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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know [Hardcover]

James Trefil , Joseph F. Kett , E. D. Hirsch
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 38.95
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Book Description

Oct. 3 2002
In this fast-paced information age, how can Americans know what's really important and what's just a passing fashion? Now more than ever, we need a source that concisely sums up the knowledge that matters to Americans -- the people, places, ideas, and events that shape our cultural conversation. With more than six thousand entries,The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy is that invaluable source.
Wireless technology. Gene therapy. NAFTA. In addition to the thousands of terms described in the original Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, here are more than five hundred new entries to bring Americans' bank of essential knowledge up to date. The original entries have been fully revised to reflect recent changes in world history and politics, American literature, and, especially, science and technology. Cultural icons that have stood the test of time (Odysseus, Leaves of Grass, Cleopatra, the Taj Mahal, D-Day) appear alongside entries on such varied concerns as cryptography, the digital divide, the European Union, Kwanzaa, pheromones, SPAM, Type A and Type B personalities, Web browsers, and much, much more.
As our world becomes more global and interconnected, it grows smaller through the terms and touchstones that unite us. As E. D. Hirsch writes in the preface, "Community is built up of shared knowledge and values -- the same shared knowledge that is taken for granted when we read a book or newspaper, and that is also taken for granted as part of the fabric that connects us to one another." A delicious concoction of information for anyone who wants to be in the know, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy brilliantly confirms once again that it is "an excellent piece of work . . . stimulating and enlightening" (New York Times) -- the most definitive and comprehensive family sourcebook of its kind.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This third edition of the 1988 reference, full of the same back-to-basics philosophy of the earlier volumes, promises to once again serve as a lightning rod for lively discussion. Divided into chapters such as "The Bible" (the editors point out that, regardless of one's religion, it is impossible to be culturally literate without some Biblical knowledge, just as one needs to know the Koran to be literate in Arab culture), "Technology," "Idioms," "World Geography," "Mythology and Folklore" (which includes everything from Medusa to Mickey Mouse) and "Literature in English," the book is a compendium of thumbnail definitions of the bedrock items that make up society. This latest volume includes about 500 (out of nearly 7,000) new entries, 200 of which are in the science and technology chapters. Other entries have been revised and updated. It's entertaining, snappily written, extremely handy and reasonably inclusive (although there are bound to be readers who will find issue with Hirsch's well-known conservative ideologies). Although the book will be a godsend for home schoolers and teachers looking to give students a basic reference, ultimately it may be seen as a giant list, along the same lines as the much-debated list of essential literature that Harold Bloom included in The Western Canon. Arguments over it will probably not center on its stylistics, but on who or what the editors consider essential e.g., Allen Ginsburg made the cut; Jack Kerouac did not.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Initially published in 1988 and revised in 1993, this book is given an exciting update whose 6900 entries include 1000 revised entries and 500 new ones, 200 of which are in science and technology alone. Given the book's aim to define "common cultural knowledge rather than to present a lexicon of words or topics," a revision was sorely needed; when the second edition appeared, almost no one knew what a web page was. The text is divided into sections by subject-e.g., fine arts, world politics, life sciences-each with a brief introduction; access is also aided by a thorough index. The entries themselves are complete, concise, and clearly written as well as extensively and effectively cross-referenced. All that need be said about this first-rate reference is that it is well written, well researched, and well worth the money. Students, general readers, trivia buffs, and those who like to have a great reference work at their fingertips will find it informative, useful, and just plain fun. Highly recommended.
Manya S. Chylinski, Ernst & Young Ctr. for Business Knowledge, Boston
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reference Material March 24 2003
Format:Hardcover
Want to look up cultural references in Denis Miller's rants? Can't remember what the Byzantine empire did? Feel like your loosing your memory? This book can help!
Yes, I'll admit the title does have a certain haughtiness and presumptiouness to it, but this book is packed with information. The topics covered are quite broad, and I guess it would HAVE to be if the goal is to ensure cultural literacy. Including all the things you should have learned in highschool had you been paying attention, this book is a great refresher course in everything from History, to Literature, to proverbs and idioms in the English language.
It has a bit of a western bias, which is sort of what I'm getting at when I say the title presumes alot. Perhaps an alternate title (and I mean this without cynicsm) would be "what most Americans don't know about America but should." I include myself in that category, by the way.
The best thing about this book is it's organization. At first, I was wishing it was all alphabetical, but then you realize that grouping entries in catagorized chapters is better. Additionally, the bites of data are concise and easily digested, enough to answer a question and provide enough information for you to look elsewhere if you want in depth explainations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I Think You Misunderstand... March 23 2003
Format:Hardcover
Some of the editorial and customer reviews seem to be confused by what they mean when they call Hirsch a "conservative."
Hirsch is only a conservative in the sense that he is confortable with the status quo and is cautious about accepting change but not unwilling. The political right-wing of today calls itself "conservative" but is actually ULTRA-conservative, wanting to turn back the clock on cultural changes and has an almost paranoid view of the left. According to interviews, Hirsch sees himself as more an old New Deal liberal, and while he may often disagree with contemporary radicals on some cultural matters, he does not treat them with utter contempt like today's right-wing movement tends to do.
(For examples, of the type of far-right "conservatives" I was mentioning above, think Allan Bloom or Philip Johnson.)
As for the book itself, it's a good list, but none of the authors ever intended to make it comprehensive of the entire culture. (The main reason Germaine Greer and Sherman Alexie are not mentioned may simply be space limitations. They even had to cut some stuff from the last edition.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Who's not here? Dec 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
For those who like the comfort of a hefty reference book, this offers 23 chapters on subjects from the Bible to World and American history, Fine Arts, Medicine and Health, Geography, Technology and more. The 6,900 entries (alphabetical by chapter) are concise and cross referenced. Entries includes such items as "oral personality" and "punctuated equilibrium" and authors from Agatha Christie to Salman Rushdie, as well as famous quotations. What's particularly fun is checking to see what it doesn't have, which is easy as there's a fine index. Lady Godiva and Dorothy Lamour are here but Germaine Greer is not; Geronimo is but not Sherman Alexie (Hirsch is known for his conservative bent). Of the 500 or so new entries, 200 are in science and technology. A useful basic reference and a great book for settling arguments.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unlikely coffee table book. Jan. 22 2004
Format:Hardcover
The pictures aren't flashy. The text isn't eloquent. But, this book delivers exactly what the subtitle suggests, "What Every American Needs to Know." Full of up-to-date and well-organized content, the book provides answers to everyday questions, in addition to being a source for research. (Writers of college papers will find this a very useful tool.)
Although I am not one to pick up a dictionary and read through it, I typically cover several pages at a time when I reference this book. While reading the text of one piece, I often find myself intrigued about, and looking up, another topic.
Every home should have a copy of this book!
"Tight Lines!"
~..~..~.. ><((((*>
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unlikely coffee table book. Nov. 12 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The pictures aren't flashy. The text isn't eloquent. But, this book delivers exactly what the subtitle suggests, "What Every American Needs to Know." Full of up-to-date and well-organized content, the book provides answers to everyday questions, in addition to being a source for research. (Writers of college papers will find this a very useful tool.)
Although I am not one to pick up a dictionary and read through it, I typically cover several pages at a time when I reference this book. While reading the text of one piece, I often find myself intrigued about, and looking up, another topic.
Every home should have a copy of this book!
"Tight Lines!"
~..~..~.. ><((((*>
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Hardcover
One would think that when living in and being part of a culture, one would then automatically be literate in it. However, this is certainly not the case for most indiviuals. This book can fill in the gap with its "must know" info. that we should all be a little more familiar with. Of course it is selective in some areas and deliberately brief in its enteries. That is understandable. Over all, I am happy I purchased this book and I am certainly getting my money's worth whether I am looking something up to get desired information, or simply kiling time by flipping through it. There's always something new to learn in this fine book.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Reference work for the hard of thinking
The largely positive reviews encouraged me to check this book out. Having opened it at random a number of times and found entries which could be described as one-sided or - less... Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2006 by Paddy Sieveking
5.0 out of 5 stars A book club pick
Our book club tends to stick with bestsellers like "Da Vinci" or McCrae's "The Bark of the Dogwood," so it came as quite a shock when this book was recommended. Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2004 by "abbykapoff62"
5.0 out of 5 stars great investment!
I came across the previous edition of this book by a coworker of mine and have not been able to keep my hands off it! Read more
Published on April 18 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Browsers and students alike will find it handy
New Dictionary Of Cultural Literacy provides a basic, working knowledge of cultural changes and literary topics which range from concepts of the digital divide and Kwanzaa to... Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by Midwest Book Review
1.0 out of 5 stars the very first paragraph of the very first entry is wrong
The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible are not the same book. Referring to the Jewish Bible as having/being the "Old Testament" is not only inaccurate, it is extremely... Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2004 by "damir00"
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Book
Don't think you have to be smart or into literature to enjoy this book. It has something for everyone. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Browsers and students alike will find it handy
New Dictionary Of Cultural Literacy provides a basic, working knowledge of cultural changes and ltierary topics which range from concepts of the digital divide and Kwanzaa to... Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2003 by Midwest Book Review
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