, but on who or what the editors consider essential—e.g., Allen Ginsburg made the cut; Jack Kerouac did not. (Nov. 1)

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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