Chambers Biographical Dictionary by Chambers and Joan Bakewell

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Chambers Biographical Dictionary by Chambers and Joan Bakewell

Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The ninth edition of this iconic volume gives some eighteen thousand biographies and it can be very tempting just to keep looking a little bit further!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 1728 Date: December 2011
Publisher: Chambers
ISBN: 978-0550106933

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It's now the ninth edition of this famous volume and that came as a bit of a shock when I glanced at the bookcase and realised that my copy dated back to 1974 and was still in regular use for a quick guide as to who might have been who. It's advertised as 'the great, the good, the not-so-great and the downright wicked' and it's difficult to better that summary. It has eighteen thousand biographies and differs from Who's Who with it's thirty thousand entries in that covers the dead as well as the living and the interesting rather than those who need to be included because they have achieved a certain position.

The biographies are concise and to the point. I had a quick look at Madonna. It's a double column boxed entry with all the main dates and events of her life. There's some comment (Highly ambitious and commercially astute - well I don't think anyone is going to argue with that!) but it's mainly a compilation of verifiable facts. There's no great depth and no tabloid-style revelations, but if you needed to be certain that you had placed her correctly then this will do the job more than adequately. People who also merit entries are given capital letters - first husband Sean Penn gets his own entry, but second husband Guy Richie does not. It's all easy to follow and simple to use.

I looked for a historical personality and Leonardo da Vinci came to hand. It's a half-page, double-column entry suggesting a nice sense of what's important in the long term and who will probably only be a passing fancy. If you're looking for the basis of an essay then this might be a good starting point, but you'll need to go further, although you will get a couple of good quotes.

There's a good coverage of areas of interest - arts, science, technology, sport, philosophy and politics are quoted - to which you can add murder and mayhem from the less virtuous areas of interest. Fred and Rosemary West get but a short entry giving the basic details of their crimes, but there's nothing prurient or sensationalist. As with all other entries, it's a starting point if you want to go further - or all you need if you simply wish to place someone.

If I've one minor quibble it's that the print is very small. Read in a good light and you should be OK. Don't try reading for lengthy periods - but then this is a book to dip into rather than to sit down and read. The major quibble is that it is, by it's very nature, quickly incorrect in some of its entries. Amy Winehouse, for instance, lives on despite her death many months ago.

For more of Leonardo da Vinci we can recommend Leonardo's Legacy: How Da Vinci Reinvented the World by Stefan Klein.

Buy Chambers Biographical Dictionary by Chambers and Joan Bakewell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Chambers Biographical Dictionary by Chambers and Joan Bakewell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Chambers Biographical Dictionary by Chambers and Joan Bakewell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Chambers Biographical Dictionary by Chambers and Joan Bakewell at Amazon.com.


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