Most helpful critical review
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Okay book--if you don't have an alternative
on March 17, 2007
I ordered this book from Amazon along with two other dictionaries of symbols. I like this one the least. While it seems to be relatively thorough, it had misinformation (or, to put it kindly, "ambiguous and incomplete language") and bias in the first two entries I looked up. This dictionary says that Joan of Arc "died by the sword" (without the quotes). Everyone knows she was burned at the stake. If the author was being figurative, he should have been more careful, esp. when he doesn't elaborate on Joan's actual history. Second, under "sword" he states that because Genesis describes an angel posted at the gate of the Garden of Eden "with a flaming sword," and swords weren't invented then (traditionally, 4,000 BC), this shows that "the Biblical account does not date from the era it describes." This is an astoundingly stupid statement, especially from someone who presumably specializes in historic research. By definition, ALL history is written after the events that took place, especially accounts (or myths) set in pre-history. Plus, the sword in question is wielded by an angel, a supernatural figure not constrained by time or human (physical/geological) limitations.
This author also says that the Japanese short sword, the wakizashi, was used for ritual suicide. Maybe, sometimes. But usually it was the tanto, or long knife that was used for sepeku.
Buy Jack Tresidder,'s "Complete Dictionary of Symbols" instead. It has the same number of entries (2000), but is about 60 pages longer. It has a much more attractive layout, very useful cross-referencing and specially highlighted "boxed" articles. More important, it also footnotes many of its key sources--something Biedermann doesn't bother with.