There are many imitators on the market, some of them quite good, but this almanac has set the standard for more than a century. The New York World newspaper began publishing an almanac in 1868, "a 120-page volume with 12 pages of advertising." The newspaper suspended the almanac's publication in 1876, but publisher Joseph Pulitzer revived it in 1886 as a "compendium of universal knowledge." The almanac has been published annually since, outliving the newspaper whose name it still bears. (The World Almanac is not the oldest almanac in publication, though: that distinction belongs to The Old Farmer's Almanac, which is "North America's oldest continuously published periodical," founded in 1792.)
The World Almanac contains much useful information that belongs in any serious basic-reference set. For the world, the almanac presents basic statistics about each nation, and about the world's major religions; and summarizes the world's history, with more detailed histories of the United States and of the preceding year. For the United States, the almanac reprints the nation's organic documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; contains a directory of the entire Federal government; presents basic statistics about each state and major city, and a short biography of each president; and much more. The almanac also contains bountiful information about education, science, sports, and many other topics.
The 2012 edition does differ in a few important respects from other recent editions -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not. For the better, the 2012 edition reinstates the longtime feature (omitted from the 2009 edition) listing every community with a population over 10,000 (raised from 5,000 in older editions), with its ZIP code and area code. But on the downside, evidently the tradeoff for reinstating that listing was dropping the listing of counties and county seats. On the upside, not only is the 2012 edition out two full weeks earlier than the last few editions (which sometimes didn't appear until December), but its coverage of 2011 news goes all the way through October 2011, hopefully reversing the recent trend of ending coverage earllier and getting the almanac out later. (The preceding year's news had been ending earlier and earlier in recent editions: in the 1999 edition the last entry was 3 November 1998, in the 2004 edition it was 16 October 2003, and in the 2008 edition it was 12 October 2007.)
Overall, the 2012 World Almanac continues to set the standard, and is well worth the price. No other single volume offers such a wealth of information on such a variety of subjects.