Peoples of the World: Customs and Cultures (10 Volume Set)

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9780717292363: Peoples of the World: Customs and Cultures (10 Volume Set)
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An encyclopedia of world peoples combining anthropological and social information, both historical and current, on the status of ethnic groups worldwide.

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From Booklist:

This encyclopedia is a guide to more than 1,200 ethnic groups that inhabit the earth. According to the foreword, several criteria determined inclusion: a common history; a unique language; shared traditions, religion, or folklore; a sense of common identity in the face of strong pressure to be absorbed by others; people defining themselves as a group; or those living together in the same geographic area. Limited to groups that are still in existence today, even if they are in the process of being absorbed, coverage ranges from those that include fewer than a hundred members (Brazil's Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau) to those that number in the millions.

Arranged alphabetically, entries can consist of one sentence (Dyawara" An ethnic group that lives in Mali") or run to several pages (Americans, Chinese, Russians, etc.). Most one-line entries refer readers to at least one related article. Individual articles are not signed, but a list of editors and contributors and their geographic areas of expertise are listed at the beginning of the first volume. Common English names and spellings have been used, with alternatives appearing in parentheses. Numerous see references guide users from variant spellings and colloquial names to actual articles (Asante--see Ashanti). Words that appear in boldface are defined in a glossary that is repeated in each volume. Definitions are provided for terms such as tribe, clan, cannibal, shrine, and so on.

Most extended entries include the various names of a group, the population size, where it lives, the language, religion, main economic occupations, and some history. Cross-referencing is frequent. The writing style tends to be dry, and presentations range from short, simple sentences to lengthy, dense passages. Numerous full-color photos with captions, sometimes several to a page, and 280 maps accompany the text. An index to the entire set appears in each volume.

This is an attractive resource, but there is some concern about how much actual usage it will receive. The curricula and type of assignments generally associated with the publisher's intended audience, students in middle through high school, will be better served by established reference works. For example, a middle-school student looking for basic data about a Native American Indian tribe should be able to find all the required information (locale, history, socialization, language, etc.) in any standard encyclopedia. In this set, the entry on the Seminole runs eight sentences; the Apache receive twelve sentences; the Ottawa, seven. Little cultural information is provided. Instead, the focus is on the geopolitical history of the tribe, and its efforts to survive (this emphasis is seen in other entries: Ponti, Waorani, etc.). When faced with another typical assignment, Cossacks, the researcher is referred to Ukrainians and Kazakh. The four-page entry on the Ukrainians does include three pertinent paragraphs, buried in the middle of the third page. The three-column Kazakh article yields a one-sentence contribution that misspells the term as Cossaks.

Of additional concern is that some entries reinforce negative ethnic stereotypes. One example: "The Corsicans are famous for certain cultural traits: they have large extended families and are known for the violent way they `solve' arguments." Another problematic area is picture captions. Subjects are always identified ("A Singaporian bride," "A band of Jewish musicians in Lima, Peru"), but no accompanying information explains their significance or provides any correlation to the text.

There is additional evidence of uneven editing that goes beyond the occasional misspelled word. There are grammatical errors. Even the 22-page index is of limited usefulness in that it simply mirrors the entry headwords and cross-references instead of providing ways to pull scattered information together. There is no index term Native Americans, for example, because there is no article on Native Americans, just articles on individual tribes. Continents and regions are not indexed. Occasional two-page spreads highlight a single aspect of an ethnic group (Japanese mythology, Melanesian secret societies, etc.), but these special features are not listed anywhere nor is their existence indicated in the index.

Despite the book's vivid artwork and extensive coverage, it is difficult to recommend it. School and public libraries should continue to rely on standard sources that better support the curriculum--Lands and Peoples [RBB Jl 1 97] and The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places [RBB Je 1 & 15 98] among others. Gale's upcoming Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures should be another valuable resource.

Reference Books in Brief

The following is a list of additional recent and recommended reference sources.

From School Library Journal:

Grade 5 Up?This encyclopedia will not answer every one of those difficult questions about world cultures and peoples, but it will help to fill the gaps. The term "ethnic group" is defined broadly to include any group in existence today who share a sense of common identity. Articles are arranged alphabetically and vary in length. Many of the briefer articles do little more than identify the group and its location, while the longer entries (e.g., "Albanians" and "Zulu") provide more information than a general encyclopedia. The large type, numerous full-color photos, and clear maps make the information accessible. Peoples of the World is actually a different version of The Encyclopedia of the Peoples of the World (Holt, 1993; o.p.), also edited by Gonen. The articles have been updated and somewhat simplified. These revised entries are more accessible to students, as they assume less knowledge on the part of the reader. The Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Hall, 1996) is more scholarly and Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life (Gale, 1998), while readable, has a less appealing format. Libraries needing social-science resources will want to consider Peoples of the World.?Danita Nichols, New York Public Library
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Editor-Amiram Gonen; Editor-Barbara P. Sutnick
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