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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2000

Book Reviews

Science and Technology Encyclopedia

Joe Kraus
Science Librarian
University of Denver

Science and Technology Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 572 pp. ISBN 0-226-74267-9. $22.50 pbk.

The Science and Technology Encyclopedia is actually a misnomer. With the word "encyclopedia" in the title, one might have expected the book to be on a par with concise scientific encyclopedias such as: Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia (1995) or the older Harper Encyclopedia of Science (1967). It does not compare to those titles at all. It does not have as much heft as the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology (1992), or the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms (1994), but it is more recent than those two. The aims of the Encyclopedia compare better to some recent smaller science dictionaries than it does to those concise encyclopedias or large dictionaries. For various reasons, I find it easier to compare and contrast my review of the Science and Technology Encyclopedia to: The Cassell Dictionary of Science (1997/98) and the Oxford Dictionary of Science (4th edition, 1999).

I have the feeling that the editors at the University of Chicago Press wanted this publication to stand out from all of the other science and technology dictionaries currently available, and that is why they chose to call this an encyclopedia instead. Once one understands the fact that it is really a dictionary and not an encyclopedia, then the book compares well with other books in the field and price range.

Short descriptions

The Encyclopedia has a total of 6,500 entries; 850 of those are biographical. 250 illustrations. There are no appendices at the end. It is considered to be a paperback, but it is constructed of high quality acid free paper. The cover of the book is made from thick laminated card stock, and the binding is well done.

The Cassell Dictionary of Science is a traditional hardbound book. 503 pages long including 33 pages of 17 appendices. As of August 1998, the hardcover was $35.00. There is a more recent paperback edition for $19.95.

The Oxford Dictionary of Science has 9,000 entries, and 160 of those are biographical. 850 pages. Seven appendices. Does not state how many illustrations it contains. Paperback with lower quality paper and binding. $15.95.


All three of these dictionaries provide cross-references from one entry to another. Some form of marker is used to tell the reader about a cross-reference. The UC Encyclopedia uses over 20,000 SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS for cross-references. The Cassell Dictionary also uses SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS. The Oxford Dictionary sometimes uses asterisks before a word as well as "see" references within the text of an entry. All three often use "see" or "see also" at the end of entries.

The illustrations provided in the UC Encyclopedia are much better than the other two dictionaries. The detail and shading are clearly superior. However, if one is looking for a simple diagram, one may need to go to several sources to find an illustration. For example:

The UC Encyclopedia has no appendices, but I wonder how much of a drawback that really is. How often would a patron or student go to the back of a small dictionary like this to look up fundamental constants, a periodic table, or a listing of the Greek alphabet? I would think that students would rather use the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics to get more complete information. If I were purchasing a dictionary for personal use, the 17 appendices in the back of the Cassell Dictionary might be worthwhile.

I wish that the UC Encyclopedia had a true hardcover. It would have improved the durability of the publication. However, that would have increased the cost of the book. Considering that many science dictionaries go out of date relatively quickly, perhaps this was a trade-off the publisher was willing to make.

One might guess that the UC Science and Technology Encyclopedia covers a wider range of topics since it has the word "technology" in the title, while the others are just science dictionaries. All three books had descriptions of "internal combustion engines" and "turbines", but the UC Encyclopedia had much better diagrams for those two entries. I also looked up Young's Modulus (Engineering term - stress of an object divided by the strain) and all three had definitions. I found that the Oxford Dictionary provided a clearer description. I also looked up "mobile telephone" and the UC Encyclopedia was the only book to have an entry on the topic. It included a nice illustration of how mobile telephone systems work. It appears that the UC Encyclopedia might have some more technological topics than the other two books.

Overall, I find the University of Chicago Science and Technology Encyclopedia to be a worthwhile addition for any general academic or science and technology library. I have no qualms recommending this book--the price is reasonable, the content coverage is pretty good for a book of this size, the publisher is reputable, and the illustrations are very well done. I just wish they called it a dictionary.

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