Benâet's reader's encyclopedia

by Bruce Murphy

Paper Book, 1996




New York : HarperCollins, c1996.


Long recognized as the outstanding reference on world literature, Benetʾs Readerʾs Encyclopedia is the one against which all others are measured, and is the single-most complete one-volume encyclopedia available for those with a serious interest in the subject. The entries explore all aspects of literature from around the world: biographies of poets and playwrights, novelists and belletrists; plot synopses and character sketches from important works; historical data on literary schools, movements, terms and awards; myths and legends; and more. Completely revised and updated, this fourth edition captures the diversity of todayʾs canon, with greater attention to African-American, Eastern, Middle Eastern, African, South American, Eastern European and womenʾs literature.For nearly 50 years, this unique single-volume encyclopedia of world literature has been hailed as the best available. Here are over 10,000 informative entries, covering everything a reader could wish to know, including biographies of poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists and belletrists from around the world and through the ages, from Aristophanes to Toni Morrison, from Chuang Tzu to Juan Rulfo; plot summaries of important literary works, ranging from Beowulf to Wuthering Heights to Things Fall Apart; sketches of principal characters from literature, from Salome to Leopold Bloom; myth, legend and folklore, covering everything from Isis to the Midgard Serpentto to the paladins; biographies of artists, musicians, philosophers and other historical personages ranging from Roman emperors to U.S. presidents who figure prominently in literature; accounts of significant schools and movements in literature, such as the Bloomsbury Group and the Beat writers; original titles, as well as the most familiar English titles, for works in languages other than English and recipients of major literary awards, including Pulitzer and Nobel prize winners. From book cover.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member charlytune
This would be my desert island book, I can spend hours lost in it, and I don't believe I could ever read all the entries. Everyone should own a copy, for a literature buff it's invaluable, and for someone with less knowledge (like me) it offers good introductions to writers, playrights, texts, artists, cultural movements, historical and mythological figures, literary themes, and so on, and so on....… (more)
LibraryThing member fancyconstance
With the advent of excellent online research tools like, one might be tempted to believe a book like Benet's "Reader's Encylopedia" is obsolete. Au contraire, mon frere.

The advantages of using Wikipedia to gather information about a particular work or author: it's comprehensive, entries easily link to further information, and it's fast. The disadvantages: it's not always focused on the literary importance of every cultural reference, and it's generally more information to wade through than you really need for casual reading.

Using online reference sources is like consulting a reference librarian; cracking open the "Reader's Encyclopedia" is like having a highly literate friend hanging around in your den--you can ask him for a quick fact, and depending on your mood you'll get your answer and go back to your book, or you'll wander off on a tangent and chat for hours about related topics.

There are certainly those who disagree with me and feel a focused subject encyclopedia like this is outdated--and I'm probably an old fart for thinking this way--but if books are your friends you won't regret having a copy of Benet.
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LibraryThing member jensenmk82
Unfortunately, much that is useful has been lost in successive revisions of this user-friendly work. So don't throw away your older edition when you acquire a new one!
LibraryThing member jcwords
This reference book sits right between my dictionary and thesaurus, where I often refer to it. Sure, I can find anything I want to know online-- I know that. But sometimes it's just handier to have a real book!
LibraryThing member wenestvedt
I like to flip through this book in order to remind myself how much more I have to learn. It's a collection of short pieces on, well, on things I already ought to know, a la the Encyclopedia Britannica used to be.
LibraryThing member mlpicou
Good reference,but dated. Thumb-indexed
LibraryThing member MrsLee
A nice reference for literature written before 1948.
LibraryThing member sturlington
A sometimes skimpy overview of great works of literature, authors, genres and literary movements. A sometimes useful reference if you don’t care to dive too deep into any particular topic.
LibraryThing member tommi180744
Invaluable reference tome for Literature over many decades: Even more of a must now google-wikipedia-yahoo etc. offer so many varieties of alleged factual knowledge and provenance.
LibraryThing member paperloverevolution
Incredibly handy reference work, containing biographical information for major writers, definitions of literary terms, entries for characters, literary movements and genres, historical figures who are featured in major works of literature, mythology, and more. Every edition contains slightly different information, as new writers and styles are added and older, now unfashionable ones are dropped, so it's optimal to get a copy of each. I only have the third edition now, after downsizing my library. I have found it incredibly useful over the years.… (more)
LibraryThing member mykl-s
-pre-googling, it helped me with more crosswords than any other book
-an addictive book, every entry pulls me into others
-later editions are better for women and world lit
LibraryThing member edwin.gleaves
An old reliable that has served me well over the years.


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