Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism. Edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006. Hardback, xxix + 1228 pages. ISBN 9004152318
Since other reviewers, in pointing out what a superb reference work this book is, have done a good job of describing its contents, I will confine myself here mainly to a few remarks about its physical format and layout.
The book is beautifully printed in double columns and in a somewhat tiny font on quality paper. It is stitched (or Smyth-sewn) in signatures in the traditional way so that when opened flat the spine will not crack and the pages will not fall out. And it is bound in decorative blue paper-covered boards (although cloth would have been preferable as I get the feeling that the paper will rub and wear quickly).
The front cover features an interesting copperplate illustration taken from a book by Jacob Bohme (1682). Sadly this is the only illustration present and I feel that the book, since it's really more of an 'Encyclopedia' than a 'Dictionary', would have been even more interesting than it already is if room could have been found for photographs of at least some of the more important persons, places, and items discussed.
The articles I have so far read were, as is to be expected, scholarly, objective, and well-written, with all of them followed by quite full and up-to-date bibliographies in which some of the editors have conveniently placed the English titles in a separate section.
Following the Introduction are two lists - a 'List of Contributors' and a 'List of Entries.' And at the end of the book we are given two indexes - an 'Index of Groups and Organizations' and an 'Index of Persons' but, surprisingly, no 'Index of Subjects.'
What this means in practice is that if, for example, we want to read up on the Nag Hammadi finds we are going to have poke around until we discover GNOSTICISM II: GNOSTIC LITERATURE where we will find 'The Nag Hammadi Library' covered on pages 419-420. Clearly then, to make full use of this Dictionary, it might be wise to first familiarize oneself with its contents. But this really isn't the chore it may sound as the book is full of pleasant surprises and I'm constantly running into things I would never have expected to find.
As for the price, considering the sheer amount of material in this book, an amount equivalent to at least five or six standard scholarly paperbacks, and considering also the ridiculously inflated prices being asked, for example, by an academic press such as Oxford University Press for books of vastly inferior quality such as The Early Poems of John Clare, 1804-1822: Volume I (Oxford English Texts) (regarding which see my review) the price of this dictionary seems quite reasonable.
All in all, then, I can recommend this book as an authoritative, well-produced, up-to-date and fascinating compendium of interesting and useful information. Dr. Hanegraaff and his team are to be congratulated on having provided us with such a superb reference work, while Brill is to be commended for having honored it with such a fitting and handsome format.