From Library Journal
Merriam-Webster has put together a marvelous one-volume, easy-to-lift-with-one-hand, desktop encyclopedia on world religions. As with many Webster's publications (e.g., The Encyclopedia of Literature and The Biographical Dictionary) the editors here have emphasized comprehensiveness (over 3500 articles) and clarity of writing--and added to these a dispassionate, nonjudgmental, and nonproselytizing reporting of religious concepts, movements, figures, divinities, and sacred sites. Edited and written by eminent scholars, this is a portable, authoritative source. Heavily cross referenced, it also includes a handy pronunciation guide, useful for pronouncing non-English words. But editorial restrictions and space limitations have led to some absurdly abbreviated entries, creating uneven or inadequate coverage. The late Reverend Jim Jones has a bigger write-up than Cain; Aum Shinrikyo is discussed more completely than the Essenes; the Tibetan Book of the Dead is explained in two sentences. In the battle between space and content, space has scored many victories; a little of everything wins out over more of fewer things. But for immediate access to authoritative definitions, this book is impeccable. Recommended for all libraries.
-Glenn Norio Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
The Merriam brothers desired a continuity of editorship that would link Noah Webster's efforts with their own editions, so they selected Chauncey A. Goodrich, Webster's son-in-law and literary heir, who had been trained in lexicography by Webster himself, to be their editor in chief. Webster's son William also served as an editor of that first Merriam-Webster dictionary, which was published on September 24, 1847.
Although Webster's work was honored, his big dictionaries had never sold well. The 1828 edition was priced at a whopping $20; in 13 years its 2,500 copies had not sold out. Similarly, the 1841 edition, only slightly more affordable at $15, moved slowly. Assuming that a lower price would increase sales, the Merriams introduced the 1847 edition at $6, and although Webster's heirs initially questioned this move, extraordinary sales that brought them $250,000 in royalties over the ensuing 25 years convinced them that the Merriams' decision had been abundantly sound.
The first Merriam-Webster dictionary was greeted with wide acclaim. President James K. Polk, General Zachary Taylor (hero of the Mexican War and later president himself), 31 U.S. senators, and other prominent people hailed it unreservedly. In 1850 its acceptance as a resource for students began when Massachusetts ordered a copy for every school and New York placed a similar order for 10,000 copies to be used in schools throughout the state. Eventually school use would spread throughout the country. In becoming America's most trusted authority on the English language, Merriam-Webster dictionaries had taken on a role of public responsibility demanded of few other publishing companies.