Originally created 08/15/04

Volumes of info for highbrows and browsers alike



Things are looking up for readers who like to look things up.

The serious researcher and the casual browser can both celebrate the recent arrival of several fact-filled reference books that specialize in a variety of subjects, from the ancient world to science and technology.

The British Museum Timeline of the Ancient World (Palgrave, ($22.95) is a volume you can place on the bookshelf or hang on the wall above it.

The book, by Katharine Wiltshire of the British Museum, contains a 14-page fold-out timeline, printed on one side and more than 9 feet wide, that can be removed and displayed.

The timeline covers about 6,000 years, from the earliest Neolithic settlements to the end of the Roman Empire, and covers the history of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome, focusing on key events, places and people.

Readers can study parallel comparisons of the four civilizations during a certain period or focus, from beginning to end, on the progress of only one. A fifth line describes significant events occurring elsewhere in the world.

Accompanying the facts are color images, many of which show antiquities from the museum's collection.

Biographies of more than 600 black Americans are contained in African-American Lives (Oxford University Press, $55), edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.

Noteworthy blacks from various fields - entertainment, science, religion, politics, business, sports, literature and others - are profiled in more than 1,000 pages with a generous complement of black-and-white photographs.

The subjects are arranged alphabetically, from Hank Aaron to Whitney Moore Young Jr., and span more than four centuries, beginning with Esteban, the earliest-known African to set foot in North America (1528), right up to tennis-star siblings Serena and Venus Williams, born in the 1980s.

There are Gordon Parks and Tiger Woods, Phillis Wheatley and Condoleeza Rice, Malcolm X and O.J. Simpson, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Jackie Robinson, and Little Richard and the Giants' Willie Mays.

Readers can learn about Madame C.J. Walker, millionaire beauty products entrepreneur; Bessie Coleman, aviation pioneer; and a 19th-century Texan murderer born Lee Shelton, made famous in song as "Stagolee."

There is a general index, a category index, and a list of prize-winners and other special achievements.

At $249, it might seem "criminal" to some but "a steal" to others.

It's The Great Pictorial History of World Crime istory, Inc.), Jay Robert Nash's massive two-volume work of more than 2 million words and 2,500 illustrations packed into 1,700 pages.

From ancient times to Osama bin Laden, crimes and criminals of various ilks appear in one of the book's 16 categories, including "Assassination," "Terrorism," "Bigamy," "Celebrity Slayings," "Gangsters and Organized Crime," "Unsolved Homicides" and even "Cannibalism."

Among the illustrations are a map of New York showing when and where 1970s serial killer "Son of Sam" struck; actor Phil Hartman and his wife, Brynn, victims of a murder-suicide in 1998; an encrypted message written by San Francisco's Zodiac killer, with its solution; and a "wanted" poster seeking information on the whereabouts of toddler Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., kidnapped from his New Jersey home in 1932.

Speaking of "wanted" posters, there are enough portraits of bad guys to decorate several post offices, including gangsters Al Capone and Charles "Lucky" Luciano, swindler Charles Ponzi, bigamist Elizabeth Chudleigh, JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and kidnapper-murderer Wayne Williams.

There's a 50-page index and - in case all that crime isn't enough - a bibliography with 12,000 entries.

A boatload of everyday words and phrases are derived from the sea. In Ship to Shore (McGraw-Hill, $18.95 paperback), Peter D. Jeans has compiled a dictionary of hundreds of such words, listed from A to Y.

We learn that when a sailor of the 1860s went on shore leave, he wore his "glad rags" - his best and brightest clothes, which were sometimes made or decorated through the sailor's own needlework skills. While ashore, he wouldn't go to "happy hour," however, since that occurred aboard ship; the term for a brief period of relaxation for crew members is thought to have originated in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Among other words that arose from the sea are "aloof," from the Middle English "luff," to keep a ship's head as close as possible to the wind; "moonlighting," which was originally applied to smugglers, who loaded their tainted wares at night; "listless," a term for the absence of wind, which caused the ship to not list; and "junk," a sailor's name for old or useless rope fragments, from the Latin "juncus," a reed or rush once used to make cordage.

The scientific world's important figures, discoveries and inventions are found among the 700 pages of The History of Science and Technology oughton Mifflin, $40) by Bryan Bunch with Alexander Hellemans.

Its 7,000 entries are arranged chronologically, beginning in ancient times with the making of stone tools, and are divided into 10 historical periods, each of which also features an overview of the era and essays on specific topics.

Readers can trace the entire chronological progress or single out any of several specific categories, including astronomy, biology, computers, food and agriculture, mathematics, medicine and health, and physics.

Along the way are biographical sketches of 300 individuals, including Joseph Priestley, Charles Babbage, Thomas Edison, Linus Pauling, Marie Curie and Stephen Hawking.

You can look up something in the 50-page index or look at something in one of 300 black-and-white illustrations.