MCGRAW-HILL ENCYCLOPEDIA of RUSSIA AND THE SOVIET UNION, edited by Michael T. Florinsky. New York: A Donat Publication. McGraw-Hill. Illus., maps. xiv + 624 pp.
With this new Encyclopedia at hand, it seems inconceivable that we had to make-do without something like it up to now. Apart from sampling its thousands of entries for purposes of this review, I have referred to it innumerable times to find an answer that would otherwise have taken endless (and possibly fruitless) poking through various sources.
It is very nearly ungenerous to cavil in any way about the results achieved in this scholarly undertaking. I find it incredible that a group of individuals, unsponsored by institution or foundation, were intrepid enough to assume a task of this dimension, and to bring it off with so much skill. Editor Michael T. Florinsky, and mnaging editors David S. Anin and Alexander Donat, are to be commended as are the consultants Harry Schwartz (New York Times), Theodore Shabad (New York Times), John Turkevich (professor of chemistry, Princeton) and Earl Ubell (New York Herald Tribune). While many of the 91 contributors are unknown to me, their biographic notes in most cases establish their authority, and some of them—for example, Richard Loewenthal, Solomon Schwarz, Alexander Dallin, Hans Kohn, Frederick C. Barghoorn, Robert V. Daniels, to cite a few—are familiar names to many of us.
From “AA: see GAUYA” to “ZYRYANOVSK, town in E.-Kazakhstan Oblast, Kazakh SSR, in Altay Mountains; pop. 16,000 (1939), 54,000 (1959). Lead, asphalt concrete. Founded 1794,” the Encyclopedia ranges the gamut of Russian history from its earliest days to the present, and covers in its subjects every field from architecture to zoology. The writing is perhaps uneven, revealing some inconsistencies and an absence of uniform professionalism in editing.
In an effort to gain space the editors have resorted to an extreme use of abbreviation. They are to be forgiven, I suppose, for it no doubt permitted the addition of hundreds of entries, but it is distracting. After its first appearance in an entry, the subject is referred to only by initial in the remainder of the entry. Thus Railroads become “R” without a period. But Russia is always “R.” with a period (and Education is “E” while East is “E.”). Takes a little watching. Nevertheless, all of it is easily readable; and, it should be added, legibly set—compact, but not so small in type size as we often find in encyclopedias. The illustrations, where they lend themselves to line cuts, as in charts, are helpful. Where economy dictated line cuts in place of half-tones, as in portraits of individuals, they have an awkward look, and might possibly have been better omitted.